How commercial lawyer Sunil Nathu landed his dream job in cricket
02 September 2020

How commercial lawyer Sunil Nathu landed his dream job in cricket

Published on 02 September 2020

Sunil Nathu’s life in law started fairly conventionally, graduating from a combined degree in Law and Commerce from the University of Auckland. Following an internship at commercial law firm Russell McVeagh, he commenced as a graduate. A decade later finds Sunil as Spark Sport’s Cricket Delivery Lead, charged with organising the broadcast and streaming of all New Zealand cricket.

Insights spoke to Sunil about his unlikely journey through commercial law, finance and banking, and leading streaming delivery of his favourite sport.


No career is planned on Day 1

As a junior lawyer, Sunil resisted the pressure common to many early in their careers to map out a rigid career path. Having spent one year at Russell McVeagh, Sunil moved to PwC to explore his finance degree, specialising in audit.

“One great part about working in the Audit team is that you’re in the client’s office from Day 1,” said Sunil. “In the early days as a commercial lawyer, you tend to work more internally, without direct interaction with clients.”

After eighteen months at PwC, he returned to the law at Bell Gully, moving into a banking and finance role.


Career crossroads at Coachella

As he ascended through the ranks of commercial law, Sunil realised his end goal was not to make partner in a private practice firm.

“Once I realised that, staying in private practice didn’t really make sense for me,” said Sunil. He resigned, and kicked off a career break at Coachella. At twenty-seven, he decided to take a step back and assess what he wanted from his career.

“I wanted to cut my teeth on commercial decision-making,” explained Sunil. “In private practice, you’re a key advisor but it can be harder to drive outcomes, as you’re not part of the business.”

“It had to be a role that was commercially focused at a good company,” said Sunil. A couple of months passed, time he used to reconnect with friends and strengthen his networks.

Sunil soon learned about an upcoming vacancy role at Spark (then Telecom), a leading telecommunications company.  Sunil arrived at an exciting time for the business; having rebranded overnight from Telecom to Spark the week Sunil arrived.

“It was more of a commercial role than a typical in-house position. My role was to support the wholesale and international side of the business, and I reported into the GM Wholesale and International” explained Sunil. He made it through the application process and got the job.

“I knew nothing about telecommunications law, so I had to upskill and adapt really quickly, something I’d done before in other roles,” said Sunil. “I found myself ingrained in the business, and I loved it. Being part of the business causes you to shift your thinking. You focus more on getting the deal done and considering commercial practicalities, instead of focusing predominantly on the black letter law.”


London calling, and a shift to Agile

When Sunil’s wife was offered a secondment opportunity in London, Sunil followed.  There he joined a major Japanese bank, Nomura, as an in-house lawyer.

Several months before their stint in London was due to finish, Sunil’s former boss at Spark called him with an offer he couldn’t refuse, so he returned early to New Zealand.

“Spark then decided to completely transform the business,” said Sunil. Spark identified people within the organisation who could help lead the transformation, prompting Sunil to become an Agile Transformation Lead and Coach.

The role was a complete departure from the law and finance. By getting involved in transformation management, Sunil helped lead business units and leaders from traditional to agile ways of working.

“I ended up working with the Spark Sport team as a transformation coach,” said Sunil. “Spark Sport offers a full streaming service for sport, and has bought the rights to broadcast all cricket played in New Zealand over a certain period of time.” Sunil was appointed to the position of Cricket Delivery Lead in June 2020, after Spark Sport identified that they needed someone to head up operations for cricket.  “My role is to head up the operational side of cricket.  This means not only technically running it on the platform but also producing the cricket, assembling the commentary team, the look and feel, cameras, sound etc.  Now that’s my job!”


Embrace a variety of interests

Sunil lives by the principle “If you’ve got downtime, keep busy, keep learning, and get involved.”

Getting involved meant flexing his creative muscle as co-founder, managing director and executive producer of Carbolic Productions. Sponsored by the College of Law, Carbolic is an initiative committed to furthering collegiality among young professionals through arts, culture, and events.

“Initially we setup Carbolic Productions for lawyers who still wanted to get on stage and get connected.  Today, nine years on, we have opened it up to all young professionals and perform sell out shows at the ASB Waterfront Theatre in Wynyard Quarter,” explained Sunil.


Embrace a varied career

Unlike the “job for life” ethos that has dominated prior generations, Sunil has embraced a varied career track, taking the time to explore different pathways, organisations and ways of working.

“The law is a great base,” said Sunil. “You get to solve really complex problems for high profile companies and individuals. You get exposure to high profile, valuable transactions. There’s also a real collegiality in law, and an emphasis on critical thinking. All of this makes the law a strong base to propel you into a number of areas.”

Adapting to circumstance is a skill, according to Sunil. “The way careers and markets work now, you might spend eighteen months to two years in a job, and move on. Careers are becoming nonlinear these days, so people want people who can adapt quickly,” said Sunil.

For new lawyers, Sunil suggests that it’s not crucial to understand an entire career from day one.

“This can be quite a distressing approach,” said Sunil. “You might feel that in your first five years, you need to make all these critical decisions. Take things as they come. Work hard. Be adaptable. Don’t worry too much about having a huge long-term plan. Invest your money wisely so you don’t get caught on a pure ‘salary track’, and then you’ll be free to control your decisions in the future.”

Sunil also believes that tenacity and persistence is crucial. Indeed, Sunil applied for several roles in cricket, in New Zealand and around the world, before landing this role at Spark Sport.

“There are many opportunities out there, but you have to be willing to roll with the punches, especially given the current climate,” said Sunil. “You have to remain positive, which is a key step to staying resilient. Focus on what you can control. Have a growth mindset. Be persistent. It’s a rarity that you are going to get where you want on your first go.”