SUNBIZ

The Rugby Great Turned Entrepreneur

  As one of Fijian rugby’s most versatile backs, it was Seremaia Bai’s job to break defences on a regular basis. Almost two years since he retired from the sport,
07 Jul 2018 10:00
The Rugby Great Turned Entrepreneur
Seremaia Bai.

 

As one of Fijian rugby’s most versatile backs, it was Seremaia Bai’s job to break defences on a regular basis.

Almost two years since he retired from the sport, the rugby great has taken on a new but equally-de­manding challenge.

Mr Bai, who played 53 interna­tional caps for Fiji, has traded in his cleats and jersey for a career as an entrepreneur.

From wearing muddy jerseys and boots, to speaking at business con­ferences, including an appearance at 2017’s Top Executives Confer­ence, Mr Bai admits the transition still feels surreal to him.

It is his way of breaking free from a ‘colonisation’ mind-set that he feels has held back Fijians from be­ing job creators.

“I think us as Fijians, our mind-set is a colonised mind-set,” Mr Bai said.

“Because of that mind-set, we al­ways say that it’s better for us to work for somebody because we are not good enough. In that way, we limit our ability to go further.

“In Fiji, we are not trained to think independently – that’s become our culture here.”

For Mr Bai, starting a business was a liberating experience.

He had no desire to make money for someone else and wanted to con­trol his own fate.

The 37-year-old has applied his all-rounded playing style on the rugby field in the business arena.

Mr Bai is a commercial farmer, a property manager, and very recent­ly, has also setup a rugby academy for Fijian children.

He is also considering a future in motivational speaking.

Seremaia Bai (fourth from left) during a clinic he conducted at Ratu Sukuna Memorial School last month

Seremaia Bai (fourth from left) during a clinic he conducted at Ratu Sukuna Memorial School last month

Rugby academy

“I always had a passion for farm­ing – which was like therapy for me – and sports,” Mr Bai said.

“The tricky part was finding a way to turn sports into a business.

“What I found out throughout my career and in my research is that if I want to start a business, I have got to find a problem and when I find a problem, I find a solution to that problem and that’s where your business has a purpose.

“So with that in mind, I started the Rugby Academy Fiji, through which I want to use sports as a tool to develop young kids both on and off the field.”

Mr Bai’s story highlights a plight many retired rugby players are fa­miliar with: the true struggle be­gins when the final whistle on their careers blows.

“Thats when the glitz, glamour and media attention starts to fade, opportunities soon dry up too.

“When you’re playing rugby you tend to only focus on just playing and I think a lot of players playing professionally struggle after they finish because they don’t plan for the future,” Mr Bai said.

“Even if it’s about starting a busi­ness or doing something else, most players just don’t know where to be­gin and how to begin.

“But I’ve always, in the back of my mind, had an interest in starting a business. It was like a dream for me to own my own business – not to work for somebody else.”

Investments

Seremaia Bai with kids that joined him during one of his recent clinics.

Seremaia Bai with kids that joined him during one of his recent clinics.

His diverse range of investments has helped him pay-off insurance policies and earn an income, but the academy remains the crown jewel of his plans.

At the moment, he relies on spon­sorships and money from his other ventures to fund the clinics he runs regularly.

A partnership with international sports agency CSM World, that rep­resent clients like Daniel Carter and Richie McCaw, has boosted the academy’s prospects.

Support locally has been slow, Mr Bai says. This has not surprised him.

“I want to teach these children that when our rugby careers end, everybody stops caring,” he said.

“So a lot of what I’m doing in­cludes educating these children. Most young players immediately sign contracts after they’re pre­sented to them – nobody wants to say no, nobody wants to stay in the village.

“But what happens when that money stops coming in?”

Long term plans

Any business person is only ever as good as his or her long term plans and vision, and Mr Bai’s could be the most ambitious one yet.

He wants to help Fiji win the Rug­by World Cup – whether it’s by sup­plying the team high-quality play­ers or coaching them himself.

“I’m not talking about Sevens rug­by – Sevens is an easy game, there’s a whole lot of space. To win in 15s, you need the brains; you need intel­ligent players,” he said.

“When I retired in 2016, I asked Eddie Jones if he thought Fiji could ever win the World Cup. He didn’t think we could and said we would make the semi-finals one day if we’re lucky.

“He said it was our mind-set.”

He says the solution lies in turning Fiji’s highly-coveted raw products of rugby players into professionals, while securing their futures.

Already he has sent players train­ing under him for trials in New Zea­land and Japan.

Mr Bai has found his niche at a time when demand for Fijian rugby players is growing, especially in the European market.

“I want these players to realise that they are the assets,” Mr Bai said.

Challenges

“It really gets into my nerves how player’s values drop when they go overseas; I always say cheap line.

Mr Bai still maintains a daily training regime.

However, he spends more time reading books these days than at the gym.

“Starting a business was a chal­lenge and meant I had to leave my comfort zone. Most business people will tell you it’s not easy,” he said.

“It has been a huge learning pro­cess for me and it’s still on-going. I wake up early, I read books that cover a wide range of topics, and I’m constantly seeking advice from people I trust.”

One of the challenges he is strug­gling is finding qualified personnel, a concern raised by most local busi­ness people.

He hopes to one day employ a large number of people, in line with the major expansions he has planned for the academy and its functions.

His advice for aspiring entrepre­neurs was: “Nothing is free in this world. You have to develop a work ethic and you have to make it a habit.

“Without learning how to succeed independently, you won’t go very far. Keep striving and always, al­ways work hard.”

Feedback: sheldon.chanel@fijisun.com.fj

 

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