Ed Smith, the new Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Sydney Uni Sport & Fitness, has found his niche.

For someone who lives and breathes sport it doesn’t get much better than heading up an organisation that caters for 40 clubs ranging from archery to wrestling. And then there’s the Elite Athlete Program, Interfaculty Sport, Intercollegiate Sport, School Holiday programs, gym programs, first aid classes and swimming programs.

Having been Operations Manager since 2015, Ed was well-placed for his new role as SUSF’s first CEO when SUSF incorporated in January 2020 and the long-serving Executive Director, Rob Smithies, stepped down.

During the previous nine years the pair had worked together on the biggest sporting infrastructure program in Sydney University’s history. Ed’s journey to the CEO’s role began at Canberra Grammar School where he was a boarder for three years and school vice-captain. Basketball, rugby and cricket became passions. He then studied Arts/Law at the Australian National University, where he majored in politics and psychology. While he gained First Class Honours in Law and the University Prize for International Law and Human Rights, it was his five years at the helm of the ANU Basketball Club that taught Ed the skills he would need to succeed in business and sport.

“It was also through University sport that I met my future wife, Merren Armour, at ANU,” he said. “She also studied law, but we were both basketballers and that’s how we met. She’d returned from a four-year NCAA scholarship at the University of Miami and was playing WNBL for the Capitals – I was the ANU basketball coach, captain, secretary and chief bottle washer – it was meant to be.”

After graduating Ed thought about following his father into foreign affairs. “We had travelled extensively overseas all my life,” Ed said. “Dad was the Australian Ambassador to China and then Indonesia and was there when the Bali bombing took place.

“When he came back to Canberra he was Australia’s Secretary of Defence. Meanwhile, my mum was the vice-principal at a Canberra public high school – we all knew who had the tougher job.

“But I decided to put my law degree in use. I’d been a summer clerk at Corrs Chambers Westgarth in Sydney, and took up a position there for four years working in property development law before going to London where I worked in property development finance for four years with Clifford Chance, an international law firm.”

On returning to Australia Ed shunned the idea of a potential partnership in a law firm and decided to take up a role as a projects and property director at UNSW. “In the next four years we took on the North Mall Development Zone development, which encompassed a $230 million development for the faculties of science, law and economics buildings overlooking the Village Green,” he said.

“I then became UNSW’s Property and Planning Manager, including the role as project director for the $10 million development of UNSW’s David Philips Sports Complex, which encompassed soccer, rugby, cricket and hockey fields, a baseball diamond and two new amenities and function buildings. It’s now the training base for the NSW Waratahs rugby side. This was when I fell in love with sports architecture.”

With that massive project behind him Ed was lured across to the University of Sydney, when he signed on as senior project manager for Campus Infrastructure Services for a year, during which time he helped SUSF begin the planning of a number of its projects.

“I started as a volunteer with SUSF and then joined three days a week as a consultant before becoming a full-time employee in Operations and Infrastructure,” he said. “It was a wonderful opportunity for someone who loves sports and loves getting things built. In the next six years we invested $40 million in sports infrastructure projects.”

Those projects included the $15 million Sports & Aquatic Centre extension in 2013, the $13.6 million development of the TAG Family Foundation Grandstand and Sydney Uni Football Ground in 2016, the $7.1 million Thyne Reid Boathouse and the $4.2 million Bruce Pryor Hockey Field in 2017.

During that time the University of Sydney Sports Foundation raised $13 million for sports infrastructure, while the sports scholarship scheme raised another $1.45 million. As Ed says, it was part of a golden era for sport on the campus.

Another part of that golden era has been the rise and rise of women’s sport.

“When the university took over the Sydney Flames women’s basketball franchise in 2003, it set a new standard for women’s sport on the campus,” Ed said.

“We’re now leading the way for women’s sport in water polo, soccer, cricket, athletics, rugby, hockey, Aussie Rules and many other fields. In May this year we transferred the Flames to the owner of the Sydney Kings men’s franchise, allowing the Flames to reach their full potential as a professional sporting team with access to the back-of-house and marketing teams of the Kings and the terrific drawing power of double header games with the Kings.

“They’ll still train at the University and play as the Sydney Uni Flames for another two years as part of the transfer arrangements and the pathway will still be there for our female students through our sporting scholarship program.

“The great news is that it also opens up a similar pathway for our male basketball scholarship students with the Sydney Kings. In addition, our student members can now get free tickets to the Kings and Flames games. In ‘marrying’ the Flames to the Kings, it doesn’t feel like we’ve lost a daughter, but rather that we’ve gained a son.”

While the COVID pandemic has put the brakes on raising funds for more infrastructure, Ed already has a master plan that includes the development of a sports complex at the Cumberland campus, the installation of a synthetic grass field at the Square, working with colleges for the possible development of the fields at St Paul’s, St Andrew’s and St John’s (including a possible athletics track), and the redevelopment of No.1 Oval to allow for more premier events.

“We run the best multi-sports club program in the land, so they need first-class facilities,” Ed said.

“Ultimately, we are here to improve the lives of the University community and we do this through the medium of sport. From teaching them to swim, to offering great gyms, group fitness classes and social sports programs, to the running an Elite Athlete Program which is the envy of all Australian universities, we want to help our students and members become the best people they can be, whether or not they compete for country or for fun.”

And what does Ed do in his time off campus? He volunteers as coach for his own children’s basketball, AFL and soccer teams every weekend. There’s no such thing as the full-time whistle for Ed.