A few minutes with Paul Galea

Laurie Horesh (2006)

Paul Galea: Hello, Laurie “Lozza” Horesh.  Paul Galea from International Grammar here. How are you, mate?

Laurie: Not too bad, Paul. How are you doing?

Paul Galea: Very good.  So I always try to give a little bit of a brief intro to the subjects of our interviews. Basically, you and I have a long association going back as pupil and teacher. I taught you Year 8 English, where I remember you as a very feisty and good student. Then I taught you elective history and then Modern History for the HSC, so we had a fair bit to do with each other. And, of course, you and I were both very sporty types. So we had a fair bit to do with each other in sport. And then, of course, as for many of our alum, you came back and worked in After Care while you were at uni. At the moment, I believe you’re working for ESPN, the multinational sports broadcasting company. You want to tell us how you got to be there? Give us the journey from the end of school in 2006 to how you got to be working for ESPN.

Laurie: I’ll try as best I can to keep it pretty concise. But given how much time you spent with me in school, I’m known for being a little flowery with language! That is a pretty hard trait of mine to kick. After school, I did the After School Care tradition, coached a few teams and did a few coaching gigs in Clubs, like Little Soccer. I think that if you were to go back and ask someone like Miss Whittaker about my performance in some of those clubs back when I was in Year 3 or 4 , they’d be pretty surprised that I was put in charge of some of those Clubs. But I did my stint there, finished up a university degree at Sydney Uni, doing your classic Arts degree. To keep the IGS trend going, I did a major in Japanese studies as well as government and international relations. So plenty there from the Modern History and Japanese that that I spent time with, back at International Grammar. I was doing an Honours degree that probably wasn’t as substantial as I would have liked. I think I took on a subject that was a little ambitious. It was looking at football hooliganism in Japan. There wasn’t a lot of literature on it and was probably a bit obscure for an Honours degree. I listened to my family after we had a talk about it, and they really encouraged me to get overseas, to do a bit of travel. So I did the sports camp thing in the US, because it’s kind of being a sports coach over there at a nice holiday camp. So I went to look after kids, to take some of those hard earned and crafted After School Care skills and put them into practice on the other side of the world. I had good fun doing that for a couple of months and travelled and really thought about where I’d like to go when I got back. I kept circling back around media and that I’d love to get involved there.

An Arts degree creates a lot of transferrable skills, but perhaps not to a Comms degree level. So I thought about whether I was going to do some further study and came back home after about five months, just in time, in fact, for an informal school reunion that you’d put on. I think it was at the old Broadway Hotel there underneath the Broadway Shopping Centre. I got back a week before that and went along to that one. I ended up meeting my future wife later that night through a friend who was there. Obviously there’s some indirect credit to you that the happiness I’ve got in my home life now is due to one of the great parties that you put on for us alumni. I can’t vouch for that with stronger approval. So I’d come home and started having some kind of meetings with contacts and about a thousand coffees with different people in and around the media world and that eventually led me to an opportunity. It was at a big media agency in an entry level intern programme. You’re kind of on a three month probation to see what skills you’ve got before been taken on full time.

But before kicking that off, the guy who was running that, named Matt Baxter, sat me down and asked me, where does your love really lie? What was your passion…..and you mentioned the sport connection that we had all throughout school, and that was something I was keen on as well as being keen on different academic pursuits. But I’d always kind of avoided the sports question throughout school a lot. I think in Year 2, when everybody, including all my mates were doing a biography on Donald Bradman, my mum and my family had me doing biographies on Middle Eastern political leaders, just trying to vary up my interests there. They knew that I had a love there for sport but there were other important things, and there were different areas of interest that I could dive into. So I’ve done that for a lot of school. I certainly did that through Uni, just trying to keep it nice and varied; to dive into my interest in modern history or politics or Japanese studies or Asian studies, whatever it might have been. But I came back to this idea that my passion did lie in in sport and if I could mix up with the media, well, fantastic. And this guy, who was going to be my future boss, put me in contact with someone at Fox Sports. I went in and had another coffee! He had a look at my credentials, he ran through my sporting knowledge and then he looked at me and he said, “Look, the biggest test that we have here is that you’re going to work weird hours. You’ll be starting shifts at 10pm at night and working through the wee hours of the morning.”

