Although women in racing are not that rare, young black women are. Smart, young, black women with megawatt smiles who are enthused about the racing industry are very rare indeed, but take all that, wrap it up in a broad smile, add wide brown eyes sparkling with warmth and good humour and you have Hazel Kayiya.
Hazel is a major coup for the South African racing industry. Not only is she living, breathing affirmation that there is still a career path to be had, but a shining example of what can be achieved if you put your mind to it. And luckily for us, this dynamic young woman is only just getting started.
Hazel was born to a close knit family in the small Zimbabwean town of Kwekwe. Her parents are “my beacon, my cheering squad and above all, my sounding board”. Hazel describes herself as the middle of the family’s three ‘free spirited girls’. Her elder sister is a registered nurse in London while her younger sister works in logistics in Canada. Hazel’s studies brought her to South Africa in 2006, where she would graduate with Honours in Accounting from the University of KwaZulu Natal.
Hazel’s horse racing journey began when she threw her hat into the ring for a Financial Audit Clerk position at Gold Circle in June 2011. “Having worked for Deloitte Zimbabwe for three years, I was drawn to risk management and internal control procedures,” she explains. With the restructuring of the Internal Audit department in 2012, she found herself promoted to Risk Assurance Audit Manager.
In 2013 Gold Circle started an Executive Development Program (EDP) with the aim of training people from previously disadvantaged backgrounds for senior management positions in the company. “My mentor and superior at the time, Sylvia Powel-Rees, put my name forward for the program and I was very fortunate to get selected. I think it is very important to note that I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for Sylvia. The horse racing industry is very male dominated and we need more females like her creating and affording opportunities for women to be part of the c-suite level.”
It was as part of the EDP that Hazel attended Summerhill’s School of Management Excellence.
Why Stud Management?
“Gold Circle saw it as a necessity to groom not only managers, but industry leaders and where better than to start right at the beginning where the magic happens?”
Summerhill’s stud management course is tough even for people with a life time of horse experience and as a total neophyte, Hazel admits it was a challenge. Aside from the theory, there is plenty of practical work including grooming, basic farriery and foaling mares, although Hazel says the blistering cold is all worth it when a foal is born and you are on night duty. However, Hazel most enjoyed her experience starting young horses. “I have a soft spot for Rich Girl (AUS) (Rock of Gibraltar (IRE) – Miss Moguls). I remember walking into her stable to take her to the paddock so that I could muck out the stable. It was the first time I had to go into the stable by myself to get a horse. As I entered she moved around the box. I was afraid, so I just froze in my tracks and she came and put her head on my shoulder. I think that’s the moment I fell in love with horses.”
“There were times I wanted to walk away and call it quits. There were instances that I did cry and felt disappointed when my efforts were in vain. However, credit has to go to Heather Morkel who was a great mentor and teacher, as well as Mick Goss. I had an amazing support system, not only on the farm but also from Gold Circle that helped me persevere and finish the course.”
Although joking that she exchanged her Jimmy Choos and Gucci perfume for gum boots and the smell of horse manure, Hazel graduated one of the top students in her class as well as being voted Team Player. “Horse racing is a people business and being nominated as team player was a humbling moment for me,” says Hazel thoughtfully. As recognition for being one of the top students of 2013, Hazel received a CATHSSETA International Internship to the Hong Kong Jockey Club.
Spreading Her Wings
A stint at the HKJC is the envy of anyone looking to carve a career in racing and Hazel concurs. “Being in Hong Kong was a life changing experience which continues to shape me to dare to dream, to be better and do better.” Her internship included three weeks working with the Asian Racing Conference team, getting a behind-the-scenes view into what makes the conference work as well as meeting some of the top minds in the industry. She did a one month stint with the Racing Development board and devoted the remainder of her time learning about the HKJC and gaining an understanding of their racing culture. Inbetween Hazel attended race meetings alternating between the Judges box and the Stipendiary Stewards team and also travelled to China to witness the beginning of the Conghua Training Facility, attend races at the Macau Jockey Club and tour their stables.
