Local folk: Tony Naidu

Tony Naidu of Gulf Harbour became a cricketer by accidentally getting in the wrong line, but went on to love it and to believe in the role of sport and recreation in a well-rounded lifestyle. Recently he was appointed as Auckland Cricket’s community cricket manager, with responsibility across 16 clubs. He spoke to Terry Moore.

I never sat an exam on time – but even when I come in late I like to take a moment first to look around the room and smile because it relaxes me. That’s what I tell kids that I coach. Start with a smile, relax and have fun whether it’s an exam or a big game. I’ve been in pressured business meetings but you have to do the work beforehand and go in feeling positive. If you don’t enjoy it, there’s no point.

Cricket was the first sport I played at St Mary’s Primary in Papakura. I went to a zone day, got in the wrong line and ended up on the team. One of my dad’s university friends was a good cricketer and he started coaching me. I was a bowler first, but then became a batsman and as a third former, played in the First XI for Rosehill College. A group of us who played at the local club beat all the older ones and that’s how we got on the First XI at such a young age. I went on to play senior men’s cricket before giving up – largely because of former Black Caps bowler Simon Doull. I had just played my first golf tournament in 1991 and won. At the same time, I was practising to be opening batsman for Karaka, which meant facing Simon, who was playing for Pukekohe. That thought was too much, so I decided to drop cricket and stick with the golf.

When I finished my BCom at Auckland University, I wanted to be a management consultant – I wasn’t exactly sure what that was, but it sounded cool. The company I worked for in 2000 were management consultants for Team NZ so I worked with them for the 2003 challenge. I was in my twenties and we were a small team operating out of a basement in Meadowbank so it was quite bizarre when people like Tom Schnackenberg turned up for meetings. Our 24-hour customer support was one phone that everyone took a turn on each night. There were 12 PhDs working for us and they were very smart but it lacked direction. We ended up a lot bigger after I helped move the company into the Australian and US markets. I eventually moved to Boston because we had a lot of work over there. Our software was designed for universities and business schools and it turned out I was really good at selling it, even though I can’t do computer programming. I understand people so I can translate for those who don’t understand. I would go to trade shows and not show any software. You only had two minutes to capture someone’s imagination – you don’t do that by showing software: you talk to them, and follow up later. Technical people need to think from the perspective of the end user. With sport it’s the same – when I worked with golf clubs we had bouncy castles at our open days but no golf and I was the one who encouraged the Hibiscus Coast Cricket Club to go in last year’s Santa Parade. It’s thinking outside the box.

During the world financial crisis, I got an MBA from the University of Virginia and started an online business ethics company – so that I could change the world! Business ethics is about helping people make better, more ethical decisions. Not in a good and bad sense, because there are a lot of grey areas in business – it’s about trade offs, not right and wrong. I’m a very big believer in involving stakeholders in decision-making. Ed Freeman, Professor at the University of Virginia, wrote the first book on business ethics. I met him on a golf course and we played together and I was also in his classes so he was influential on my thinking.

I’m the president of North Harbour Golf, chair of the Gulf Harbour School board where two of my children are and was the first paid manager of Hibiscus Coast Cricket Club. I started as a consultant with sports organisations, mostly golf clubs, and really enjoyed working with volunteers, helping them promote themselves and grow membership. At one golf club I worked with, a member came up and thanked me, saying I’d made a difference. That moved me and it’s why I took up the job with Hibiscus Coast Cricket Club. My kids were members and I applied after listening to Jeff Olufson, who is now club president, talking about growth and what the club could become. They warned me about the salary, but I was excited about the role and could still do my consulting work. To grow an organisation you have to take risks and work with people to make them believe in the need for change. The club has record numbers joining and we sold out our first prizegiving at Silverdale School hall. We’re about to sign a new sponsorship deal with someone who is keen because of the goodwill that’s been built over the last year. That role led to my new job at Auckland cricket as community cricket manager, where I’ll be working with all the Auckland clubs; it’s early days, but I’ve already realized how full time this will be. I am hoping to do what we did at Hibiscus, right across Auckland. Cricket can be used to teach key values like honesty and integrity – there’s a reason why the saying goes ‘that’s not cricket’ – and I like that kind of stuff. at the same time, it’s a game where the spirit can be awful and I want that to change. This season cricket is introducing red and yellow cards, right through the game. It’s important to have rules and consequences but there will also be a lot of education about good sportsmanship and how parents can help their children develop, making it fun.

Last year, just after I’d started at the club, I had a heart attack while walking the 5km part of a half marathon. I’d got unfit because I was busy and my running is really a bit of walking and running. I go with the family to these events – my wife’s a runner and she was doing the 10km with friends while I walked with our eight year old. In the first 100m I wasn’t feeling good, so I sent my son on ahead. I thought ‘I really need to get fitter’. I couldn’t breathe, felt dehydrated and had a sore arm. I was about to approach a St Johns person but then I saw someone collapse right in front of them and because I wasn’t that bad I kept going. I finished the 5km and even ran across the finish line, but didn’t feel good. I went to the doctor the next day, and the ECG was ok but they did a blood test just to be sure. When those results were in, they asked me to go to the hospital straight away for tests. I couldn’t believe it when they said I’d had a heart attack. It’s a hereditary thing – my dad had exactly the same artery fail in exactly the same way. I knew about that and had been careful all my life; I played sport and stopped adding salt to things when I was 21 because of my family history. They put a stent in and I was home the next day. I had recently started playing cricket again and it turned out that a side effect of the heart medication was that I kept getting muscle tears. After nine months of physio, I gave up cricket. This season I’ll be on the sidelines supporting my kids.

My wife Emma is from Christchurch and we got married the day before we moved to America. We had three kids born in the States. That’s why we wanted to come back – when our daughter was about to start school we knew we wanted our kids to grow up in NZ. My dad bought a house on the Gulf Harbour golf course. I joined the Gulf Harbour Country Club while I was still living overseas and it was playing there that attracted me to come back. I grew up in South Auckland and the Coast has the same freedom I remember having there as a kid. Our children walk to and from school and we can send them to the park to play unsupervised.


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