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Renita’s journey from Olympic gold medalist to director

20 March 2020: Renita Garard shares how professional sport paved the way for her finance career.

Hockey was always a family affair for a young Garard, who played with her sister and cousins in the local club competition in Townsville, Queensland. After leaving school she gained a scholarship to the Australian Institute of Sport Hockey Unit and spent the next 10 years as a full-time professional athlete, fitting university study around a heavy training and travel schedule, and later, a career in accountancy.

It was a high school teacher and a taxation law lecturer at university who had piqued her interest in accounting, which she recognised as having many parallels with her favourite sport. “Working through an accounting exercise was very similar to my sporting life. You need strong basic skills, there was a process to follow, and you have to look out for different situations that can cause things to go astray and then try to navigate your way to an end point,” she says.

In 1996 Garard won her first gold medal at the Olympic Games in Atlanta, as co-vice-captain of Australia’s Hockeyroos, and graduated from university the same year. The following year she joined Arthur Andersen in Brisbane, Queensland, where the partners and her teammates at the firm supported her for the next four years as she combined the early stages of her accounting career with training for the Sydney Olympics in 2000. When the team won its second gold medal, it marked the end of Garard’s professional hockey career and the start of her CA studies. 

She describes her two gold medals as amazing mementos of her journey. Far more valuable to her, however, particularly in her professional life, are the memories, the friendships, and the character-forming experiences she acquired along the way.

“It’s difficult to explain, but these intangible items are absolutely priceless,” she says. “While it’s possible to buy an Olympic medal, as they do get sold by athletes from time to time, the actual experiences are truly unique to me, and have been and continue to be an invaluable asset. I rarely look at my medals but the intangibles are with me every single day.”

Her sporting achievements imbued in her a deep sense of effective team-working and what becomes possible when leaders and teams really focus on it. Leadership is another area where her sporting life and her professional life have converged. Garard was a member of the Australian hockey team when Dr Ric Charlesworth was the coach and led the Hockeyroos to two successive Olympic golds. “He was a true leader with a singular focus of assisting me to achieve way more than I ever believed I would be capable of,” she says. “He did that with every member of the team, giving us the best opportunity of getting into the gold medal matches, and performing at our very best on the day.”

In 2012, she stepped away from all her hockey commitments, including board roles with Hockey Australia and the International Hockey Federation, and today holds board roles in infrastructure, rugby league and mental health, which she combines with her current role at PwC. As a leader in these various roles, Garard still finds her hockey coach’s concept of leadership inspirational.

“It’s no surprise that the most enjoyable part of my current role is observing and celebrating the success of others,” she says. “Equally, I enjoy the opportunity to partner with our clients, understand their dreams and aspirations and bring all that I and my PwC colleagues can to help them on their journey. 

“I’m sure there are lessons that can be transitioned in reverse, from the workplace to the sports field, but I believe that true high-performance outcomes in any arena start with pure and selfless leadership. It is simple and uncomplicated.”

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