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Corey Payne wants to combine his experience in the business world with his heavy interest in the philanthropic sector in his new role as chief executive of NRL club Penrith Panthers.

Payne, who played for three NRL clubs, will begin the Penrith role on May 16 having just served out his notice period at Woolworths where he was part of the supermarket giant's stores transformation team.

He wants to take what he learnt at Woolworths regarding customer service and management and marry those skills with experience he has gained being part of programs with more altruistic purposes.


Payne, 32, and a former nominee for Young Australian of the Year, also established the Future Directions Network to provide financial support, mentoring and careers advice for young people to go on to university, with a particular focus on western Sydney.

"I'm passionate about rugby league and I'm passionate about the west and I think we can really be a positive force for the community," Payne told The Australian Financial Review. "A lot of people talk about Parramatta being in the west but I see that as central Sydney these days. There's going to be 3 million people west of Parramatta and I think the Panthers can be central to all of those people."

Payne also sees that population base as something that should be more attractive to potential corporate supporters. He said the Panthers league club, which sits adjacent to to Penrith's home ground and provides some funding to the rugby league club, has facilities that more corporates should use for off-site gatherings and meetings as a start.

But more importantly, there's a strong base of consumers in the west who are Panthers fans that he has to convince the corporate world to market to. "There's a lot of people that are buying products every week, making decisions about their finances, buying insurance and so on. I think that there's a lot of brands that would be interested in that."

Payne spent the past year at Woolworths helping and identifying ways the supermarket outlets could be made more efficient and do a better job of attracting more shoppers in the face of intense competition from the likes of Coles and Aldi.

That, be believes, stands him in good stead to help Penrith improve the match-day experience for fans and home games. "It is not necessarily rocket science, but it is about doing some of those things that surprise and delight people that come to games, and have them leaving with a smile on their faces."

Payne grew up in St Johns Park in Sydney's west in a family that highly valued getting university qualifications. That meant studying throughout his rugby league career, during which he earned a bachelor and then master's of commerce at the University of Sydney.

He also founded the FDN during his playing days, with the organisation now having raised close to $200,000 to support 11 students studying across five NSW universities, and also won a Churchill Fellowship in 2012.

While Payne misses the instant results that playing sports brings, something that does not happen quickly in business, he says there are still plenty of sports skills that can be transferred to the business world. 

"Sport teaches you plenty of things that can apply to being at work, including preparation, resilience and the importance of goal orientation. I found that those skills helped a lot in business."

This article first appeared on

Acknowledgement of Country

Penrith Panthers players and staff respect and honour the traditional custodians of the land and pay our respects to their elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.