When he had to choose between sport or a career, Martin Snedden wasn’t stumped. Now the cricketer, Rugby World Cup and tourism chief goes in to bat for a young sportsman and student. Denise Montgomery reports.

Most people offering career advice to young folk start off with platitudes such as 'work hard at school', 'focus on your studies', 'follow your heart'. Martin Snedden could only honestly say he lived by the final piece of advice in his early days.

"At school I loved rugby and cricket. I was a very lazy student and probably the only thing going through my mind in terms of a proper career was that my family was full of lawyers," says the former New Zealand cricketer and Rugby World Cup supremo, now head of the Tourism Industry Association.

At the time he didn't appreciate it would take hard work to get into law school, so when he left Rosmini College and headed to Auckland University for the entry-level course, it was tough.

"After two years I still hadn't made it through to law school. In those days, the entry levels were a hell of a lot lower than they are now. It was a total lack of application by me, and dedication to sport instead."


Then he discovered he could study law in Dunedin on the marks he had. "That's when I started to put a bit of effort in on the academic side."

Still, his focus was cricket - not surprising given his grandfather and uncle played for New Zealand and his father for Auckland - and the young all-rounder made his ODI debut in 1980 against Australia, opening the bowling with Richard Hadlee.

"I was 22 years old and a student in Dunedin. I spent my holidays in Australia playing cricket at some of the best grounds in the world." That included the infamous underarm incident.

His Test debut came in Wellington in 1981, against India in a match (and series) New Zealand famously won. When he retired from international cricket in 1990, he returned to being a lawyer for which he had qualified in 1981.

"I was becoming a partner with my brother in the family firm so I had to prove to the law society that I had done three years of actual work in the firm as required to become a partner. I had to trace it back. Over nine years I'd worked exactly four and a half."

These days he believes it would be almost impossible to play top cricket and have a separate job.

Snedden has managed to pluck roles that tie in with his passions - cricket, rugby, people and problem-solving.

Towards the end of his stint as NZ Cricket CEO (2001-2006), he was approached by then-rugby union CEO Chris Moller to think about running the Rugby World Cup organisation. "I declined because I felt the timing was wrong. Two months later, the RWC recruitment agent pushed me to re-think so I did," he says.

It ended up "right up there" with his career achievements. "It was such a huge event for New Zealand and to be part of building the team that put it together and seeing new Zealanders rise up - it was a fantastic job."

It also led onto his next appointment. "During the Rugby World Cup I ended up having a reasonable amount of exposure to aspects of tourism, dealing with tourism entities. I came to have a real regard for the tourism industry.

"What drives me at TIANZ is trying to help. It's a macro type approach whereas the job with NZ Cricket and the RWC was all about trying to deal with a lot of stakeholders and creating some high-level macro connections for everyone's benefit. I really enjoy trying to get people to become more cohesive and see a big picture."

He's also on a number of boards, and has three goals on all. "You need to stay back from the frontline and keep focusing on strategy, not the day-to-day stuff; you must never lose sight of, and be strictly honest about, the current and emerging financial picture; and pastoral support of the CEO. It is a lonely and exposed job."

Snedden's advice to any young person aspiring to rise to the top would be not to stress too much about their first job. His own career path is testament to that.

Asked by our up-and-coming cricketer Ross Ter Braak [see panel] for career advice, he says: "Don't get too hung up about having to make an absolute choice about what your career will be. The jobs you do will change with some degree of frequency in all probability, so don't feel like any choice you make now you can't change later.

"For me, it's really important to have a degree of interest in what you're doing and a determination to do something significant."

His tourism role involves creating a strategic framework pushing out to 2025 - a sense of direction for the industry.

"It's pretty much just cajoling people into understanding the direction they need to go in and agreeing on some high-level strategies that people can follow, in order to create some momentum. I have no authority over the organisations involved, so if I am able to get them to agree on a common thinking then that's a worthwhile step forward."

