Mike Bellingham started in Deloitte as a graduate and now works in sports hospitality. His next big focus is the Rugby World Cup – a personal passion. We called Mike at his base in Tokyo to discuss his career past and present…

What was your role at Deloitte and when were you here?

I started as a graduate in Tax in Auckland in 2014, where I was based for two years before shifting to the Christchurch office. I'm originally from Christchurch so I was moving home, mostly to save money because Auckland can be expensive!

I always had a plan on my horizon to move to Japan for the Rugby World Cup. When the World Cup was hosted in New Zealand in 2011, I’d just moved to Auckland. It was a big point in my life - I love rugby and had the chance to go to some cool events around the matches.

Last year, I gave my notice at Deloitte and started having conversations with some of the Deloitte partners that I worked with. One of the people I talked to was Tax & Private partner, Joanne McCrae. She knew I was interested in the World Cup and offered to put me in touch with some contacts in Japan, and that’s how I met my current employers. It was quite serendipitous, and I was lucky to get there as a result of the contacts I had at Deloitte. There's not many employers that when you quit your job, they'll happily go out to bat for you. I really appreciated it.

What did you learn from your time at Deloitte?

I had managers who threw me in the deep end and empowered me. Even starting my career at Deloitte, they were willing to include me on meetings with partners or clients. That set me up well for my job now, as I learned trust and confidence is not so much about what you know but your attitude towards the problem.

Tell us a little about the company you work for now.

I work for STH Japan, a separate for-profit entity that assists the Rugby World Cup in putting on events. Our speciality is corporate hospitality, putting on pre and post-match hospitality for business and high net worth customers. As well as dinners and parties, there's also experiential stuff. For example, we've offered virtual reality goggles at events where you can try and kick the winning goal.

And what is your role in the company?

I'm Head of Finance and manage three others. My role is mostly reporting and financial analysis, effectively taking what I was doing at Deloitte - reviewing information, synthesising and condensing it - then using that to help the CEO make those big decisions.

But also, because it’s a small company that was started from the larger global STH group, I still deal with the nuts and bolts of everyday requests. It's not one of those normal head of finance roles where you're really separated from the day to day transactions.

What is unique about working in sports hospitality?

It's quite an established business in the West, especially in the UK and also in the United States, Australia and New Zealand. However, in the Japanese market it’s a completely foreign concept and something that doesn't exist.

It’s a little strange, because business culture here is very strong and they really love sports as well, but they've never really married the two together. So that’s one of our challenges and also our greatest opportunities as well. We need to go out and educate the market about the benefits of sport hospitality, and how it can build better relationships and lead to better things in the future.

How many people do you expect will be attending the tournament?

The Rugby World Cup is expected to sell out, with hundreds of thousands of people estimated at the matches. In terms of the wider audience, the goal is to get people out in the streets watching the games, especially in Tokyo. We’re expecting tens of millions for that.

It's also going to be the most heavily travelled to tournament there's ever been in the Rugby World Cup's history. The projections are that around 30-40% of the match attendees will be people who have travelled from outside of Japan, whereas in New Zealand, it was much more like 15-20%. I think for many rugby fans, Japan is a ‘bucket list’ place to visit, so that's also drawing people to come along. It's about rugby but also about the experience of the culture as well.

What is unique about rugby fans?

It's an honourable sport at its core, and I think the fans kind of draw that out themselves. Matches have a boisterous atmosphere but it's not ever over the top. That's why it suits corporate hospitality - you can have fun and have a good time, but you're not at a point where hell is breaking out between the fans. 

Do you play rugby yourself?

I played through high school, but we've got quite an active and competitive touch rugby scene here at work now. It's probably our number one business bonding experience – we play with the Rugby World Cup team, and their various sponsor teams, and we've started a big touch rugby tournament. We run two games at a time, one where we've got a couple ex-national Japanese players coaching the newcomers, and one for those who know the game. Of course, now we're considering three games because everybody wants to get involved!

Who will you be supporting and who do you think will take home the cup?

I'll be supporting the All Blacks and my money is on them to win, although if they weren’t in the running, I’d bet on Ireland. There's a commercial benefit to us to see Japan do as well as they possibly can too, and I think from an atmosphere standpoint, I'll be cheering for Japan as hard as I will for the All Blacks!

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