Magazine article New Zealand Management

Therese Walsh: On Career Crossbars: At 34. Therese Walsh Is Described as a "Dynamic Manager" and Picked as a High Flier-But the General Manager Corporate Services for NZ Rugby Union Is Cautious about Setting the Crossbar Too High for Career Mums

Magazine article New Zealand Management

Therese Walsh: On Career Crossbars: At 34. Therese Walsh Is Described as a "Dynamic Manager" and Picked as a High Flier-But the General Manager Corporate Services for NZ Rugby Union Is Cautious about Setting the Crossbar Too High for Career Mums

Article excerpt

It's perhaps not surprising that the blokes at NZ Rugby's head office used to rise to their feet when Therese Walsh came into the room. That was when she first started working there in 2003. These days she's less of a novelty there are now more women in senior roles at the NZRU--but Walsh has a charisma that's helped mark her out as a future high flier.

Last year's corporate win New Zealand rights to host the 2011 Rugby World Cup ahead of Japan and South Africa, and her oxen personal touchdown regional winner of the NZIM Young Executive of the Year Award, have contributed to Walsh's career profile. But this smartly dressed, confident and attractive 34-year-old is not entirely comfortable with the image of "having it all".

"I don't want to be written about like I'm achieving lots and it's all brilliant. I really don't want to set other women up to think 'gosh you can do all this' because it's actually very difficult."

She's not talking about the job--she loves it--but about the challenge of balancing work and motherhood.

"The hardest decision in my career is children--not having them but leaving them. My two are now nine and six years and I think I've tried everything [to get the right work/life balance], working part time, half days, three days a week, four days a week ... Now I've sort of given up and am fulltime in what is a pretty demanding job.

"But I do think that it is absolutely the biggest struggle of my career; how best to fit family and job together."

She and her husband Dave share the caring--but he has an equally full-on role in the New Zealand racing industry.

"We both work quite long hours at quite demanding jobs so we find it a big challenge when we want to get involved in other things outside of work."

There's the kids' school, their evening classes, her fitness regime ... and, of course, the rugby--not just her son's involvement in the game--but its almost overwhelming presence in her life. She's not a rugby fanatic, Walsh admits--but this is, after all, New Zealand. "I feel like we're running an organisation with four million shareholders," she says wryly.

"Everyone has got a view, everyone is interested. It's something that pretty much everyone in New Zealand is passionate about."

Microsoft CFO Chris Liddell would no doubt agree. The former CEO of Carter Holt Harvey and director of the NZRU was recently explaining the iconic status of rugby players in New Zealand to an American interviewer.

"Their fortunes probably are more important to the national psyche of the country than GDP growth. I used to joke I thought I had an important job as CEO of the second largest listed company down there until I became a director for the NZRU. I was often stopped on the street by strangers who gave me their opinions on every issue from the coaching to player selection."

That interest is ever present, says Walsh.

"You work in a goldfish bowl here. There's a lot of very high profile people who have an opinion. So you can work on something contentious during the day then come home and hear about it on the news. It's not a job you can escape from at all, even in your social life.

"That's probably one of the biggest challenges--just trying to meet everyone's expectations."

But she enjoys the variety of people she works with, from small provincial unions around the country to adidas personnel in Europe or members of the International Rugby Board.

It is, she adds, unique work in more ways than one--being a woman in a male-dominated industry is part of that. While there are now a lot more women around, they've only recently started appearing in more senior positions.

Not that her minority status has been any sort of drawback.

"I've had some fabulous opportunities come my way in my time at rugby--I certainly haven't been held back one iota because I'm a woman. …

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