This was right before the London Olympics. The Fox Sports news team was expanding and looking for some entry level guys and girls to come on board. “The biggest thing is, you don’t seem like a complete and utter ***** and that’s important to be able to just come in and be able to work alongside others and be part of a team. “ So I entered there on a “grunt” level training shift, to see if you get through those first couple of weeks and that really kicked off my first gig. Luckily enough my first role in sports media was at a massive company like Fox. That is almost 10 years ago now!  You’re working in a place that you kind of had on in the background of your living room all throughout university and high school. And it was fast paced. The job kicked off, started right during the London Olympics in 2012.

So it was flying and about six months in, it was going well. I got made full time, which was lovely. I felt things were going quite swimmingly but six months later, about a year into this, so we’re talking 2013 now, one of the first big waves of media cutbacks comes in with mass redundancies across the board. And they had a look at me and my little contract and no leave accrued, no long service leave on the books and they said, “Sorry, mate. Last in, first out!” So within a year, I’ve gone from training entry level to full time, thinking things are going well, to being let go, which was crushing.  It was certainly more adversity than I’d faced before. We’ve all faced things in our life; you probably remember me and all sorts of different moods throughout high school but this rejection was from a professional standpoint. Since leaving uni, that was the biggest adversity and biggest hurdle I’d had to deal with. I’ve gone,” Right. I’ve just been let go from the biggest company in my sphere in this world I want to dive into, I’m 23 years old and I’ve been sent packing.”

Paul Galea: Let me just delve into that a little bit. So obviously, that’s devastating for you, but as we all know, it’s not how far you fall, it’s how far you bounce. You obviously have bounced back. Give us the bounce back story because you must have been at a pretty low ebb there. Tell us how you dealt with that and what you did from there.

Laurie: Well, thankfully, I had a fantastic girlfriend at the time. She’s now my wife and Alicia was there with me and talking me through it all , what moves I could put into place. I was looking at talking to the people that manage the exit from the company, and I’ve only had a year experience . I don’t have great contacts. But yeah, I had a few people I can talk to and started looking at a few different options, but falling back to that idea that you need to get in the door. One of the reasons you can get in the door rather than having some particular skills is ideally, you’re a good person, you’re a good teammate, and you’re not terrible trouble. That helped when one of the guys I worked with who was kind of a mentor, a couple of years older than me, said, “Look, I’m going to put you in contact with the guys running the digital arm. It may be a bit of a wait because you’re a full time employee and you’ve just been let go, but let’s have a chat with them. I’ll put you in contact because they might be starting to pick things up.” This is before there were digital content teams and digital video teams massively taking over the head count of newsrooms across Australia. I was able to make a decent first impression even though I hadn’t done any kind of work in the digital space other than some pretty amateur sport level takes on social media. But, I started learning some skills and got back! I was probably out of the building for four weeks before I was back in Fox Sports. I got some interesting looks from the folks that had held the broom when I was was swept out the first time, but got back in and just got straight back to work and learned a new space going from broadcast to digital. That was was the next five years of my life. I went into a digital video team that hadn’t even been formally crystallised yet and was able to work my way up through it over the next five or six years. I ended up managing the team along the way, building my skills in content creation, video production and video reporting. I also started developing a bit of a lane with the NFL space as well. Walking into a place like Fox Sports, everybody had their things; the Premier League aficionado, the AFL aficionado, the NRL expert, the rugby nut, whatever. But I’ve had this burgeoning interest in the NFL that had been born out of avoiding that Honours thesis back in university. I dove into the NFL when I was looking for an excuse not to get stuck into some work and educated myself on the game through any article, any video I could find. Colleagues of mine and mates of mine, like Toby Wilson, who I was staying with for a period there, saw that I was listening to podcasts and watching shows on the NFL all day, and they were  wondering, what was I doing! Here he is sorting out his way in a new job but he’s diving into this sport that’s played far away, that not many people are watching in Australia. But I guess that was the birth of creating a line for myself. My time at Fox Sports was going well through this digital video team, and that was fantastic, making great friends, great contacts, but at the same time I was pitching myself and throwing myself into the lane of this different sport.

