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Getting to Know: Laura Lake

She’s the Chief Operations Officer at Forwardzone, which has a focus on strategic consulting, experiential activations and talent management, and now she’s been tasked with setting up the agency’s operation in the Netherlands.

Q: Describe your job and key areas of responsibility?
A: My key responsibility is aligning the overall business group strategy and then managing the implementation thereof. I focus on our operational output and that it matches our clients’ needs and expectations. In the Netherlands, I direct my energy and expertise into growing and developing our new and exciting client base, as well as broadening our international business network.

Q: Can you explain the Forwardzone thinking behind setting up an office in the Netherlands?
A: Forwardzone is an international business and brand, with an ever-expanding global reach spanning 10 years now. Five years ago we opened our UK office to service our European clients and players, and since this expansion we have seen the need to broaden our offering and open offices in key capital cities in Europe. This year it is the Netherlands and next year we will expand to Portugal. We want to offer our clients unrivalled, immediate and market-related services by being at the heart of the sporting capitals.

Q: How did you get into the sports industry?
A: Growing up, the family was always watching, playing or attending sports games. If it wasn’t watching the Saturday rugby and having a braai, it was Formula 1 on Sunday afternoons. I played a lot of sport at school, excelling at netball, but always willing to try other sports such as tennis, running, swimming and soccer. I wasn’t particularly good at any of these, but loved participating, pushing myself and being part of a team. With two working parents I often stayed after school and got to watch a lot of different sports, and soon found a passion for being on the field and next to the field. When it came to selecting my studies, I had two real loves: sport and children. I didn’t have the grades to become a paediatrician, but it turned out that sports science was a fantastic fit, allowing me to bring together my love for sport and children. Whilst studying, I found my real passion for sport development and marketing.

Q: What do you regard as your best piece of work or greatest achievement, work-wise?
A: The Betway Talent Search in Kenya and the UK, in 2016. I was privileged enough to work on the Betway Talent Search in Kenya where we went to market creating a platform where 1200 unsigned players were able to trial for an international football experience in the UK. On a dusty field in Kenya we found two special and talented footballers who would go on to experience and achieve great things. One year later the same two players and I walked out onto the West Ham United football pitch to open an English Premier League game. That exact moment perfectly personified the power that sport has to transform peoples’ lives. Sport can make dreams come true and produce the best version of oneself. It was an eye-opening experience and a lifetime memory. The project came with many challenges as a first- time activation in a new country, with a language and cultural barrier. Players never showed up on time. I learnt more about myself, our team and our capabilities in those short weeks than I did for many years in my career. There is nothing like getting on the sandy field, creating a pitch, erecting branding, drawing out field lines and building a dream to really push yourself and be your best.

Q: You fairly recently became a mother for the first time. What’s the key to juggling motherhood and a demanding job?
A: Being realistic, understanding your limitations and building on them. Both motherhood and sport have some common threads: they both never sleep and are all-consuming! In sport, someone always knows more then you and someone is always an expert in every field, so staying on top of trends, scores, brand and player movement has been challenging. I am lucky that my daughter loves the movement of the soccer ball and can watch some of the games with us already, which helps us stay on top of the industry in terms of the on-field action.

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Q: What do you love most about your job?
A: The direct change sport can bring to a community. Over the past 11 years at Forwardzone I have been involved in some amazing campaigns that have allowed me to see the most beautiful part of our country and continent, but I have also been exposed to the harshness that many people are unfortunately exposed to. Sport has the ability the make real meaningful change to our world. The other part of my job I love are the people I have met on my journey – most have been pretty spectacular. I have witnessed some of the most impressive grassroots coaching – working in dire circumstances yet showing up each week to teach, mentor and coach the next generation of sports stars. I have been privileged to work with some legendary football superstars, who still impact the game today and their commitment to the game inspires me. Then there’s the people in our organisation – every day I get to wake up and work with some of the most talented professionals in our industry.

Q: What are your initial observations regarding how the sports industry works in the Netherlands, and the Dutch people?
A: I think in the Netherlands they prioritise the three fundamentals of sports – facilities, equipment, and education – all of which drives the development of sport. I believe that by putting these at the heart of any decision, their sports industry is able to propel their development and it shows, for you cannot walk past a field without being in awe of the standard of the pitch, the pristine equipment and the well-organised coaching set-up. One of the key drivers to the success of sport in the Netherlands is the government’s investment in all sporting codes. There is a continued support system, which has stood out, particularly during Covid times, and whilst not all the sports codes are necessarily as broad or successful as in South Africa, the developing sports codes are given great attention.

Q: Your biggest challenges since moving to the Netherlands?
A: Arriving in June and contracting Covid-19!

Q: Give us some insight into Laura Lake – likes, dislikes, hobbies etc. Basically, what do you like to do in your downtime?
A: In one line – I am a mother, wife, business leader and sports-obsessed woman. The camaraderie and dedication has always drawn me to the field of play. Then, the business of sport, which excites me and for which I am passionate about. It’s about understanding the key elements and inner workings of what happens on and off the field – that drives and challenges me. I get up every day committed to helping develop sports and growing women’s sports, in particular.

Q: Is there a long-term plan and goal for both yourself and Forwardzone, as it relates to the office in the Netherlands?
A: From the business side of things, we will be integrating Forwardzone into the market, developing a deep connection and reach within the European market, whilst also expanding cross-border activities. The opening of international borders allows for our tours, events, sports camps and training programs to kick off again.

Dylan Rogers
Dylan Rogers

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