A cricket high came in 1989, during his final season. Snedden had started a family with wife Annie, to whom he's now been married 30 years. Baby number two was due when New Zealand Cricket decided there'd be a one-off Test match in Australia. Snedden got permission to stay behind for as long as he could in the hope the baby would arrive.

"But it became clear this one was going to be a bit late so my wife and my mother in law packed me off to Australia," he says.

The Perth match became one of the greatest Kiwi fightbacks. New Zealand hung on for a famous draw. Mark Greatbatch batted for 655 minutes, Snedden with him for 202, stoic in their determination. During the match, the baby was born.

That baby was Stephanie, now 23. There's older daughter Lucy 25, Ella 19, and son Michael, 21, who is in Dunedin at Polytech and progressing quite well in cricket.

He's not sure how far his son will go with the game, but says generally players would make a decision about whether they could foot it in top-level cricket in their early 20s.

"The most important thing is hard work, which sounds funny after what I said about how I treated school, but I actually worked quite hard at cricket. It was quite different to the approach I had for schoolwork!"

Westlake Boys First XI bowler Ross Ter Braak wants to become a professional cricketer. Photo / Ted Baghurst
Westlake Boys First XI bowler Ross Ter Braak wants to become a professional cricketer. Photo / Ted Baghurst

Westlake Boys First XI fast bowler Ross Ter Braak is a reluctant candidate for this feature but decides he can't miss the chance to get a few career tips from Martin Snedden.

"I think anyone who plays cricket wants to go all the way, so if that comes up ... yeah, I would love to do that," he says.

In fifth form (year 11) at WBHS, Ter Braak recently sat his first found of Cambridge exams, and hadn't had the results at the time of writing. Unlike Snedden, he's been diligent with his schoolwork so far, and counts biology and chemistry as his favourites.

"I'd quite like a career in health sciences, not sure if it would be as a doctor or what yet. It's quite early to be thinking about that."

He plans to keep on track with studies in case a cricket career doesn't pan out, and isn't necessarily lured by the big dollars of the Indian Premier League. "Anyone who wants to play for the Black Caps would want to play Test cricket so I would lean towards that." Asked to choose between a regular career and a cricket career, he doesn't hesitate for too long. "I would choose cricket. It's always been a dream to become professional. And there are a lot more opportunities these days."

Martin Snedden, 55
Working career
• Current roles: Chief Executive, Tourism Industry Association of NZ (since June 2012); Board member NZ Cricket; World Masters Games 2017 (Auckland); International Cricket Council; ICC Development Ltd
• Past roles include: Chief Executive Rugby New Zealand 2011 (2007-11); CEO NZ Cricket 2001-6

Cricket career
• 25 Tests 1981-90; 93 ODIs 1980-1990
• Cricket club North Shore

Ross Ter Braak, 16
Right-hand bat, left-arm medium fast bowler

Cricket career
• North Harbour Primary Schoolboys, Year 9-10, U16s, U18s Auckland Primary Schoolboys; Year 9/10 Development; Auckland U16s
• Cricket club Takapuna

Ter Braak: What career advice can you give me?
Snedden: In cricket, passion is important. So you have to have something in your heart that says, 'You love this game no matter what it's doing to you,' and that's what enables you to hang in there. It's the same with work. You wake up every day and work. I don't want to go to a job that I don't like and that I don't feel strongly about.

TB: Have your biggest challenges been on or off the sporting field?
S: Off the field really, although there were some quite big ones on them when I was playing for the Black Caps. I had some issues establishing myself in the team. Managing issues such as terrorism off the field when I was CEO of NZ Cricket was tough, and then the Rugby World Cup had the Christchurch earthquake. That was the biggest.

TB: What's the best advice you were given by a coach while playing cricket?
S: That what has happened has happened. You can't do anything about it, you can only control or influence what is coming.

TB: What cricket advice can you give me?
S: You are going to suffer difficult times ahead and you will have the choice of throwing in the towel or hanging in there. You may not be able to see very easily how you are going to fight your way out of those difficult situations, but if you don't hang in there, then you can't be in when it comes right.