Power 100: Sport’s most dynamic and fearless leader
Peter V'landys credits legendary commentator Bruce McAvaney for his success in sports administration.
The most powerful man in Australian sport tells a story from 30 years when they first met in a terminal at Sydney Airport on a Sunday afternoon.
V'landys was CEO of Harold Park harness racing and had to pick up his star guest speaker from Melbourne for a Miracle Mile function.
"I have this philosophy that you can learn something new every day," V'landys says. "And this day all those years ago was no different. It was a fascinating car ride.
"Bruce taught me a lot that day about preparation, about research, about being on top of your game. That he'd spend three to four hours on a race if he had to.
"A 100m final at the Olympics might be over in less than 10 seconds, but he'd work for hours and hours on it. That just hit the mark with me.
"It's like any project I do now - you do all the research, you do all the analysis, you look at all the pros and cons. That's the lesson I learnt from Bruce."
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The V'landys rise to the top of the sporting power list is a remarkable story.
Only 12 months ago he could do laps of his local supermarket or walk down Sydney's George Street and be barely recognised.
Fast track to the completion of one of the most tumultuous and challenging years in Australian sport and he is now almost as recognisable as a Dustin Martin, James Tedesco or Dave Warner - certainly as popular.
These days V'landys can't go anywhere without being stopped for selfies and a chat.
He became the face of the NRL by chartering the COVID comeback against all odds.
This isn't to say V'landys, 58, wasn't always a sporting agenda setter and well connected in political circles and corporate Australia.
It's just that his role as chief executive of Racing NSW didn't carry the same profile of his now second job as NRL chairman - and the man who paved the way for not just rugby league but all sport in Australia to make comebacks from COVID when the footy seasons looked lost back in April.
You get the feeling even his bitter enemies in Victoria from the fierce battle for racing supremacy now begrudgingly respect the man we have named as the most powerful and influential person in Australian sport.
He is the most dynamic, innovative and fearless leader.
Labelled both reckless and irresponsible by opponents of his robust practices to get rugby league back on May 28, V'landys never flinched despite enormous pressure.
There was a very real threat of several clubs going broke.
"He grabbed the game by the throat and dragged it to the starting line," former Queensland premier and independent commissioner Peter Beattie said.
"He's right up there alongside the great Bob Hawke as a leader. In future they'll do PhDs at university on how he saved the game of rugby league during the COVID crisis and produced a blueprint for the other codes to follow.
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"The best thing I did for rugby league was to hand over to Peter V'landys."
You can talk about university PHDs all day but it's something V'landys brushes aside.
"I'm very proud of my upbringing in public schools and then Wollongong University," he says.
"I'm just a determined person. You've got to have doggedness and if you've got a good idea, you never give up on it.
"I think the reason some people fail is because they're too scared to take a risk."
He has built his success in horse racing and now rugby league by ruthlessly pushing the boundaries.
And he'll bulldoze anyone who gets in his way.
He says it's all about having a customer-first approach to everything he sets out to achieve.
"Racing, rugby league and all the sports are in a competitive business," he says.
"Without happy customers, you don't have a product. When I was a kid, you'd walk into the grocery store and there'd be a choice of wholemeal or white bread.
"Now there's dozens of different loaves. The companies that bake the bread have listened to their customers.
"At the pub, you used to drink New or Old. Now there's 20 different beers.
"You've got to continue to change your product for the needs of your customers or, in my case, punters and fans.
"Remember Kodak. They didn't want to go digital. They didn't want to change."
NRL chief executive Andrew Abdo puts his success down to his unlimited energy and commitment.
For weeks on end, V'landys worked day and night to get the NRL back up and running.
"His belief, determination and energy to succeed is infectious," Abdo said. "When you have a leader that provides a clear vision, it unites and motivates people.
"He doesn't just set the goal, he is there fighting with you in the trenches. He has built very deep and trusted relationships with a wide range of people.
"His network is unparalleled in my experience - a network is built off loyalty, trust and his desire to help others."
We throw back to the first time V'landys met McAvaney at the airport.
It was Japan Cup day and the Aussie horse Better Loosen Up got the money.
"We listened on my car radio," V'landys said. "Bruce was going crazy for Better Loosen Up. He's smashing my upholstery, hitting the side of the car and all that stuff.
"And he knew everything about every horse in the race. And that's what has stuck with me."
Originally published as Power 100: Sport's most dynamic and fearless leader