The need for change - Clubs in New Zealand

07:49 PM 30 Jul 2014 NZST
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The secret of change
The secret of change

When I talk to overseas harness racing administrators, trainers and owners on my travels and we discuss the management and governance structures of our respective countries and whether they are delivering the best results for participants in our industry, I am frequently having to defend the structure and management of the industry in New Zealand. Northern Hemisphere people struggle to see how you can run harness racing in 2014 with a structure and governance that is a relic of a different time.

Northern Hemisphere tracks are owned by either wealthy individuals or companies and they make all the decisions with regards to their tracks. This gives them the ability to adapt their programs and race structure to suit their immediate needs or those of the stakeholders who operate at their tracks. These tracks live or die on the strength of their product and  they try at all times to deliver a superior product to their customers. 

As with any structure, there are issues and conflicts but in the main they do a far better job of selling and marketing harness racing to the general public than we do here in New Zealand.

Over a period of time I have come to the conclusion that they have a far better management and governance structure than the Southern Hemisphere does. I have given up defending the structure of harness racing in New Zealand and have become a strong advocate for major change in how our industry is governed. How can it be in 2014 that we have a system of governance for our industry that is manifestly inappropriate for a business in the 21st century. 

Currently we have a system that is controlled by the trotting clubs of New Zealand. Any major changes to the administration or structure of  ANYTHING  within the trotting industry requires the approval of a majority of those clubs. They meet once a year which means change within the industry happens at a glacial pace. The Executive of Harness Racing New Zealand can tinker at the edges but for anything major they need to take the proposal to the annual meeting of trotting clubs for their approval.

Can you imagine any business in 2014 being able to survive and prosper if they were unable to adapt to changing trends and challenges in their business on a regular basis due to the necessity to wait for a once a year meeting for approval.

If you speak as I do regularly do to a  lot of the successful businessmen who are involved in the harness racing industry in New Zealand, you quickly appreciate how frustrated they are at the inability to change what many see as a dysfunctional governance and management structure.

Both the Auckland and New Zealand Metro trotting clubs have made massive gains in recent years in how they structure and manage their business due to the influence of several successful businessmen on their respective boards. But there is so much more they would like to do both now and in the future but are hamstrung to a certain extent by the current management and governance structure. 

So what should any new management and governance structure look like. 

First and foremost the clubs should concentrate on what they do best, running their clubs and their race meetings in a professional and profitable manner. That is what they were originally set up to do and most do an exemplary job. But any governance or leadership role in the management structure of harness racing in New Zealand should be withdrawn.

The management of the day to day running of harness racing  should remain as it is now. Harness Racing New Zealand employees do a sterling job implementing the current policies and strategies of the industry as set by the executive and we are lucky to have them.

The current executive and clubs structure should be replaced by a board that has industry representatives but also has a much stronger business focus and expertise. An eight member board with five business orientated members who have a knowledge of the harness racing industry along with one representative from each of  the three industry groups that have a large monetary investment in the industry;

1)                  Owners

2)                  Breeders

3)                  Trainers/Drivers 

Should this board be elected by industry participants or be a mixture of elected /appointed members is something for wiser heads than mine. However the details of how a structure such as this would evolve need to be carefully developed so we don't harm the industry we are trying to help.  

Now I can hear the screams emanating from some quarters but I also know from having already had this discussion with many of the major players in the New Zealand Industry that there is a broad consensus on the need for structural change.

People involved in the harness racing industry are some of the most passionate people you would  ever come across. Why would you work in this industry with its long hours in any weather if it wasn't for a genuine love of what you were doing. We have some fantastic people in the harness racing industry in New Zealand who do a wonderful job of promoting our sport to the wider public and we have a great racing product that is in my view as good as anywhere in the world. What we don't have is a governance structure that lets this industry flourish.

Just have a look at the last twenty years and see how much this industry has changed and progressed. Frozen Semen and Shuttle Stallions have opened our industry up to the very best stallions available worldwide with a result that our equine product has closed the gap enormously with the Northern Hemisphere product.

Trackside has taken our racing product to a much wider audience throughout Australasia. Betting options have expanded and harness racing clubs have diversified their income streams.

The only thing that has NOT changed for several generations are our governance structures.

I have spoken to several government ministers about this issue and the message is always the same. Any change to the present structures must come from WITHIN the industry itself. If this industry is to truly reach its potential and maximize its returns to its stakeholders, then we need a governance structure that is more applicable to the 21st century and not the 19th century.

I therefore invite any like minded people who hold a similar view to my own to contact me to see if there is a way we can progress this matter further. 

John Curtin

JC International

jdci@harnesslink.com

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