Interview with new FIH CEO, Jason McCracken
Published: 22 May 2017
New Chief Executives often start their tenure with a frantic burst of activity as they seek to make an immediate impact. After moving into Hockey HQ in Lausanne, Switzerland, International Hockey Federation (FIH) CEO Jason McCracken is taking the opposite approach. We hear from Jason on how he will be approaching his new role leading the future of the FIH.
How will you spend your first 100 days in office?
"For the first three months, I am just planning on listening. As a new CEO, you have the opportunity to do a pulse check on the organisation. You can get a view on our stakeholders' perception of the organisation and their view on our strategy.
"So the first 100 days will be spent listening and engaging with as many stakeholders as I can. Then I will synthesise that and share it with the new Executive Board and see where we are and if we need to make any tweaks to the strategy."
What is your preferred method of communicating key messages to staff and stakeholders?
Some tweaks are already happening. Take communications for example: "It's an idea I got from the Chief Executive of ANZ (Australian/New Zealand Banking Group),” says McCracken. “Rather than sending out loads of emails which clutter peoples' inboxes and rarely get read, he would get his message across in short video clips. Key messages were sent out in no more than 60-second clips. The take up by the 60,000 staff was massive. It saved them trawling through and reading loads of emails." See the first of McCracken’s clips here.
A new CEO, a new President and a new Executive Board - that is quite a lot of change within the organisation, how can you reassure people that change is a good thing?
McCracken comes into an unusual situation. It is rare that the arrival of a new Chief Executive coincides with a new President and a new Executive Board. "Of course there has been a significant change in the whole leadership,” he says, “But both Dr Batra and myself believe in the strategy and the products. We don't come to them new. I do get the sense there have been some anxious people around but we are all on the same page and we have the support of very talented people in this office."
For McCracken, the task ahead involves implementing the strategy, he is not about to introduce new ideas, but rather will use his considerable commercial experience to create more revenues of wealth within the sport, centred around the new events portfolio. "In my mind, there is no conflict between sport and the business of sport," he says with the conviction of a man who had more than 20 years experience of both.
"If we are more commercial, we give ourselves more choices to do more stuff. We can develop hockey, we can grow the Academy, we can pay prize money. We can make the sport professional and the new Home and Away League will be the vehicle that does that. Believe me, it will be a real step change."
What will the new Home and Away League bring to the sport and how will it serve the sport as a whole, not solely the top nations?
"Our sport is far from soft. It is aggressive, fast-paced and skilful and it is time we applied those qualities to our commercial side and showed our partners just what a great sport they are working with."
In answer to the criticism that the Home and Away League might create a big division between the top teams and the remainder of the nations, McCracken is defiant. "There has always been top countries in hockey. The Champions Trophy involved the top six in the world; the World Cup is a competition between the top 12, so ultimately elite sport is always about being the best you can be and winning. That is what drives this elite sport.
"The shape of the Home and Away League is about bringing elite sport back to the people. Yes, they will be able to see it online but more importantly, they will also be able to physically sit in a stand and watch their team. It is bringing hockey home." He smiles, "I love that saying."
McCracken isn't all about the elite. He emphasises that the FIH will not waiver in its pledge to increase participation. "What hasn't changed is the need to develop the game at grassroots level. That is down to the National Associations but we will be there giving them support. It is about raising their level of participation. We are bringing new countries into the sport - half a dozen new National Associations in the past five years. We will keep doing that."
Certainly, the new events portfolio, which will actually come into effect in 2018 with the replacement of the Hockey World League Round 1 events, is easier to understand. McCracken says the 'clutter' has been removed and he is very clear that the new event portfolio is going to be a game-changer for hockey. "The organisation has agreed on a strategy, we are past the time for debate, now it is just about getting on and doing it."
What motivated you to quit a job in a huge company, up sticks and travel across the globe?
For those who do not know McCracken, the first thing to say is that his passion for hockey is boundless. He has played the game since he was five and now he is an umpiring veteran of two Olympic Games, plus one of the most respected Technical Delegates in the sport. His final appointment before taking over as head of the sport he loves was as Technical Delegate at the Rio Olympics.
Away from hockey, he has owned his own IT company and worked within the finance and insurance sectors back home in New Zealand. At one point he was looking after funds of $23 billion NZD. The obvious question is what drove him to make this huge life and career change?
"It came at a point of time in my life that made it seem right. My family are growing up and leaving home. There was the timing of Kelly's [Fairweather] departure. I just thought that I want to make a difference in a sport that I love.
"It wasn't an easy decision, my wife had a successful career as Director of an HR company, we have left our friends, our parents and our families to come across the other side of the world. But we agreed we wanted to make some changes. We have downsized from a big house to a small apartment in a beautiful city. We are so excited about it, to be living in Europe and living a European lifestyle.
"This role will take me to the four corners of the world and I have friends in all four corners of the earth because of this sport. One of the things I am looking forward to is re-connecting with those people. It is very exciting to be doing something really cool and different."
Watch Jason McCracken’s video interview sharing his vision for the hockey, what excites him most and the key challenges the sport faces.
To find out more about the Hockey Revolution strategy that McCracken will be driving, click here.
This article was originally published by our partner The FIH. Read the original article here.