Aaron Lawton

Aaron Lawton

CEO, Counties Manukau Rugby Football Union
Bachelor of Communication Studies in Journalism

He loves everything about his job, says AUT communication studies alumnus Aaron Lawton who is now the CEO of the Counties Manukau Rugby Football Union.

“I’m passionate about the role that sport can play in serving our communities and by working for a provincial union in South Auckland, we get to do that every day. Our organisation is responsible for administering grassroots rugby union while also providing representative pathways for our best men and women. Our professional men’s team is the Steelers who play in the Mitre 10 Cup, while our women’s team is the Heat.

“It’s amazing how varied the role can be from day to day and there’s certainly never a dull moment in this job. My job involves managing the front office to ensure we’re serving our community, working with clubs and sponsors and dealing with our coaching staff to ensure we’re creating a high-performance environment.”

Starting his new CEO role just before the global pandemic has had its challenges, says Aaron who had a successful career as a sports journalist before moving into sports administration.

“If ever there was a tough time to be thrown in the deep end as a new CEO it’s been 2020. I started in the role in January and within two months we were hurtling towards a lockdown and financial disaster. It’s been a very challenging year managing the organisation, but I’ve learnt more about myself and what it means to be a leader in recent months than any other time in my career and I wouldn’t change it for the world.”

Finding his path
As much as Aaron loves his career now, he had a very different goal in mind when he came to AUT to study a Bachelor of Communication Studies.

“When I left high school, I desperately wanted to be a radio announcer. It was my dream job. But, of course, not everything goes to plan and I didn’t end up getting into the radio programme in my third year at AUT. Instead I did a bit of a pivot and decided to focus on a career in sports journalism and the rest, as they say, is history.

“My AUT degree provided me with the grounding in journalism which helped me land my first job as a sports reporter. Once I had a foot in the door, I was able to really make big strides in my career and down the track was lucky enough to win some awards in journalism and ultimately a scholarship to study a master’s degree in specialised journalism at the University of Southern California. Without that good base I got in terms of a university education at AUT, I wouldn’t have been in a position to succeed once I graduated.”

Having graduated from AUT in 2006, Aaron still fondly remembers the people he met during his studies.

“Our cohort was made up of so many supremely smart people and there was a lot of learning by osmosis. I also happened to meet the girl who would ultimately become my wife on my very first day at AUT. A good 17 years later we’re still together and now married with two awesome young kids. I was also lucky enough to make lifelong friends during my degree and it’s amazing how many people I still bump into from the class of 2006.”

Advice for other students
Aaron has some great advice for other students.

“Number one, be proactive. I’m in a position now where I’m sometimes responsible for hiring people and without a doubt, the best employees are the ones who are proactive. Think deeply about your work and don’t wait to be told what to do. Come to the table with ideas and solutions to problems. Do this and your employer will love you because it’s actually not all that common.

“Number two, be a lifelong learner. I don’t have any secret recipe for success and everyone is different but what has worked for me is having a passion for reading and learning. I think it’s just so important to have a growth mindset and a willingness to keep upskilling yourself. Understand that your education never finishes and it certainly doesn’t end the day you leave AUT.”

Aaron’s third piece of advice is to work hard.

“There’s a famous saying – ‘The harder you work, the luckier you get’. And that’s absolutely true. Be so good they can’t ignore you. Employers love employees who are prepared to roll up their sleeves and do whatever it takes to get the job done.”

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