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A career of two halves: Seizing new opportunities when the goalposts shift

A few short years ago, Winston Stanley’s world was the smell of churned grass, the shriek of a ref’s whistle, the sky between two goalposts.

Time to read: 2 mins

Winston Stanley playing for the Harlequins in the Aviva Premiership for the 2015-16 season

Winston Stanley playing for the Harlequins in the Aviva Premiership for the 2015-16 season.

One of Auckland Grammar's rugby success stories, he was in the 2009 team that won the Under 20s World Cup in Japan, debuted for Auckland at 18, travelled the world for the Blues, the Highlanders, Perth's Western Force and London's Harlequins, and played for Samoa. He was, as they say, on the path.

But life can also be a game of two halves. Everywhere Winston went, injury followed. After nearly a decade in professional sport, at the age of 29, doctors told him his fifth shoulder reconstruction would be his last. It was time to look for a new vocation off the field.

"Accounting wasn't in the plan," says Winston. "However, I'd done a business degree specialising in finance via distance learning, which meant I had a few options. I was thinking of going into banking once I retired from sport. I have to admit, I had your classic view of accountants as boring." It doesn't seem to have helped that his brother, former All Black and Blues centre Benson Stanley, had studied the subject.

"But then a friend of mine who worked at Baker Tilly Staples Rodway told me about all the consulting work they did. I hadn't realised there was more to it than crunching numbers."

Luckily, the skills he'd already learned during his studies and his sporting career were easily transferable to a career in accounting. After taking some catch-up papers to set him on the route to becoming a Chartered Accountant, Winston landed a graduate role at Baker Tilly Staples Rodway a year ago. And he hasn't looked back.

"It does leave a hole in your life, having to leave a sporting career behind. But I've found everything you do adds value along the way. There's a saying that sport is a great teacher, and as I get older I understand that a bit more. The cycle of resilience, being able to take feedback and come back from losses, all the soft skills you get from meeting different people from different backgrounds around the world, and bringing them together for a common goal... I don't see the business environment as being too different."

He's grateful he made the time to study while playing, which helped open doors in his post-rugby career. Given the chance to speak to his younger self, he would have urged taking more opportunities to meet people, having discussions about all the options out there so he could get a better idea of what he wanted to do next.

"The advantage of leaving sport early, if there is one, is you can just get started," Winston says. "It's much harder for someone to do that later in their career, unless they've had some experience first."

Since joining Baker Tilly Staples Rodway, he's found a new passion. Working in the Business Advisory Services team, he's not only learning the fundamentals of compliance, but learning everything he possibly can to help coach clients on their business performance.

"Accounting can be a different language at first, but it's also relatively similar to sport, in that your work is reviewed by your manager and you get feedback. There's a cycle of continuous improvement in sport that aligns well with adding value to a client's business."

One day he'd like to carve out a niche supporting fellow sportspeople who've gone into the business world. Meanwhile, he's enjoying earning his stripes, this time in Baker Tilly green and black. While he's older than many of the other graduates who've joined the firm, having others alongside him on the same journey has helped him build solid relationships and feel part of a team again. He's even part of the Baker Tilly touch rugby and soccer teams, getting to know people from across the firm while showing off his footwork.

These days Winston's world is the quiet laughter of an office chat, the bloop of a Teams call and the sunlight glinting from the windows of Commercial Bay, and he's just fine with that.

 

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