Counties Manukau Rugby will be on the lookout for a new chief executive after Aaron Lawton announced his resignation from the position this week.
Lawton, who started in the role in January of 2020, has led the Union through arguably its most successful period off the park through one of the most challenging times in history as he dealt with COVID and a game that was struggling to attract interest at provincial level across the country.
His tenure has taken the Union from troubled times to a strong financial position, while working to implement a selection philosophy at the top level that promotes local talent both in terms of players and coaches. In addition, he has helped steer the Union and its members through its biggest governance restructure in the 21st century and seen community participation numbers grow significantly following the end to the COVID lockdowns.
The new governance structure for the CMRFU should lead to a much more engaged community game in the coming seasons and drive participation at the grassroots - something that has been a key area of focus during Lawton's tenure.
CMRFU Chairman Gary Millington is gutted to be losing Lawton but paid tribute to the huge amount of work and energy he has put into the job.
"Aaron has done a phenomenal job at the helm of our Union during some of the most difficult times our country and our sport has encountered," Millington said.
"He led the governance and constitutional review, which took 18 months and has now been implemented.
"Aaron has embedded a philosophy of picking local, appointing a local coach of the Steelers and the Heat and selecting from within our own patch."
Millington highlighted that during Lawton's time in charge, the Union had gone from strength to strength.
"In Cameron Roigard, he has seen the development and selection of our first home grown All Black since Augustine Pulu," Millington added.
"He helped develop the "pride in the hoops" culture that has resonated with our community and has a strong relationship with our clubs.
"Aaron led the Union through two hellish years of COVID and has delivered one of the strongest balance sheets in the country, with a profit reported in each of his years in charge.
"And he has developed the idea and implementation of free rugby for junior players.
"We cannot understate the huge contribution Aaron has made to our Union and the manner in which he has gone about it - on behalf of everyone involved with the organisation I want to thank him for that."
Lawton will be moving into the role of CEO for Hamilton-based charitable trust services provider Maxserv and will start in the new role in April. He will remain with CMRFU through until next year's AGM in March and will assist in the search for his replacement.
Lawton said the decision to leave was one of the hardest he'd ever made.
"I came to Counties Manukau looking for a job opportunity and ended up finding a deep sense of belonging in this community, so much so I moved my family here at the start of this year," he said.
"The job has not been without its challenges but I've loved every minute of it and feel like the Union is now set up for someone fresh to come in and take it to the next level.
"I want to thank the many staff who have worked so hard behind the scenes to get us where we are today and to the board for their ongoing support.
"I'm going to miss this place but have no plans to leave Pukekohe any time soon. This is very much home for my family and I.
"I can't wait to see this Union continue to grow, empower and inspire people through rugby over the next few years."
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