AFL umpires don’t always get the best rap. But with a widely adopted nickname, 313 games and three grand finals under his belt, “Razor” Ray Chamberlain is undoubtedly one of the most respected umps going around. When he’s not presiding over some of Australia’s most revered sportsmen he runs a broking firm, Chamberlain & Co., out of the Melbourne bayside suburb of Sandringham. Here he talks about balancing umpiring with work, the broking landscape and making a career switch from teaching 15 years ago.
Thanks for your time, Ray. Can you tell us about why and how you became a broker?
There’s a couple of reasons. I was a leading teacher at a secondary college and I really loved that job. You’re part of a community when you’re a school teacher and so there’s a part of that I really liked. But with my other endeavours and pursuits with footy, the school bell might ring at 1pm on a Thursday — and I had to be in Perth for a West Coast Eagles game or a Fremantle game. It just didn’t really align. The education background, being able to work your hours your way, the whole networking thing and helping people — that aligned for me. So I undertook some training and education and took 12 months leave without pay from the teaching job. Oh, wow… … And I was lucky, because I obviously had a second job, being my football umpiring, and my girlfriend at the time, who’s my wife, she had a very good job, so away I went. Because we had those other funding channels, you’re not hunting for loans every day and you’ve got this opportunity to organically grow your business. That appealed to me and I think my clients appreciated the approach. That’s how the business grew initially.
What are the most challenging aspects of your working life as a broker at the moment, and why?
I think with this push for automation, that’s OK for 70% of deals, and then I think historically you might have seen a higher percentage than that, but now with the way many people work, everyone’s workplace and industries have evolved, there’s so many different employment and income types, and so this whole notion around automation, we’re jamming round pegs into square holes all the time. So, it gets a bit clunky, and so things that shouldn’t be that difficult… it becomes problematic, and so I think that just getting things through the system, taking the time necessary to navigate that, both at the start when you see clients and then when you go to submit a loan. That’s the thing that you’ve got to get right, and we’re all under time pressures and all those sorts of things, and so that for me is the most challenging aspect of broking at the moment.
How do you keep updated with professional development or needing learn new business tools?
I actually structure two hours every week to work wholly and solely on nothing else. I just literally turn the phone off, shut down my email, and it’s scheduled into my diary. I have to do it. It’s a decision that I’ve mindfully made, it has to happen if I’m going to continue to be effective and efficient and helpful. If I don’t do that, and that was really hard to start with — it was in the diary, and then do you ignore it? Or do you actually discipline yourself to do it? I’ve actually got a new member of staff and he’s new to industry, so it’s great. A lot of the stuff that we’re doing in that timeslot will be new-lender accreditations, or building out our new software that we use. We’ll do that together, and so it’s not just about my learning; it’s about my staff’s growth as well. That provides me with a return for my own knowledge and growth and what have you; there’s a return on that investment of time. I really think that allotted time is a minimum requirement, to be honest.
Let’s flip a little bit to your secondary role. What interested you in becoming an AFL umpire?
I played footy as a kid and loved the game. It was footy in the winter and cricket in the summer. Then one day I went to watch my youngest brother play and no umpire turned up, so the club president asked me to do it and said he’d put petrol in my car. I was sort of 17 or 18, and I said, “OK, no worries.” A gentleman approached me who was a coaching guy for umpires and he said, “Oh, how long have you been doing this for?” I said, “About 40.” And he says “No, really?” And I go, “Mate, first go at it. I’ve been doing it for 40 minutes.” He just said to me, “Mate, you can earn six figures working part time doing this.” He had my attention. But, ultimately, it is my love of AFL football that kept me pursuing umpiring. Of course! That was a while ago and I’m like, “OK, tell me more.” I started to understand and become aware about umpiring and so from there I kept playing cricket because that was what I was actually talented at, and then in the winter, I would umpire Australian Rules football, because it kept me fit for cricket, and it just turned out that I was OK at it. I was given opportunities to travel all around Australia and overseas; I went to Ireland with the Australian team, and so you’re hooked. It just went from there.
With the demands of sport and running a business, how does that all come together to be a successful business owner?
There’s two parts of this. One is you have to be incredibly disciplined and organised. Because the time commitment for AFL umpiring is enormous. Not just the training, but reviewing the games, travelling: I’ve got to go to Adelaide this weekend, go to Perth, Brisbane, whatever. You also have to be incredibly flexible; take today for example, I’m not supposed to be going to Ballarat, but that’s part of something that I do. I get a call and there’s an urgent, “Ray, we need a favour from you.” So now I’m going to Ballarat and I hadn’t planned to and that’s going to be four hours out of my day, so you have to be flexible. The other part to it all is that I’ve been blessed to have some really wonderfully talented people who I can trust, and who I can allow to be autonomous and independent within the business. I trust them implicitly and they’re very good at what they do, and without them, I’d struggle. You need to be able to surround yourself with really good people and then trust them to do their job. Let them do their job. That’s probably been the key parts to it.
What has been the best advice you have received as either a teacher, a broker or an AFL umpire?
I’ve got one that I think carries through with all of those pursuits. I had this drilled into me, I still remember when it was. I won’t bore you with that, but it’s basically being true to who you are. Be authentically yourself. We have all these buzzwords about diversification and the like, they’re all relevant. They all matter, right? Yes. But what does that actually mean? I think at the core of it all is you don’t need... 100,000 clients. That’s an aggregation group, not a broker, right? You don’t need 100,000 in your tribe, but you need to have people who understand and are aligned with you. They like your flavour, right? They like strawberry ice cream, and so if you’re strawberry ice cream, that’s outstanding. We’ve got a match! All my clients, they understand the other part of my life. They also value what it is that our team does bring to the table. They also trust my staff, and they know they’re good people, and they know that just because another staff member sends them an email, it doesn’t mean that I’m oblivious to it. They’re cognisant of the fact that it’s another part to my life, so clients who that doesn’t sit well with, well then we’re not a great match, and there’ll be another broker out there who’s the broker for them. They might be choc-chip ice cream. Well, you go there. I think that’s really important. When you’re your authentic self, that’s when you’re your best self.
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