Q&A: Get to know Nick Hockley, CA's interim CEO
Cricket Australia's new chief executive discusses his journey from England to Australia, his passion for cricket and what the future holds
20 June 2020, 10:19 AM AEST
It’s been an eventful week at Cricket Australia, with CEO Kevin Roberts departing and 40 staff made redundant as part of the organisation’s cost-cutting response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The new interim Chief Executive Officer, Nick Hockley, spoke to cricket.com.au about his journey in Australian cricket, his work as CEO of the T20 World Cup organising committee, and what he hopes to achieve in his new role.
What is the Nick Hockley story? How did a kid from Birmingham end up in charge of Cricket Australia?
I don’t naturally like talking about myself, but I will! Cricket was my first love. I grew up in Birmingham, my late father was a very good cricketer and played for the Middlesex young amateurs as it was then, which is a bit like the Under-21s. But he gave that away – he was a doctor and he devoted his life to his career. I played at a reasonable level in cricket until my mid-teens and then rugby became my thing. I just loved all sport and played rugby at a reasonable level. I played for England at student level.
My first experience of Australia was coming out here and playing against Sydney Boys High in Centennial Park as a schoolboy and I really fell in love with the place. I then lived with three Aussies at university (in England) and played rugby with those guys and they became really, really great mates.
I trained as an accountant, worked in the city of London in corporate finance but I always thought ‘I’ve got to do a couple of years and see my mates in Australia’. So I did that between 2002 and 2005, met my now wife, persuaded her to move back to London and was very, very lucky to get one of the early jobs on the London Olympics. I did that for six years on the basis that we would then emigrate (to Australia). We had our first daughter in London and our second daughter in Sydney.
I still remember the weekend in 2012 when I moved to Australia. My contract with the Olympics finished on a Sunday and I started working on the 2015 Cricket World Cup on the Monday. It was the weekend that Sydney won the (AFL) flag; I was in air when that happened, landed and went straight into work on the Cricket World Cup.
So I’ve been working in Australian cricket since the day I stepped foot in the country eight years ago and I’ve loved every single minute of it. It’s been great.
What’s the past week been like? Did you have any reservations about taking the role?
I’ve had very mixed emotions. I was very shocked to be asked; I didn’t see it coming at all, so I probably haven’t had time yet to process it. I feel very sad for Kev; I’ve worked with him pretty much the whole time I’ve been in Australia and I know his love for the game and the organisation is second to none, so I feel mixed emotions there.
On the other hand, I feel this is a massive privilege to be asked, it’s a massive responsibility and a massive opportunity even if it’s only for the next few months. I’m in a unique position in that I know a lot of people reasonably well having worked with them. And I’m pretty clear on the priorities, which are getting the team back to work, reaching out to all our stakeholders and coming together, and focusing on delivering this summer.
What’s made me appreciate the magnitude of it is some of the messages I’ve got from colleagues in the sports industry around the world. I feel like it’s probably hit home, the magnitude of it. But I’m just really focused on what we need to do in the next 24 hours, the next few days, the next week.
There’s lots to do and I’m really looking forward to people coming back and being really crystal clear on what the priorities are, and that is doing everything in our power to put on the best possible summer.
What do you think your biggest challenge is going to be?
In many ways, where we’re at now is a function of how passionate people are and how much they care. Everyone just wants a bit of certainty and I think the challenging thing is I feel like I want to sit down with every single person. There’s a lot of people I want to sit down with, but time is of the essence.
On the flip side, we’ve got amazing people who do amazing work so I feel if we can just very clearly set our priorities and get everyone pointing in the same direction, we’ll be OK. That is ultimately the responsibility of the Australian cricket leadership team, all the boards around the country.
I just want to see the amazing people we’ve got doing amazing work. And if that happens, we’ll put on amazing cricket and we’ll provide our fans with the best summer possible in what’s been a very, very difficult situation.
