Professional Member Profile

Football West CEO James Curtis AFAIM speaks of the power of sport to unite a community.

With a strong track record for designing and developing strategy, Football West CEO James Curtis AFAIM gets a kick out of bringing people together regardless of age, gender or ethnicity.

Prior to taking on the role at Football West, the governing body for soccer in Western Australia, Mr Curtis worked at the Department of Aboriginal Affairs in various roles and was the Executive Director of Community Development.

Speaking to Leader, Mr Curtis said his career had not taken a conventional track.

“I started off working in financial trading straight out of university, which provided me with great experience across Perth’s and Sydney’s trading platforms,” he said.

His keen interest in soccer eventually led him to becoming the Director of Grasshopper Soccer North West Coast, where he provided strategic direction for the growth of operations at the organisation.

“I did that because I enjoyed coaching and teaching kids by engaging them with sport,” Mr Curtis said.

As his career developed, Mr Curtis journeyed away from football and became a senior management consultant for state and Commonwealth government agencies.

Mr Curtis noted that whilst his career had varied over the years, his work generally centred around strategy and performance.

When asked for his philosophy on leadership, Mr Curtis said he looked at it in its simplest terms.

“A leader who is engaged with themselves and honest with their performance and approach is important,” he said. “Humility is important.

“I prefer to take a strengths-based attitude to leadership rather than a cookie-cutter approach. Some of the key aspects of the role are to redefine the strategy of the organisation.

“From focusing on increasing revenue and partnerships to improving the women’s league and facilities, the role is very much about strategy and reform.” 

Unlike other sport associations, Football West runs and delivers all soccer competitions across the state and represents all levels of development and coaching in metropolitan and regional areas.

With more than 230,000 players under the Football West banner, Mr Curtis said the organisation was committed to improving all levels of soccer, from community leagues to high-performance teams.

“Due to the cultural diversity of the game, Football West has a very complex stakeholder group,” he said. The CEO admitted one of his biggest challenges was trying to please everyone.

“You don’t need to sell passion in this space,” he said. “It is more about creating a narrative, which is about progressing the game forward and bringing revenue into the game to improve its accessibility.”

Mr Curtis said any organisation trying to implement change would face challenges.

“To me, leadership is about balancing the positives and negatives by finding the right pace to effect long-term change,” he said.

“Sometimes people aren’t going to see the benefit of change immediately, or they might not be the current priority group. But just like a tax system in government, maybe later down the track they will receive the shared benefits.”

Mr Curtis said he enjoyed seeing communities come together for sport.

“Sport has a unique ability to make people feel part of something,” he said. “It creates an even playing field, regardless of what you might do for a living – it is neutral and fair.”

A few years ago, Football West began a footsal program – a variation of soccer usually played indoors on a hard court – with Banksia Detention Centre. The aim was to provide a positive social experience while educating players about the game.

“It’s great to see kids continue to grow and play football,” Mr Curtis said. “However, it is even better to see how a whole community can come together with the sport.”

In 2010 Mr Curtis won the Australasian Evaluation Society Award of Excellence for a review into the youth justice system in WA.

The study involved reading a number of case files that included stories about some individuals who had had difficult lives.

“To make the emotional connection and get recognition for the review was a big achievement for me,” he said.

Bio

James Curtis AFAIM

  • Role CEO of Football West.
  • Studied The University of Western Australia; Curtin University.
  • Worked Executive director for Community Development with the WA State Government; senior management consultant; member of UWA’s Sports Advisory Board.
  • Member Since 2017.

Penelope Thomas is a Journalist at Seven West and is a writer for 'Leader', AIM WA's magazine for members.