Featured Business Leader Alastair Clarkson

Featured Business Leader Alastair Clarkson

Business leaders can come in a wide variety of forms. From traditional CEOs, to entrepreneurs who started small ventures from their college dorms or garages, there are a wide range of businesspeople in the world. This week’s AIB Featured Business Leader is someone from an entirely different background, whose business knowledge has ended up helping him to become a sporting champion. Alastair Clarkson is the current coach of top Australian Football League (AFL) side, the Hawthorn Football Club – and he is a leader in an industry that is surprisingly attracting more and more business-savvy people.

Born in 1968, Alastair Clarkson was interested in AFL as a sporting code from a young age, like so many Australians. Growing up in country Victoria, he joined the Kaniva Football Club in his local football league, and his talent for Australia’s national game was noticed by a few teams in the then-Victorian Football League (VFL), which has since expanded to encompass the whole of Australia and be known as the Australian Football League (AFL). He was recruited to the North Melbourne Football Club in the VFL, where he debuted in 1987 – and also managed to kick the winning goal after the siren for his team.

His football career continued successfully, first with the North Melbourne Football Club and then with the Melbourne Football Club from 1996. While playing, he studied a Bachelor of Sports Science and worked as a Physical Education Teacher at the prestigious Melbourne private school, Wesley College.

At the completion of his AFL career, Alastair Clarkson chose to undertake an MBA at university, and he admits that his coaching career was not front-of-mind when studying. “I didn’t have a coaching career in mind when I decided to do an MBA, and I don’t think too many people would link an MBA with coaching” he said. He’d figured that an MBA would be a great addition for someone who was looking into a life and career in the corporate sector after his professional football days.

However, after completing his studies, he realised that following an AFL coaching path was something he wanted to pursue. Starting as an assistant coach at St. Kilda Football Club in 1999, he began taking roles as head coach in 2000, first at Werribee Football Club in the VFL and then at Central Districts Football Club in the SANFL. After taking up a position as a forward coach back in the AFL, at the Port Adelaide Football Club, he began to realise the correlation between his MBA studies and his coaching aspirations.

Of his studies, he said “undertaking the MBA certainly helped enormously in shaping the way that I think and my philosophies on certain aspects of business and management.” In addition to his studies, his initiative and drive to learn about every aspect of coaching and conditioning in AFL and all sports was instrumental in his appointment to the head coach role at the then-struggling Hawthorn Football Club.

Beginning his leadership role at the club in a time of turmoil, with the previous coach having been stood down due to the team’s poor performance, he was one of many in the running for the role of senior coach, but firmly believes that his business understanding was of great benefit through the interview process. Football clubs are a business, and former Hawthorn president Ian Dicker, who was responsible for Clarkson’s appointment to the club, has said previously that he was impressed with Alastair’s career planning and management knowledge.

Alastair Clarkson’s reign at the Hawthorn Football Club has been incredibly successful – in 2008, his third season with the club, he was able to lead his team to a Premiership. From there, they have made several other finals appearances including another Grand Final appearance and win in 2013 – and just this week, the Hawthorn Football Club managed a rare achievement in AFL when they won the 2014 AFL Grand Final, making them Back-to-Back Premiers.

Alastair Clarkson has since remarked that he has “little doubt that the experiences and skills provided by the MBA program have transferred enormously” into his current role. It truly proves that there is a great deal of versatility in the outcomes of an MBA degree.

As a sports lover, I’m fascinated by this story – I think this story shows that an MBA can be a huge advantage regardless of your future goals. Having a sound and practical understanding of businesses, and the challenges faced in a corporate environment appears to be hugely advantageous in a variety of situations.

Is this story surprising to you? Would you consider the skills learnt in an MBA to be transferrable across a wide variety of roles and industries? Why or why not?

This article was written by Simone Ball on behalf of the Australian Institute of Business. All opinions are that of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of AIB. The following sources have been used to prepare this article: Wikipedia and Hawthorn FC. Image sourced from ABC.


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