Josie Spillane – A tsunami of enthusiasm

4 minutes read
Posted 18 June, 2024
Rachel Lister Chontelle Brown Rachel Rayner Margie Dela Cruz Simmons Josie Spillane Heather Lindsay Hannah Wybrow Holly Parkes Elizabeth Carrillo and Tamara Trent. copy 2

Rachel Lister, Chontelle Brown, Rachel Rayner, Margie Dela Cruz Simmons, Josie Spillane, Heather Lindsay, Hannah Wybrow, Holly Parkes, Elizabeth Carrillo and Tamara Trent.

When Josie Spillane gets behind a project her infectious enthusiasm can’t help but sweep up all in her path, whether that’s fundraising for seriously ill kids or getting Kiwis enthralled in motorsport. It’s a trait one of her career mentors, local fundraising specialist Kaye Parker instilled in her.

Spillane currently leads a team of 101 people as CEO for Tony Quinn’s racetracks in New Zealand. Based at Highlands in Cromwell, Spillane applies all of those business skills and techniques she learnt from Parker. “Kaye is incredible. She pushed me hard teaching me how to lead with empathy and build relationships and take people on a journey,” Spillane says. “If I know how to wrap people up in a tsunami of enthusiasm then I’ve learnt that from Kaye.”

Her skill as a business leader was recognised in 2022 when Spillane won Leader of the Year and Excellence in Leadership awards at The Grand Business South Awards in Dunedin.

She’s always grabbed opportunities that have presented themselves, worked hard gaining business acumen along the way.

Spillane didn’t complete a Tourism and Travel Diploma, instead studying for a Bachelor of Commerce at Otago University, and working in a restaurant to support her studies. Her talent was spotted by the manager of KC’s, her favourite student nightclub. “He offered me a fulltime promotion manager’s job, while I studied.”

With a $58,000 student loan and a $10,000 personal loan requiring attention, a job as restaurant supervisor at the Heritage Queenstown beckoned, working functions for GM Damien Keenan. “My career has evolved because of what people like Damien have seen in me,” Spillane says. She’d hoped to score the front-of-house duty manager’s role and ideally build to general manager. “I’m quite assertive and I like being in charge, so I thought that would be me,” she grins.

That didn’t transpire and instead, her career turned to real estate and Harcourts working for Kelvin Collins, Tony Robins and John Petre. “I felt like I was doing so much work, and the agents were earning all the money.”

Keenan recognised her talent for events, recommending her to Event Management Company ESP. Her first job was the Michael Hill Violin Competition, then Mountain Film Festival. ESP won the contract for the 50K of Coronet Peak, organising fundraising for the Child Health Research Foundation which became Cure Kids, with Spillane as event coordinator. That’s when I met Kay Parker, an event that set me on a path that changed my life.”

After being made redundant at 25 from ESP, an approach from the organisers to manage 50K of Coronet opened the door to working for Cure Kids under Parker – a role she revelled in for the next 11 years. She became Cure Kids South Island fundraising coordinator and by the time she left in 2013 she was leading a team in Auckland, from Cromwell, that was fundraising $4 million a year.

“I went to the opening of Highlands Motorsport Park in March 2013, and sitting on the bank with my husband and said, ‘I can’t believe I’m not part of this. I didn’t really know what the cars were doing on the track, but this was right in my backyard.” She was looking to leave Cure Kids and it seemed like something amazing to be part of.

The initial response drew a firm ‘no’, and then veteran racer Grant Aitken called Spillane in to meet Australian founder, Tony Quinn. “I left with a job as his business development manager selling signage and developing the GT membership.”

It’s been incredible working with and building a team of “amazing, passionate people”.

Since then, Quinn bought Hampton Downs in the Waikato, which is now a worldclass motorsport park and more recently the Taupo Motorsport Park. Quinn also brought back Race To The Sky in 2016, a “huge learning curve” for Spillane, who’s responsible for the businesses and teams nationwide.

Her greatest management advice is to keep things really simple. “Play to people’s strengths, avoid layers of bureaucracy, and hours making decisions. We touch it once and make it happen.”

An example of the speed with which they deliver off the track too is the recent announcement of the Tony Quinn Foundation’s funding support for Street Smart – a hands on driver programme for youth. This was triggered by the devastating loss of young Cromwell driver Kelan Stroud. Spillane was tasked with making the programme happen. “We’re funding $750,000 over the next three years to change the needle on NZ road deaths.” They’ll be lobbying the Government for a law change to make it compulsory for young drivers to do hands-on practical training.

Who better to make that change happen?


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