From Australian Rugby Captain to Corporate Climber

Stephen Moore is known as one of Australia's greatest rugby union players a titan on the field. However, he had to face a difficult decision to start again in a new career when his body decided it was time to retire from professional sport. Stephen discusses why lifelong learning is a powerful tool in his transition into the corporate world.

Not many people know that before I went into an Australian rugby career, I was studying a Bachelor of Biomedical Science to become a doctor. Science gives you a good grounding in how to think about things – it’s excellent for an inquisitive mind like mine, it looks at why something happens and how it happens. I think my need to understand how parts work together to contribute to a bigger picture still fuels my thinking today.

I got two years into my Biomedical Science Degree at The University of Queensland and started to play university rugby union, where I represented the Australian Under 19s.  An opportunity to play rugby full time arose with the Queensland Reds, so I jumped in head-first.

Growing up, sport was a significant part of my life. My family moved from Ireland when I was just five to a small rural town of only 2000 people in Queensland called Mount Morgan, which was very different from my home country. It was here that I spent most of my childhood with my three sisters.

There weren’t many distractions in a small country town, so we often had to find ways to create our own entertainment. This developed my love of sport from a young age – especially cricket, rugby and even swimming.

I was a huge fan of sporting legends Steve Waugh and Kieren Perkins. Olympic swimmer, Daniel Kowalski was also from Mount Morgan and came back with his medals after the 1996 Olympics. His visit had such a big impact on the community – myself included.  It definitely lit a fire within me and enhanced my relationship with sport.

It truly was a dream run to make my debut for the Queensland Reds, and start an illustrious career in rugby union that lasted over 15 years. Playing for the Wallabies and landing the position as Team Captain with them was a highlight, as well as achieving some record breaking-events during my career, including being the only hooker to play 100 tests.

However, while my rugby career was a rewarding one, I faced the problem every professional footballer faces – it only has a short life. I had played football for 15 years, physically and mentally I was ready for something different. The travel required for football was hard on my family too, as my kids are only young. It was just time to move on and try something different. 

While many ex-footballers and professional athletes go into media roles or leverage their profile, that just isn’t me. I’ve never been someone who likes the spotlight. I wanted to be known for something else and make a meaningful contribution elsewhere once my professional football career wrapped up – I was ready for a new challenge!

I decided I wanted to transfer my leadership knowledge off-field into the business world and set out to reposition myself in a corporate environment. It’s not easy to start from the bottom again, but I had some excellent mentors. I can’t stress enough how important good mentors are. I had three people that I trusted, who offered me great counsel. They also helped open up their networks and gave me advice on who to connect with.

When I landed my first corporate role at The North Australian Pastoral Company, I spent a lot of time reading as much as I could on the company before I started. Educating myself on the entire company operations, culture and values was a really important part in hitting the ground running in my new career.

I think it’s crucial to keep learning and reading throughout your life. Any professional environment constantly changes, especially the business landscape and corporate world, so you need to continually learn and educate yourself to stay in front and develop new mindsets.

My most recent self-development pursuit was a ‘Finance for Non-Finance Managers’ executive education course at UQ Business School’s venue in the Brisbane CBD. I don’t come from a finance background at all, but it became a necessity when I was promoted to General Manager at The North Australian Pastoral Company.

I need to have a thorough and holistic understanding of the whole business to do my job well, and financial knowledge is obviously an important part of that.

My fond connection to The University of Queensland through my undergraduate studies and university football made me interested to see what the calibre of their executive education courses are like.

What I really enjoyed about the course content and delivery is the facilitator didn’t assume any knowledge. Some courses I have completed race ahead and jump into big concepts quickly, which makes it hard to follow if you have no previous knowledge. The UQ course broke it down into easy to understand terms and concepts, building a great foundation without rushing the class, so the greater topic sunk in and made sense.

I think ongoing learning is vital for good managers. It takes a lot of courage and vulnerability for a leader to say they are deficient in a particular area, and take the necessary steps to develop. It makes them a superior leader in my eyes; it means they aren’t just guessing and making uninformed decisions on a subject they don’t have enough knowledge of.

I don’t think you can ever stop learning if you want to be successful in your career. A good friend of mine, QIC CEO Damien Frawley says “it’s better to have a little bit of knowledge in each area than no knowledge in any area.”

I was recently asked if I miss playing professional rugby. At times I miss the physical part, and representing my country in front of a big crowd is an amazing feeling. But, I had such a great run – 15 years of doing something I love, but it’s time to move on.

There are so many advantages that I love about my career and the lifestyle it brings. I get to travel to interesting rural cities for work, which makes me reminiscent of my own upbringing. I have more availability to work with charities I admire, including the Ronald McDonald House as a board member and as an ambassador for the Invictus Games. However, one of the biggest highlights is getting to see my family and friends more often; there’s a huge upside to my transition and the new life it has given me.

Question Everything. Except Your Curiosity.

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