Kelly Fairweather is one of the fortunate people whose passion and profession are the same thing. He doesn’t find it difficult at all to get motivated for his work as chief operating officer of the International Tennis Federation (ITF). He grew up in Kroonstad in a family that loves sport and found himself around sports fields and local sports clubs on weekends. Hockey, soccer, cricket, golf, tennis and water skiing were all part of his daily activity while growing up. He followed his brother to boarding school in Bloemfontein at St. Andrews School before his path lead to Stellenbosch.
He obtained his master’s degree in human movement at Stellenbosch University in 1989 and describes his days as Matie student as “the best years from every perspective”. After graduation, he played golf and hockey but injured his back and then started coaching.
“That kind of kick-started my career and I coached Maties, Western Province and eventually the national hockey team,” Kelly says. After that, he moved into a role as high-performance director for South African Hockey and he was getting more interested in management. Then an old friend asked him to consider a one-year internship at the International Olympic Committee (IOC) based in Lausanne, Switzerland. He eventually became the director of sport at the IOC.
After nine years, they decided to come back to South Africa mostly for family reasons and Kelly took the position as CEO of SUSPI for a few years. After that they moved back to Switzerland to work for the World Anti-Doping Agency. “An opportunity then came up with my old sport hockey as the CEO and I spent six years developing and implementing a strategy to revolutionise world hockey,” he says.
At some point Kelly had a desire to move into a different sport and started exploring other opportunities that led to his current appointment at the ITF. The ITF is based in London and have 207 members worldwide with six regional associations and 125 staff in the headquarters in Roehampton near Wimbledon. Kelly’s job is to develop and implement a five-year strategy for the ITF working with the 12 directors that make up the leadership team.
Getting to the major events and meeting people, players, coaches, sponsors and media and seeing progress in the roll-out of his strategy is what Kelly enjoys most of his current job. “What I learnt in my career is that the right attitude and an excellent work ethic combined with a sense of humour is a good recipe.” Linked to his philosophy on values is his belief that the job is mostly about people and that all challenges revolve around personal and cultural dynamics.
Kelly believes that competing in sports can help children and grown-ups in their lives on other levels. “If children are in the right environment with the right approach, there are so many transferable skills. Parents can be much too pushy and forget about the fact it is mostly about learning about themselves and how to interact with others. Participating in sports I still feel is so important for kids to develop as the dynamics can be very enriching.”
- By Elbie Els -