I consider myself quite an optimistic person but I’m also a real pragmatist. So it’s about finding the balance between visualising days like we had with the 2015 World Cup final or two-and-a-half months ago (the T20 World Cup final), with knowing when I come in on Monday morning what do I need to achieve by Friday afternoon that’s going to contribute to us putting on the best possible summer? That’s what I’m thinking about at the moment.
How will you repair the relationships with the states and the players association?
I’m just really keen to find out how everyone’s feeling, in the first instance, and I’m starting to understand that. Everyone wants a solution and every bit of clarity we can get really helps. The challenge is that time is of the essence to sort all that out. And we owe it to the game to sort it out.
Do you have much of a relationship with the senior players and coaches in Australian cricket?
Firstly, I admire them all hugely. I know the Australian women’s team better, only because we’ve just come off what we’ve just come off (the T20 World Cup) and they were such an instrumental part of it. But honestly, they’re probably thinking ‘who’s this bloke?’. I would think many of them don’t know me from a bar of soap, to be brutally honest.
I know Motty (Matthew Mott) reasonably well. I’ve had an initial exchange with JL (Justin Langer) and I know through watching The Test documentary what he stands for, but he doesn’t know me well. But we need to all look to the leaders around the business and I think they are just two great examples, and the players as well.
I take a lot of inspiration from watching them go about their business. They’re unashamedly trying to be the best in the world through pulling in and taking advice, and a lot of those approaches resonate very strongly with me.
Do you have any ambition to take on the CEO role full-time?
I’ve spent a third of my career in Australian cricket so I’m extremely passionate about Australian cricket. I care deeply about those people I know and I’m looking forward to getting to know others, even if this is just a short interim stint. My approach throughout my entire career has been to focus on doing the best job I can with what I’ve been tasked with, and the future will look after itself. And I’ll continue the same approach.
Do you still hold a role with the T20 World Cup organising committee, or will you be replaced?
That’s been a real priority over the last 48 hours. We’re reasonably well progressed and we will be appointing an interim because you just can’t do both.
Given all the work you’ve done leading up to it, would you like to go back to having a major role with the T20 World Cup when it happens? Would it sadden you if you aren’t able to follow it though?
Australia’s the host country and I’ve been given the privilege and responsibility in this interim basis to fulfil this role. And ultimately the success of these events is very important to Australian cricket, both from a growth perspective but also a financial perspective.
If I reflect back on the 2015 World Cup, James Sutherland was in the CEO position and he was instrumental in that event. And Kevin on the women’s tournament recently, they’re two really good models. Whether I’m back playing the delivery role or whether I’m doing this role, I’ll be intrinsically involved either way. That event has been a passion project of mine for the last four years.
If the World Cup can be held without crowds, would you like to see that proceed? Or in your mind, are full stadiums a must-have for a major event?
The reality is, and we’ve got much more understanding about this in recent weeks, is crowds are most likely to come back before international travel. Our biggest challenge is getting 15 teams into the country. If I compare it with the prospect of a bilateral tour, you’re talking about bringing one team in and then playing individual matches. But the prospect of bringing 15 teams in and having six or seven teams in one city at the same time, it’s a much more complex exercise.
So you think by the time borders have opened to the point that 15 teams will be allowed to travel to Australia, crowds would also be permitted?
That’s the current thinking, yes.
Will the ODI series against Zimbabwe that is scheduled to be played in August go ahead?
I need a briefing on that. It’s on my priority list to get clarity around that.
What about the prospect of Australia touring England in September?
I’m not going to comment on that until we’ve got together as an executive to go through it.
What is your message to lovers of Australian cricket? If a supporter or local player came up to you in the street, what would you say to them?
I’d make sure to see if they’re OK, firstly. It’s been a difficult time. I think we’re really, really fortunate to live in Australia and I think cricket’s really fortunate to be in the position it’s in. I’d probably just like to have a chat with them, to be honest. And talk to them about the cricket.
What would success look like for you in this role?
I’d like to see a really happy, motivated, collaborative and high-performing Australian cricket staff all working together as one. I’d like to see us turn around at the end of this summer and have no regrets that we’ve been able to deliver the best possible summer for our fans. And I’d like to leave knowing that I’ve done everything I could.