Paul Galea: So, obviously, you were always a pretty optimistic guy and always pretty enthusiastic about anything you’re doing, so that never hurts. You had an opportunity and took it. And then you decided that you are going to find your own path because you saw more or less a gap in the market and you decided that’s an area where I can actually be someone who’s a little bit out of left field. That may make me a lot more employable down the track. I mean, is that a fair summation?

Laurie: Yeah, I think so. Maybe that is a bit of IGS rubbing off, right; just being a bit different. I guess it wasn’t your stock standard Sydney private school. There’s a bit to it in that in some ways it was socially a touch less insular than some of the traditional powerhouse schools in Sydney. There was so much diversity around at IGS. It’s a pretty easy word to throw around, but it was a diversity of people, a diversity of interests, a diversity of things that were open to you. I could go back and could barely play Come As You Are by Nirvana in my Year 9 music exam and don’t ask for any of the work that I did in art from Year 2 to Year 10 but being appreciative of things like the arts was something I gained. No, I’m not the first person to bring these subjects up, but those types of opportunities and those events like ArtsFest and chances to be creative and throw yourself into something that isn’t a natural skill, was great. That kind of mentality keeps on with you after you leave IGS. Not just me. But every student that comes through there. So I think I was just thinking, there’s a different line here. It’s an area I’m incredibly passionate about and while you are spending so much of your time around these major sporting codes in Australia, in some ways, that can make you a little cynical about them. You see, you’re a little too close to it. Sometimes you see how the sausage is made in pro sport, which isn’t always so nice. But this interest I had in American sport, particularly NFL, was kind of still a little bit pristine and that passion that I had was real and there was a little less tainted path. It was something that I had a genuine love for. So I threw myself in and started at the base level, just suggesting stories to the producers and to the hosts. And when you’re having these little chats about what a programme could look like, suggesting it to your bosses and in the end, you’re starting to throw yourself out there as a voice that could kind of get behind it and start presenting these things. Thankfully, it’s a sport that has continued along the lines of something like an NBA. Even you go to things like the Premier League in a way that’s grown before, in the decades prior. It’s an international sport that the young generation that is coming through are more and more into and I’ve had conversations with former students such as Charlie Goodsir, who I looked after at After School Care, on the other end of the line where he was producing, for a Sydney sports radio station, when I was doing a hit with them. But yeah, just that kind of thinking a little differently and not being afraid to throw a different idea out there. I guess it’s something that lasts on from what you pick up at IGS.

Paul Galea: You know that I keep saying in these interviews, the same things keep coming up. Exactly the same things come up every time-the ability to think a bit outside the square, the ability to deal with people who are a bit outside the square, and the other thing that always comes up seems to be ArtsFest! Talk about an iconic thing of IGS high school. Every single person I’ve interviewed who was around while ArtsFest was on mentioned it as something that either shaped them or they can never forget it or for them it typified what IGS was all about. So very interesting, mate. So ESPN? You’ve been at Fox and then did you seek ESPN out? Or did you they head hunt you, or what happened there?

Laurie: I’ve had a couple conversations over the years. Just informal stuff. As I was over at Fox I was seeing what the deal was with the ESPN Australia operation. It was new. It was only a couple of years old when I had my first kind of cups of coffee and phone chats. 

Paul Galea: And can I just stop you there? You must must have had about 20,000 cups of coffee pursuing your career. You’re the king of the coffee catch up?!

Laurie: Yeah, I didn’t drink coffee back then! Now I’m having three cups a day. So yes, that’s an absolute, lasting, lasting effect. I think in sports media it is either a bunch of coffees if you’re on the early shift and normally a few beers after work when you’re finishing a shift at two or three a.m. in the morning.

