Changing of sporting guard for Sport Taranaki

17:54, Dec 20 2013
Sport Taranaki
NO MORE: Former Sport Taranaki chairman David Lean is flanked by former deputy chairman Mike Brooke (left) and chief executive Howie Tamati.

Sport Taranaki has lost its founding chairman and his deputy with the retirement of David Lean and Mike Brooke this month. Glenn McLean talks to them about the past two decades in the roles and the challenges they faced.

Forty-five years of collective experience has left the top table of the Sport Taranaki boardroom.

Chairman David Lean and his deputy Mike Brooke have retired, replaced by new chairwoman and outgoing Waitara High School principal Jenny Gellen.

Brooke was one of the original trustees who helped establish the Taranaki Sports Foundation in 1989 along with John Honnor and the late Laurie Denton.

Back then, the Hillary Commission was establishing regional sports bodies, with Taranaki lumped in with Wanganui and Manawatu, with everything run out of Palmerston North.

"They ran it and made allocations to Wanganui and ourselves. It stumbled along and it wasn't really going very well because it's fair to say after four or five years we needed a different skill set in there," Brooke said.


Sport Taranaki was set up in 1994 after a compelling case was presented to the Hillary Commission. Howie Tamati was appointed chief executive, who in turn asked Lean to take up the chairmanship, two years after his New Plymouth mayoralty had ended.

"From my perspective, it's all gone pretty well since then," Brooke said.

"There has been some mess along the way, when things have not worked out like everyone has wanted them to, but you get that anyway because people always have different opinions, but we tried pretty well to accommodate people."

Initially, Sport Taranaki worked out of some offices in the Vero building on Devon St before a couple of more shifts until they eventually moved to the old Barrett St hospital.

Dilapidated on the outside, the rooms were practical to an extent, but the view out to the Tasman Sea and over the city made going to work less than a chore for Sport Taranaki's growing number of staff.

Lean got involved because he was looking for a new challenge. He wanted Sport Taranaki to be successful and he respected Brooke and Tamati.

"Howie's real strength is his ability to pull the right people around him," Lean said.

"Other CEOs do it the other way around, they are the leader and they say ‘follow me'. That's not Howie's style. What he does is get people like Steve McKean in who feel good about the organisation and away they go."

There were plenty of "growing pains" for everyone involved, especially around trying to finalise the organisation's purpose built premises at Yarrow Stadium, but Sport Taranaki moved in the right direction.

"We went from being $30,000 in debt to having a debt free building and assets worth $2.5 million. That was over a 20-year period," Lean said.

Brooke quickly qualified that by saying Sport Taranaki was not "an accumulator of money" because that "was the last thing we are".

"If we get funding it goes out to the community," he said. "The fact is we have established a building here and it is a community asset. It's probably been the best thing we ever did."

Sports administration, especially at a provincial level, can be as troublesome as local body politics, something Lean soon found out.

Not only is there myriad stakeholders to deal with, Sport Taranaki also has had to adapt with changing leaders and constant rebranding of the national body . . . think Hillary Commission to Sparc to Sport New Zealand. "Sometimes the national body creates a problem by default," Lean said.

"The second problem is the change of governments and the changing ministers of sport. That means the rules change and when the Minister of Sport says ‘jump', Sport New Zealand asks ‘how high'? Of course that has a ripple effect because it changes the whole organisation, from how you spend your money and your accountability back to them."

A classic example of that was the Skills4Life programme launched this year. It targets increasing the skill level of children to give them the confidence to participate in sport and therefore tackle child obesity.

"Our political bosses didn't really see it as important," Lean said. "They thought it was just a rehash of what has been done before but it wasn't, it was a whole new approach."

Both men agreed their jobs had been made considerably easier by having the TSB Community Trust and the Taranaki Electricity Trust actively giving to sports organisations and individuals in the province. They have also been impressed by the general willingness of the province's district councils to provide funding and work together.

That has seen Sport Taranaki's reliance on funding from Sport New Zealand drop to 38 per cent, the lowest it has ever been.

"A lot of the things we have achieved would not have been possible if territorial authorities or Sport Taranaki had tried to do it by themselves," he said, pointing to the recent international hockey series in Stratford as a good example.

"We just couldn't do what we do," added Brooke.

"We don't do any useless stuff. We go through strategic planning in great detail on what our focus should be and it doesn't change dramatically, it just moves with the times."

Tamati said one of the departing pair's great strengths had been their ability to change and shift to make the most of the opportunities that arose.

"You know the characters of these two men, they can be brutally honest at times but we have never got to a point where we have fallen out. "If you look at the roles Daisy [Lean] and Mike have played in Sport Taranaki, I don't think I could have got two better guys to help me from the beginning."

Taranaki Daily News