With the Rugby World Cup kicking off this month model and TV presenter KYM AUST-HOWLETT, the brains and beauty behind the marketing of some top Super Rugby clubs, shares her success story in this sexy MAXIM feature…
Tell us a bit about yourself, Kym.
I’m a Northern Beaches, Sydney, girl and when I turned 18 I lived in Japan as a model, which started my love of travel and ease of living overseas. I’m half English, half Australian, studied ballet and I’m a real girly girl with a slight tomboy persona — as I’m mad on sports, specifically rugby, cricket and football (soccer). My career is rather diverse as I’m a TV presenter, model and rugby-girl boss. I studied an MBA at MGSM and the University of Wollongong… yes, it took me a little while due to working full-time while studying. I live in Sydney but work in New York and London, so I’m killing it with my frequent flyer points.
How did you get into the business side of rugby?
The CEO of Waratahs Rugby, Jim L’Estrange, wanted a paradigm shift in rugby. He saw the need to change an old mindset and culture of an old boys’ club and take it into a new business focussed era. So, he recruited me, a young girl with a skill set in marketing and commercial.
At 24 you became the General Marketing Manager at the NSW Waratahs rugby club. How so?
I was recruited through Talent 2 agency but was lucky in the sense of timing. Through the leadership of a new CEO, rugby had to make changes to be a sustainable and operate as a successful business. So, they took a risk on me and it paid off. In the five year’s I was General Manager at the Waratahs, we achieved club records in sponsorship/partnership revenues plus crowd, membership and viewership numbers. I also had a strategy to align to premium international brands, so we had the most unreal global partners such as HSBC, IBM, Volvo, MJ Bale and many more.
That is impressive.
I also challenged the same old approach to Rugby, by creating new and innovative initiatives, which were all very new at the time, such as a behind the scenes documentary, aligning fashion designers to traditional replica kit, creating a mascot (Tah Man) with epic game day entries, launching edgy marketing campaigns (“Tah’s for Life”) and so much more.
Nice one. This role saw you become the first female and youngest GM in a leadership role. What advice do you have for young women and men with similar aspirations?
The key to my success was having a great mentor. The Mentor opened doors and opportunities that I’d never have done on my own. Don’t get me wrong though, once those doors are opened, you then have to deliver. Achieving results through hard work, dedication and commitment shines through and in return you gain respect and credibility amongst a very hard industry — that is sport. You will not be able to succeed in sport without respect and performing at an optimum level. Sport is as ruthless off field as it is on field. Only the best will survive. For women, specifically, I say embrace that you are a woman – that is your point of difference. It is hard to get the opportunities, but once you do, be you. On a commercial level, there is something very different to a way a girl negotiates and closes a deal to a man, there is no ego and negotiations flow differently. Finally, I believe that creating strong relationships and partnerships is imperative.
Israel Folau is a former Waratah. What are your views on his whole controversial saga?
I worked with Izzy for many years — in fact, he was the face of a campaign (with Adam Ashley-Cooper) for the Bingham Cup, celebrating diversity and acceptance in rugby. His saga has impacted rugby, specifically Australian rugby’s brand equity around the world. I hope a resolution, for all parties involved, comes sooner rather than later.
Next in your career you crossed the Tasman and worked a similar job for the Auckland Blues Super Rugby team. So, are you a Waratahs or Blues fan these days?
I made so many great friends in New Zealand, it was a great experience. I also learnt so much in respect to their approach for on-field teams and their strong pathways for players, I understand why they are World Champions. But I have to say Waratahs, as it was the club that gave me my first massive opportunity and we made so much change in rugby.
You’re now working with Ruby United New York and the Major League Rugby competition in the United States. How did you get into this?
A friend of mine, Ben Foden, plays for Rugby United New York and mentioned I should come and check it out, as Major League Rugby and Rugby United New York were doing some great things in rugby. So, I did, and he was right. It is an exciting time to be a part of this new competition and the breadth of opportunity for Rugby being a force in the United States, is just beyond. I’m literally a kid in a candy shop with the scope of what can be achieved.