When I first started chatting to them, it was just seeing what was going on, and having this love for American sport in this kind of lane that I was starting to try and craft for myself. It seemed like it could be an interesting fit if they were going to grow in the future and I just kept those networking conversations going and eventually they had an opening. They reached out I when was managing the team at at Fox Sports, which was great. I loved the team that I was working with, but that kind of a chance after six years at a company was a chance to refresh and take on a new challenge. And that was it. It was definitely a role that was going to be increasingly hands on. It was going to be a lot of different responsibilities thrown at me joining ESPN, and also a chance to be working at a company like ESPN that has branches all over the world. It’s a massive global network and what it could open up with some travel opportunities and getting to different events to cover and new experiences. So the timing was right. I had a good run at Fox and it was just time for a new challenge and I thought it might be a nice fit with considering how much time of my day I was spending talking about American sport at that point. 

Paul Galea: Yeah. Brilliant. That’s really great. So you’ve already touched on the influence of IGS, which is good, because normally I ask a question about how you do you think your time at school helped shape you? Any other really happy memories from your time at school?

Laurie: Yeah. Tonnes of happiness. I mean, I was there from Preschool to Year 12, so I can’t go through all of them. I know people have talked about the unique relationship with teachers and how you learn to converse with and have really strong relationships with people that are senior to you but that are invested in your future. And that’s something that lasts on. I still feel able to message Lucy Sansei every now and then. I talked to her recently. On the odd occasion where Australian Rugby has a moment against New Zealand, I still have Anthony Dennehy’s number, so he’s getting a chirpy message from me. But more than that, it was it was learning how to relate to different people and to understand how to have a functional relationship with adults when you’re a young teenager, full of ego and full of confidence. Happy memories. I mean, sports clubs after school, including one which your brother, punted me from in Year 2. He mistakenly heard me describe a move on the football field. I said, “Little shimmy.” He thought I said something else that started with Sh. And that was it for me for the term! So the Galea/Horesh relationship goes way back. That was not the last time that I had a run-in on a sporting event and Ms Whittaker, formerly Ms Koffmann, will remember some  feisty showdowns on the edge of the Drummoyne swimming pool. Those stand out, but just stuff across the board. You are holding up the ArtsFest shield with a good friend in Eleanor Collinson. These things jump out. But so many good memories. So many language camps I think back on. Despite the fact that I think after Year 5 language camp, when the teacher let students get involved in the yakitori stand perhaps a little too much. And we all went home with salmonella. Not the best! Telling ghost stories, at language camp under the fear that Tom Sensei was gonna come in and tell you all to “damatte”, be quiet. There’s so many over the years. But I mean, a unique school and a place that at the time you think and you look at some of these other schools that have, you know, some of these old boys networks and stuff, it’s very different to what you get at IGS. The relationships you learn being a coed school. It comes up all the time. You know, I work in an industry that can be a little homogeneous at times. It’s expected about that in sports and sports media. There’s been certainly a bunch of conversations around that recently. But I look at the place that I work at ESPN, which is partners, which is owned by Disney. So we’ve had offices with the Disney folks, and you couldn’t find people with more different interests between absolute sports nuts and folks that are loving Star Wars and loving Esmeralda . Or, whatever Pixar phenomenon has taken over. But I still feel  kind of different from the unique way that we came up in the fact that(back when we were working in the office) I could swivel my chair around and have a chat about all sorts of weird and different things that don’t have anything to do with sport with people who have completely different interests, and I think that goes back to just how kind of varied, not just the varied people but the varied fun you get to have a place like IGS .

Paul Galea: Wow. That’s a very nice endorsement, mate, for what we’ve been doing and what we’ve tried to do over the years. Laurie, it has been an absolute pleasure speaking to you. I feel like you and I could talk for hours and hours and hours, but unfortunately, we haven’t got that time. But what I am going to do is, you and I are going to catch up. Not for a coffee! But we’re going to catch up for a beer pretty soon. And I’ll speak to you about that off air!

Laurie: Yeah, that sounds like one to absolutely get on the calendar.