By Dr Giselle Roberts
It’s Monday morning and the trucks at the La Trobe Sports Park development are driving clouds of dust into the January air. The University’s next big asset – a world-class facility for teaching, research and engagement for both community and elite sport – will soon be buzzing with teams, spectators, students, researchers and high-profile industry partners including the Carlton Football Club and Melbourne City FC.
Perhaps no one could be prouder of the achievement than Russ Hoye. He’s been Director of La Trobe Sport for seven years, mixing operation and strategy to deliver the precinct; a key component of the University’s $5 billion plan to transform its Melbourne campus into a City of the Future. “It is a big capital project and people who are not fans of sport may say that we should have built other infrastructure,” he concedes. “I believe we have made the right decision. The Sports Park will greatly enhance La Trobe’s profile in Melbourne’s north and bring more foot traffic onto the campus. It will become a hub for innovative teaching and research, and open up the campus to the community.”
If anyone was meant to lead the project, it is Hoye. After a self-confessed “misfire” at university – Hoye studied engineering and “bombed out” thanks to poor career advice and a lack of interest – he later discovered sports management and never looked back. In his 16 years at La Trobe, he has been everything from a Senior Lecturer in Sports Management and inaugural Director of the Centre for Sport and Social Impact, to Director of the Sport, Exercise and Rehabilitation Research Focus Area, and, more recently, Director of La Trobe Sport and Pro Vice-Chancellor (Research Development).
In some ways it would be easy to typecast him as the “sports expert,” but that would be a mistake. First and foremost, Hoye specialises in management, both in theory and practice. He’s pragmatic and real to a fault; a man who looks for “interesting roles” where he can bring something innovative to the table. So, when the position of Dean of Allied Health, Human Services and Sport came up in mid-2019, he was ready.
“In all those years, I missed the step of running a large school,” he admits, “and this was the right school for me. The sports element was there, but it also offered a level of complexity that comes with over 230 staff, a diverse research portfolio and a multi-campus operation. We have ten disciplines including podiatry, nutrition and dietetics, social work and speech pathology. We’ve got excellent teachers and outstanding researchers.”
Hoye’s appointment was clearly a case of experience meeting opportunity, and a boon for a College looking to take its health offerings to the next level. Still, it was a “left field” decision, says Professor Robert Pike, Provost of the College of Science, Health and Engineering. “Russ Hoye does not belong to any discipline area in the School,” he explains, “and on that level it’s an unusual appointment. On another level, though, it makes complete sense. He is an exceptional leader and negotiator. He has vision and has already done a fabulous job at spotting the right opportunities to build the School’s revenue base. He has brought the business ethos over to health, and it sings.”
There are high expectations around Hoye, but he is poised to meet them. Six months into the new job, he admits that it’s a constant balancing act around budgeting, workload planning, project management and “a really high level of competitive pressure for securing and retaining students.” Every day is different. “I like the variety,” he says, “and I find the actual work, the decisions around staffing, resourcing, direction and strategy, is a really comfortable space for me. The key to this position, I’ve discovered, is to make decisions today, not next week. Staff are waiting for their new position or resourcing request to be approved for their work to flow, so I use my time between meetings to make those things happen as efficiently as I can.”
A clear vision also helps. Hoye has one eye on teaching and research targets, “the bread and butter of what a university does,” and the other on strategies that will “grow the School’s revenue base, relieve infrastructure pressures and enhance its profile.” “I’m not a nay-sayer,” he says, “I always look for ways to say ‘yes’ to initiatives that come from the School and support staff to realise their ambitions.”
Hoye has built a good base – Allied Health, Human Services and Sport spent the last half of 2019 refining its governance structure and getting its leadership positions sorted – and is now ready to explore those initiatives a little further. The School has plans to connect with its alumni, shift its delivery from a combination Bachelor/Masters program to one that is separate and distinct, and to grow its non-award offerings.
“Graduate practitioners and clinicians require upskilling through their respective professional associations,” he notes. “We want to become a leading provider in this space, with short fee-for-service programs. We must establish a consistent process so that we can grow revenue, while also giving academics the opportunity to benefit from that extra income, so that it can support their research activities and professional development.”
Not surprisingly, Hoye’s goal is “to be the best allied health school in Australia.” “It’s a three-to-five-year plan to get there,” he says. “We will ultimately be judged on the quality of the students we attract and the experience they have with us, the impact of our research and our delivery of successful partnerships. Our staff are ready to meet the challenge, and so am I.”
“With me, what you see is what you get,” he adds, smiling. “I am open to having my viewpoint challenged and I am willing to revisit a decision if it turns out to be the wrong one. I treat people the way I would like to be treated, in a genuine, supportive and transparent way. That’s how I approach the job.”