Hazel returned to South Africa, being promoted to Gold Circle’s Corporate Services Executive and then received an offer from Hong Kong and joined the HKJC in September 2016. She currently works under the HKJC’s Executive Director, Andrew Harding and her responsibilities include coordinating and supporting the HKJC engagement with the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities (IFHA) Executive Council and Technical Committees, managing strategic relationships and promoting the participation of racing by Asian Racing Federation (ARF) member countries. She also compiles annual returns of statistics on wagering and prize money. “Being part of the HKJC and the ARF has provided me with significant exposure in the key trends in not only the betting industry but also the racing administration aspect of the industry,” she observes.
Has it been challenging being a female in racing?
“The horse racing industry is still very traditional and still is an old boys club. Certainly, it has been progressive in giving more opportunities to females, but I think more can still be done.
“My journey in horse racing has been very different to most. Being a millennial and female, you sometimes feel as though the deck is stacked against you and it can be intimidating at times. I was very lucky to have Heather Morkel and Sylvia Powel-Rees as role models to look up to and learn from, who have always told me that I am capable and I deserve a seat at the table. I have a strong respect for woman in the horse racing industry. I am because of them.”
“Perhaps where I have found difficulty is that there are no opportunities for growth in the industry and what young people can bring and offer to the table. I think promotion should be based on competence and not years of service, or because so and so has been in the industry for x number of years longer than you. Industry leaders need to surround themselves with people who think differently to them who bring in a fresh perspective. Hire and promote the right people. I believe that’s how we will be able to effect change. Invest in skills development for the youth in the industry as they are the next generation of leaders.”
Has your South African grounding stood you in good stead abroad?
“Being part of the HKJC I am working with some of the smartest people in the industry and I’m learning a lot, but my educational background, including my schooling at Summerhill, have provided me with a good steady work ethic platform, more so the Gold Circle EDP. This exposed me to understanding the fundamentals of horse racing – how do you streamline operations to reduce costs? How do you negotiate in the board room and communicate with employees at various levels in the organization? Project management and critical thinking skills.”
“I even had a 12 week coaching session that helped me develop and understand my strengths and how to maximize them. I have to give credit to Gold Circle, especially my three mentors Michel Nairac, Michael Smith and Mick Goss. I appreciate the importance of mentorship and coaching and how they challenged me to strive for excellence, and I believe that foundation has been instrumental in my growth here in Hong Kong.”
“However, there are some things that I have learnt here that perhaps should have been part of my learning curve in South Africa. For example, we had our end of season function at a restaurant not owned by the HKJC and as one of the directors was giving a speech the microphone stopped working. People collectively agreed “this would never happen at the Jockey Club.” I learnt two things that evening – your employees are at the core of your business; they are by far your best advocates. Horse racing needs to create an engaged work culture that makes its employees take pride in the quality of their work, be it in any position you are at. More importantly, we need to take pride in the small things. If you can’t get the small things right, how can you get the big things to work?”
Any lessons from Hong Kong that we could apply here?
“The horse racing industry in South Africa needs to listen to its customers, listen to its staff. Your customers are the lifeblood of the industry, and the staff is the heart. As an industry, we need to learn to listen effectively and efficiently and solve problems as they arise. Too much money is wasted and opportunities are missed because of recurring problems that should have been fixed if they were done right the first time.”
What is next for Hazel Kayiya?
“With the influence of my current role I find myself gravitating towards the field of strategy, collaboration and communication. Operating the Asian Racing Federation Secretariat has exposed me to the multifaceted world of International Business Management and I hope to pursue studies in the field of International Business. One thing I know for sure, horse racing needs to be bold and try new things. We are constantly coming up with variations of what’s already there and that formula ceased to work a decade ago. We should stop settling for ‘this is how we have always done it’ and just getting by to the next season. We need to strive for excellence, from our customer service, to wagering offerings, to how we manage our employees. Hopefully in my lifetime the South African horse racing industry will be brave enough to acknowledge that the status quo is not working and will be bold enough to effect change.”