Business IQ

At the top of her game: Leeanne Grantham

Mike Doman
Technology Journalist

Mike Doman is a technology, lifestyle, industrial and education writer

Mike Doman
Technology Journalist

Mike Doman is a technology, lifestyle, industrial and education writer

From a national basketball star to the boardroom, Leeanne Grantham’s been at the top of Aussie sport for more than two decades. Here she shares her lessons for Aussie business.

view of treetops from the ground up

Leeanne Grantham describes her career as the result of being “incredibly lucky”, but her CV suggests there’s something more deliberate than luck pushing her forward.

With more than two decades in senior management positions within the sport and event industry – CEO of the Masters Games (bigger, participant-wise, than the Olympics), the WNBL, Racing Australia Hall of Fame, the W-League and Events SA – and a string of awards including Telstra Business Woman of the Year award in 1997, you get the feeling Leeanne’s determination has played a bigger role than luck.

“I have been very fortunate with my national positions where I have travelled the world extensively,” she says.

“When I look back on it, it’s been pretty amazing for someone who didn’t actually finish year 12, didn’t go to university, grew up in the country; sport certainly has provided me with some amazing opportunities.”

So what has Leeanne learned throughout the journey?

Grab opportunities

Leeanne puts some of her success down to her networks, saying that playing basketball for Australia gave her access to people and opportunities many people aren’t afforded, but adds that an attitude of seizing every opportunity has meant a lot of doors have opened.

“When an opportunity knocks, you should always have a look. Don’t be afraid to make change. You might be in a position that you feel comfortable in, but is it a position that is actually challenging you, is it a position that you can see yourself in longer term?

“If not and there’s an opportunity, you should always grab it and have a go. You can always go back, or you can always make change.”

But the advice doesn’t just relate to job opportunities. Winning the Telstra Business Woman of the Year in 1997 gave Leeanne an opportunity to network with likeminded people – an opportunity she continues to this day through her role as judge for the Awards.

“I have no doubt that having won [Telstra Business Woman of the Year] in ’97, the opportunity with the World Masters Games opened up much easier for me.

“[The Awards process] was tough because it was a full board of very well respected people who interviewed me. I was very nervous because I didn’t believe in myself, but after the interview and I got the call I was like “oh my God, this can be done”.

“I have no doubt that the Telstra awards helped me.”

The importance of a team

And the lessons that come with a life of playing team sports have been drilled into Leeanne – communication, trust and sticking together all matter. A philosophy that she’s tried to instil in her teams since.

“I remember standing and talking to [Events SA] and saying ‘Listen, I just happened to be the captain of the team at the moment or the coach. But there are plenty of you who are going to kick the winning goals or shoot the winning baskets as we go forward, and we will celebrate those victories. There will be time when we have losses and there will be times when we make mistakes, but as long as we stick together as a team we will be fine.’

“I use that analogy a lot. I see my involvement with sport, teaching me how to communicate with people, teaching me how to understand others, being really respectful.

“With team sport in particular, I had certainly discovered that it’s about team and ‘there is no I in team’. I know that that sounds like a really typical phrase, but it is very much about that from my perspective.”

Do your best all the time

Leeanne’s career is not always about catering to the tens of thousands either, but she says it’s important for her to put in 110 per cent whether she’s working for six teams or 60.

“We ran the South Australian Country Football Championships [just recently]… six teams in Port Augusta.

“But to me it doesn’t matter what size it is, it’s about how it’s perceived, how it’s presented. We’ve been told by everyone that attended, including the mayor of Port Augusta that it was the best country championship that they had ever been to.

“It doesn’t matter whether it is the World Masters Games, whether it is the Olympic games or whatever it is, I just like to do the best that we can possibly do. If that is seen to be a win, and fantastic by everyone, then I feel very satisfied.”

Get involved

Leeanne is also lacking the ego that comes with many high-powered roles, and she’s equally comfortable making big decisions as she is getting involved with the catering. It’s this desire to roll up her sleeves and get involved that’s served her so well to date.

“I remember at the World Masters Games, the company that we had arranged to deliver some lunch to our volunteers had not delivered a set of sandwiches for these volunteers.

“So I’m in the kitchen at the office making ham, tomato and cheese sandwiches and getting them delivered. It is about rolling your sleeves up and showing your stuff, that you are happy to get involved with whatever it is [your staff] do.”

Leeanne's Lessons For Business
  1. Values matter. “Values are really important to you. Integrity, honesty, those things are all things that when you take on a new role or start up a new business you need to stick to.”
  2. Communicate well. “I see my involvement with sport as teaching me how to communicate with people, teaching me how to understand others, being really respectful.”
  3. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. I think business mentors or individual mentors are really important. I certainly had one in Melbourne during my time with the WNBL and also the World Masters Games, and if I needed to, I know that I could call him now.”
  4. Have a plan. “Planning is obviously everything. If I can go back to sport, planning is how you’re going to train, planning how you are going to challenge your opponents, whether it is an individual sport or a team sport. That is no different to business.”
Learn about another inspiring woman in business.

Read Jane Rowe’s story on how she started The Mirabel Foundation here.

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