NOTHING like a friendly face to brighten up one’s day, but the new Racing Association CEO, Natalie Turner, says that appearances can deceive—she can be tough when needs be.
She has learnt from the past, wishes to correct mistakes and lead from the front, with an improvement of race stakes as her first objective. Her package includes a performance bonus.
We posed Seven Questions to Natalie in our popular Turf Talk Newsletter, as below:
TT: Give us some background. You hail from a racing family.
NT: I was born in Johannesburg and have lived here all my life, I attended Rand Afrikaans University (now University of Johannesburg) where I obtained a B.com degree in financial accounting. I served my articles at an audit firm in Houghton and I began my journey with The Racing Association as a senior accountant in 2009. Within a few years I then moved into a more managerial position, with my skills focused on finance, HR and administration.
I have managed the staff of The Racing Association for several years. I then took on the role of overseeing and administrating the Work Riders’ Training Programme and the Gauteng Jockey Academy, both of which fall under the Thoroughbred Horseracing Trust. My interest and passion for racing came long before my introduction at the RA.
My uncle was the late jockey Gerald Turner, or “GT”, as he was affectionately known and for as long as I can remember growing up, there was racing in our household. All day TV on a Saturday afternoon, stable visits, watching my uncle ride work or even stealing a visit to the starting stalls before a race. I was very young but it left a huge impression on me and my love for this sport spans several decades.
TT: You have been under the radar so far, but having applied for the position means you believe you can make a difference. Elaborate?
NT: I have been under the radar, as many people in administrative and financial roles often are. I see this part of my career as where I was able to obtain a huge wealth of knowledge, especially throughout this industry. I’ve had the opportunity to work with many skilled business people who not only have taught me many things in the Boardroom but also in general through their passion for this sport. I believe the timing is right for me to take on this challenge as we begin to navigate the road to create real transformation and rebuilding of the industry. It is this experience, paired, with the necessary skills and enthusiasm which will make me an integral part of this strategy team. I have a supportive Board in place to make these decisions with and I identify with their ethos and strategy on both a professional and personal level.
TT: You worked in the previous RA administration for a long time and you will know most of what was going on. Of course, it’s early days yet, but is there anything you won’t do during your tenure?
NT: I believe that we need to be more inclusive and certainly more engaging with our members, owners in general and all role players in the industry. Communication, communication and more communication are key, along with transparency. People are a lot more willing to accept ideas and get behind them if they know the details of how we arrived there and were along for the process.
TT: This is a high-profile and also a strategic position in which, for example, you will have to serve on the NHA Board. You are known as a friendly and gentle person. Are you ready for the unholy alliance of advocates and others who make a living from overwhelming people with power talk and legal mumbo-jumbo? In other words, do you have a ‘tough cookie’ side and can you stand your ground?
NT: Absolutely, don’t let the friendly disposition fool you. Whilst I truly value the good relationships I’ve developed over time, and I respect my peers in the industry as well as their respective positions, I understand what is needed to stand my ground.
I don’t believe I’ll be swayed with power talk, I believe in obtaining as much knowledge as I can on something, to be able to engage meaningfully. I ask many questions and respect people who may have more knowledge on a topic than I do. However, I know my comments and contributions add value and a good blend of those will enable me to work successfully within the industry and amongst the industry role players.
I have humility, but that certainly doesn’t mean I lack confidence in my abilities and my opinions, I think it makes me a better leader and I’m able to arrive at the correct decisions for the industry and not just for my personal ego.
TT: You presently have the support and protection from a strong board who won’t be there forever. Are you ready to face criticism and people openly gunning for you? The RA’s new transparency will help, but still, the knives will be out.
NT: I believe my work will speak for itself, there will always be criticism and some of it not so constructive. However, I am accountable and have strong personal and professional values. I’ll take it on the chin and continue to make sure I strive to keep my head in the game and focused on achieving the results I need to achieve. If it were easy, everyone would do it.
TT: In your view, what are the most important functions of the RA going forward?
NT: Stakes, and with that comes programming. Stakes are one of, if not the most important aspects to an owner, as the ultimate result, affects them directly. We have a responsibility to review the funding model for racing and to conclude a new stakes agreement, using industry assets to generate revenue for a sustainable future.
To improve the ownership experience through technology and modern marketing of the sport. Bring it into a digital space to grow potential new markets, make it aspirational but attainable through racing clubs, syndicates or fractional ownership.
I believe we also have a responsibility to drive and support transformation throughout the industry. To ensure a greater representation of colour, gender and age. What that really means to me is to facilitate creating a level of excellence in the various employment opportunities across the industry. Providing skills development in real world scenarios, providing education and training as well as mentorship programmes throughout.
TT: In regards the obvious functions, like attracting new owners, keeping them 100% happy and improving their racing experience, what do you have in mind?
NT: As you’ve mentioned before, I was previously working under the radar, I am aware that many members do not know me and many people on the ground in our centres around the country do not know me. My first plan is to get out there, introduce myself and establish those relationships, with employees, leaders, owners and even the media. I want to gain as much knowledge and perspective as I can and review the current experiences and initiatives the RA has in these regions. Where changes are necessary, implement them quickly. Membership processes need to be efficient and professional throughout and this is something I will focus on in my first few months in the role.
From there I’d like to build on this to create a new tiered membership base that includes all owners by virtue of them paying Nomination and Declaration Fees, one that is more inclusive and which will be in line with a new progressive MOI which I will be working to develop over the next six months.
Lastly and again something that we must strive for in order to keep this positive momentum of change and accountability going, is to work together. I look forward to engaging with all stakeholders and to face my challenges head on. I appreciate the fact that I have a very strong and supportive Board and the will is there to affect major change. This is a new beginning and I believe a positive move toward the future of racing.