Zoltan Varadi handles business operations at High Performance Sport New Zealand, and takes pride in all the athletes’ performances.
As the business operations general manager of High Performance Sport New Zealand
(HPSNZ), you’d expect Zoltan Varadi FCPA to have some first-hand experience in sporting activities, but he takes it to the next level. Judo, karate, tae kwon do and Shaolin kempo are among the martial arts in which Varadi has black belts. It suggests he’s not the type of person you’d pick a fight with. It also suggests he has a lot of discipline.
“There are two ways of looking at martial arts,” he says. “For some it’s a sport; for others it is an art form. For me it’s an art form; a way of life and commitment to constant learning. It is something I identify strongly with.”
Varadi oversees a team of 34 and helps distribute some of the NZ$68 million a year that goes to high-performance sports bodies in New Zealand, such as those governing rowing, athletics, cycling, sailing and snow sports. The goal is to get more New Zealanders winning on the world stage in targeted sports.
“I know it’s a cliché but every day we look at being the best you can be.”
The role is a 360-degree loop for the commerce and law graduate from Auckland, who started working with Southern Cross Healthcare and then Abano Healthcare in roles that weren’t simply about profit and loss, before moving on to more traditional corporate positions with Bauer Media and Laureate International Universities.
The latter job saw Varadi “on the road a lot, navigating multinational time zones and dealing with global corporates”. After almost three years, he came to the realisation it was time for a change and embraced the opportunity when approached by HPSNZ.
“It was about trying to re-centre myself, and a lot of that was looking locally and how I could contribute,” he says. “I was quite happy to step away from the multinational frenzy and be involved with something much more close to home.”
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The metrics of profit and loss now have a whole new meaning, with Varadi describing his balance sheet these days as “one of human potential”.
“I know it’s a cliché but every day we look at being the best you can be. When you have thoroughbred athletes who are giving their all every day, trying to improve on the finest of margins, the support structure needs to mirror that and model that environment.”
That was very much the case at the 2016 Rio Olympics, where the New Zealand team surpassed all expectations by winning its biggest-ever medal haul of 18 (four above HPSNZ’s target). Varadi admits it had an emotional impact.
“When you see an athlete on a podium and you can say ‘I really know, I genuinely know that person’, and in your own way you have facilitated that success to occur, it is a fantastic and truly rewarding experience.”
One piece of advice
“The big thing is to ensure that you have a feedback-rich environment. It works two ways: actively seeking feedback, then it is about providing feedback to the people you work with. It is the only way to have continuous improvement.”
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