Don Rowlands –
Innovation and Leadership
Don Rowlands may be 84 years old but that
is not stopping him from rolling up his
sleeves and spending hours of volunteer
time to help get everything perfect for the
2010 World Rowing Championships. This is
Rowlands’ style – hands-on. This has always
been Rowlands’ approach.
Rowlands was also the managing director of the
huge appliance company, Fisher & Paykel.
Back 32 years ago Rowlands was the name behind
the 1978 World Rowing Championships: the first
ever rowing championships in the southern
hemisphere and for many it is considered one of
the best rowing champs, ever.
Rowlands’ involvement in rowing administration
followed his retirement from competitive rowing. He
had earned silver at the 1950 British Empire Games
(the former Commonwealth Games), gold at the
1954 British Empire Games, and he rowed at the 1956
Olympic Games. Moving into coaching, national
team selection and administration, Rowlands had
the insight to see that it was time to bring the
championships to the southern hemisphere.
Born in 1926, the Great Depression had a huge
impact on Rowlands’ formative years. He watched
his dad Horace, a sawmill manager, use a hands-on
approach and treat his workers with respect. His
mother remained absolutely committed to the
family and always appeared stylish despite the
rough conditions of the time.
New Zealand rowers were attracting international
interest. The country was going through a success
surge in the 1960s that culminated in the men’s
eight gold medal at the 1972 Olympics. This was
especially admired worldwide as the event had
been dominated in recent years by East and West
Germany. “The northern hemisphere countries
started to take interest in what we were doing,” says
Rowlands. He knew the time was ripe to attract
them to New Zealand.
Lessons learned from Rowlands’ upbringing
remained with him as he worked his way to the top
of some of New Zealand’s largest companies. In 1978,
while organising the World Rowing Championships,
“I was friendly with Thomas Keller (FISA’s then
president) and I talked to him. He was >
Don Rowlands accepts his
Leadership Award at the 2006
Halberg Sports Awards ceremony
held in Auckland, New Zealand.