Has your modelling or model looks ever played a detrimental role in any job you’ve had in rugby?
I often get judged when I walk into a boardroom. When I first started as General Manager I’d have leaders of organisations, who had never met me, talk to my male team members thinking they were the GM. It always amused me when the penny dropped and they realised it was me who they were about to negotiate with, not my team member – the back peddling was just gold. I don’t really get that as much anymore, as my network is large now and people tend to know me and my work, which is nice.
You mentioned you also do some television presenting gigs?
Yes, parallel to working in rugby, I do sideline rugby commentary and I’m also hosting a new show called Destination Goals, which is a travel show with a new take on it. My co-hosts are all sports stars and the destination we visit is seen through their eyes. It’s very cool and unique showcasing these destinations but with a sports element.
This MAXIM photo shoot looks great. Tell us a bit about it.
Ooh, my… having the opportunity to work with Nigel Barker, Americas Next Top Model judge and photographer, was surreal and so much fun. Nigel and his talented team were next level professional, but also know the balance between being focussed and having fun onset to bring the best out of people. It’s was seriously the ultimate experience. The theme was to highlight my work in New York, how rugby is taking on the US and that Rugby United New York is going to be a global brand with talented International and US stars/players.
Why did you decide to do this shoot?
A UK publication printed an article with the headline “Meet the Sexiest Super Rugby General Manager”. At the time, I had so many people say I should be offended and insulted, but I wasn’t at all. I own being a woman – that’s my strength and point of difference in a male dominated industry, such as sport. Being sexy doesn’t mean you are any less intelligent, hard working or successful. Your actions, results and work ethic will gain respect, no matter what. I believe being part of MAXIM Australia highlights my position and thoughts on this. I hope this feature allows other women to know that they can be sexy while being intelligent and successful.
What would people be surprised to learn about you?
I’m a ballet dancer – I have been all of my life. At one stage I had the option to go professional. Ballet is full-on but having that discipline in my life from such an early age has guided the way I approach my career and allows me an understanding of what the athletes I work with go through and how much they have to commit in their lives to be successful at an elite level.
The Rugby World Cup kicks off in Japan this month. Who will be the two teams fighting it out in the final and who will win?
I hope one will be the Wallabies! You can never underestimate the Australians in a RWC, but I think it will be an England and New Zealand final. Weird, as my Dad is from Cornwall in England, so I have a small part of me cheering for them and I have so many friends playing for NZ. I have connections to both teams, but that’s not my bias. They are the two top teams and have been for many years. It’s a RWC – you never really know as teams step up. Its’ quite even for the top teams this time around, so I think it will be a very competitive and interesting Rugby World Cup to watch. ■
NAME: Kym Aust-Howlett
BORN: July 8
HOMETOWN: Sydney, NSW
FIVE-WORD SELF-DESCRIPTION: “Energetic, creative, tenacious, humorous, dedicated.”
HOBBIES: “Surfing, watching rugby and cricket.”
HIDDEN TALENTS: “I’m a mad-keen driver. Racing is in the blood — my Dad was a racing car driver and is now an engineer who designs chassis for racing cars.”
PHOTOGRAPHED BY NIGEL BARKER
INTERVIEW BY SANTI PINTADO
BLACK SWIM, AGENT PROVOCATEUR; SHOES, GIO DIE
HAIR & MAKE-UP: MATTHEW SKY AT NEXT ARTISTS; FASHION STYLIST NAHEED HADJISOFFI AT NEXT ARTISTS; LOCATION THE EMPIRE SUITE AT THE RENAISSANCE HOTEL MIDTOWN, NEW YORK CITY
For the full article grab the October 2019 issue of MAXIM Australia from newsagents and convenience locations. Subscribe here.