Getting Panthers in the Pink

Getting Panthers in the Pink

Licensed club behemoth Panthers needed someone to develop an information environment that could support a burgeoning business, so it hired its first-ever CIO. In the first in an occasional series, Beverley Head reports on the emerging challenges of the role

West of Sydney on the flat plains that eventually give way to the Blue Mountains, a series of stocky towers hunker down in a scrum. It is a fitting architectural statement for Panthers Entertainment Group (PEG), the broad network of businesses which grew out of the Penrith Panthers rugby league club.

Today PEG boasts around 130,000 members. Besides the 13 licensed clubs dotted across New South Wales, the motels, the restaurants and the Penrith Panthers rugby league operation, the organisation also sponsors Penrith's rugby union and cricket teams, and through Club Nova in Newcastle is a major sponsor of the Newcastle Knights league team. On the drawing board is a multimillion dollar development plan to build a boulevard of retail and entertainment outlets called Panthers Walk, which is another attempt to draw more people into the Panthers network.

PEG's growing sprawl of operations recorded pre-tax earnings of $19.1 million for the 2001 financial year. The organisation's assets, staff numbers and revenues had doubled in two years. Although PEG was not without IT systems, they were not integrated, or centrally owned or managed. They needed to be. The group's accountants advised hiring a chief information officer who could create an information system that would support PEG today and grow with it in the future.

While the people of NSW barracked, bet, ate and drank their way through the PEG empire, on the other side of the world Australian James Huckerby was sick of the cold and the grey and the damp. Since 1998 he had been working in Britain in a number of IT roles including a stint with telecommunications company Global Crossing, with BBC Worldwide and also with the almost iconic British brand Tetley Tea. But it was time to come home. "I was sick of the weather," says Huckerby. "You can't overstate how much that can get you down."

Huckerby certainly achieved his desire for a little more warmth - literally. He flew back into Australia on Christmas Day 2001, his plane banking over the bushfire-plagued Blue Mountains which were belching black smoke down onto the Penrith plains. His first interview with the Panthers CEO had to be postponed "because the CEO's house was burning down". It was quite a homecoming.

Initially Huckerby was appointed as a strategic consultant to PEG. In April he was anointed CIO and has been at full stretch ever since.

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