This week, Small Business editor Caitlin Sykes talks to athletes turned business owners.

Dunedin-based former professional rugby player Roy Hawker is also the owner of media consultancy Hawker Media, and cloud-based marketing automation software firm Amplifier.

Can you tell me about your sporting background?

I grew up playing rugby and I played for Otago in 1997, 2000 and 2001, and Southland in 2002, which was at the start of the professional era. I was also in the New Zealand Sevens training squad in 1998.

And you've coached as well?


Yes, in Australia I coached at Norths, where I was the backs coach. Adam Ashley-Cooper, Cameron Shepherd and Lachlan MacKay all started playing there as 18- or 19-year-olds, then went on to play for the Wallabies during the three years I coached them, so that was a good claim to fame. Then when I came back I was a unit coach for the Otago ITM team when they won the Ranfurly Shield, and was also coach of the Otago Sevens team for three years. In my first year we got into the final against Auckland, which Otago hadn't done for quite some time.

Were you also working a day job at the same time?

I actually started working in radio at 21 and although I didn't have any uni qualifications I got my first job ahead of people with marketing degrees. I think I just had some real life experience, understood people and had a knack for sales and marketing, and that's really been the foundation of my success.

I played rugby at a professional level when I was aged 26 to 30. Everyone else on the team was either a student, working part time, or a full time professional rugby player. But by that time I was earning very good money as a radio salesperson and had a young family so I couldn't really lose that income. I went through a period a bit earlier where I was probably more focused on work and family, but I wasn't as a good a rugby player. But with a bit more maturity I think I became a better rugby player, and was able to balance that with having a job, being married, and having children.

Roy Hawker, owner of Hawker Media and Amplifier, and a former professional rugby player.
Roy Hawker, owner of Hawker Media and Amplifier, and a former professional rugby player.

By the time I was playing professionally I was fortunate that I'd mastered my job and could do it in about 20 hours a week. Learning how to do that really helped me develop my consulting business, where I trained radio salespeople on how to work smarter and use their time more effectively. For me, I had no other option.

How has your career as a business owner developed since?

I have two businesses. One is my consulting business, Hawker Media, and I primarily consult to radio stations in South Africa now, where I spend six to eight weeks a year running sales initiatives.

Then I have Amplifier, which is a cloud-based software system that allows smaller businesses to do all their own marketing or allows a marketing company to assist small businesses with their marketing efforts. We've recently been marketing our product to marketing companies around the country as a tool they can use with their small business clients, which is a strategy we're really excited about. And we're also looking at the South Africa market. We're a New Zealand software company that's brave enough to think it can take on the world, and I think that's an attitude you get a bit from being a New Zealand rugby player. Rugby is a particular area where New Zealanders believe they can be world beaters.


What other skills or experiences have you been able to transfer from sport to business?

A sense of personal responsibility. You learn as a sportsperson that if things are going to happen you have to drive them. You find yourself taking ownership of your own outcomes, so in a work environment it means you also much prefer to be in charge of your own outcomes because you're aware you can do what needs to be done.

Also rugby requires tactics, game plans and strategies to be successful, so good rugby brains often make good business brains because it's about taking calculated risks, thinking strategically, and looking at a situation and thinking about how you can evolve it and be better. At the core of a lot of my rugby training is self belief. You get what you think you deserve and because people are naturally hard wired to doubt themselves, having the knowledge that you've done the work and deserve the prize is key to success, and again I think that transfers to business.

And I think in both sport and business you have to have a belief in something bigger than yourself. In sport you have to believe in your team mates and your environment, and with business you have to grab a hold of a strong sense of a purpose wider that yourself that your venture is serving.