The lessons to be learnt in an unlikely career change from banking to basketball weren’t obvious at first. But they were there.
Early in 1991, I was feeling professionally and personally exhausted from life as a 30-something senior bank executive with a wife and two young children. I felt I needed another activity completely outside the square to help manage full-time executive stress, and something that my family could also enjoy.
That year I jumped at the opportunity to begin a 15-year association as director and co-owner of the Melbourne Tigers. The oldest and most successful basketball club in Australia, it had competed in the National Basketball League for 25 years, made eight championship series and won four of them.
During my sixth year on the Tigers board, my corporate executive life became very difficult. A new chairman was appointed at my bank and he immediately clashed with the CEO, Don Mercer, who was my boss. I now realise these disputes only ever end up one way. I was loyal to the CEO, as I believed was ethical under my contract. Besides, Don was a good boss and I happened to like him. But he lost his job and I agreed to the termination of my employment contract a year later in the inevitable ritualistic purge that goes on in all big companies after an internal civil war sees victory for the black hats.
The Tigers club jumped at the opportunity of my new ‘no job’ status. “We need a new chairman,” said my colleagues, and I was it.
Next I moved out of my extensive, fine, jarrah-wood executive office at the bank to share accommodation with coach Lindsay Gaze.
On day one of my new job, I entered my new microstyled office and clambered past Lindsay and his bags of basketballs, bandages and assorted liniments to squeeze in behind my small new desk in the corner. “A good place for a naughty boy” is how I remember thinking about it at the time.
Lindsay knew something was wrong. Although he had never been in the corporate world, he was aware that I had been professionally knifed. We started talking and finally he said to me: “Peter, you know everyone gets cut. It’s fundamental that we all want to belong somewhere and be valued for who we are and what we do. The players who come and go from this club are just like that. Even Michael Jordan got cut from his high school basketball team.
“The issue in life isn’t that you will get cut sometimes. The challenge is what you do about that after it happens.”
I have often told this story to people I have mentored, as well as remembering it myself when times get tough.
Later at the club, I talked to Lindsay about some new players we were trialling. “When it comes down to the last choice, do you select athletic prowess or high IQ?”
Lindsay replied: “My main two criteria are player desire and IQ, as I have no use for players with superior athleticism that make dumb choices at the end of a tight game.”
I later asked him which sport is most like basketball.
“Chess,” he said. “In any part of life, you have to stay three to four moves ahead.”
“What about intimate relationships?” I asked.
“Preferably 10 moves ahead. But we all know that’s impossible, so don’t even try.”
I’m not sure I have always followed every piece of advice Lindsay gave me. But it’s amazing that I learnt more about a philosophy for career and life from the mentor in my greatest recreational outlet than I did from being an executive on the job. I know that now, in retrospect.
And I joined basketball just to get away from it all.
My takeaways from these few indulgent thoughts are to make the best of opportunities when they come along, be prepared to back your instincts and try to have some fun along the way.
This article is an edited version. The full article was first published in the February 2015 issue of HRMonthly magazine as ‘Tigerman’. AHRI members receive HRMonthly 11 times per year as part of their membership. Find out more about AHRI membership here.