How I changed career
I wasn’t a big football fan before I got involved. But once you’ve bought and sold every player that’s in the place and built the training ground and the stadium, it’s hard to call it anything else other than your team.
Before I joined Price Waterhouse I did my articles with a medium-sized firm in Fleet Street. It was mostly media clients and I wanted to do something of that ilk moving forward. The other thing I really wanted to do was travel. I then spent four years away on the trail with PwC and you get to a point where you have to come home.
I bumped into Howard Stanton, who was chairman of ENIC, which was effectively a media entity with listings in football, Warner Brothers studios and restaurants. He offered me a job and I was thrown in at the deep end. We had to divest six football clubs and had a court case with Uefa.
It was around the time that Lord Sugar was looking to sell Tottenham Hotspur. ENIC chairman Daniel Levy did a deal and we bought the club in February 2001. By that time we had worked our way out of all the other clubs. We had this amazing idea where we’d watch the football and work on the weekend and then always have the Monday off. It’s 16 years later and that’s never happened. We’ve been through this huge transition to where we are now.
“We’ve been very fortunate to be in a time when football is the only truly global sport. The most lucrative TV deals are in football”
The challenges I’ve overcome
On day one we said that we were going to grow the team and improve them year-on-year through the transfer window. We’re also going to get this training centre up and running. That was hugely challenging as we started off with one budget and ended up with another.
Our focus is the new stadium. I don’t think anybody’s funded a stadium in the UK with half a billion pound’s worth of debt, particularly in the capital. Try and find 20 acres in London. We had to move 80 businesses off site. I had to sit on crates with a man who sold buttons wholesale and talk him into selling his property, which was a freehold, and move to one I’d bought close by.
The whole process has taken a decade. We had to make that courageous decision to knock down the old stadium, which as a football club is your only asset. It’s a juggling act of getting the finance in place (through three banks: Goldman Sachs, Bank of America and HSBC). It has to open in time for the beginning of the new season.
We’ve been very fortunate to be in a time when football is the only truly global sport. The most lucrative TV deals are in football. There is wage push all the time but the next TV deal should be even higher. If you keep a balance you should be OK. Do a couple of bad deals and it can kill you. We’ve taken the prudent business approach and grown it steadily. You could just throw a billion quid at it. But that’s just not where we’re at. It’s about sustainability and long-term investment.
You’ve got fairly stable revenues in football. You know the TV deal and what you get depending on where you finish in the table. You know your sponsorship deal and long-term player contracts. So you can be fairly prescriptive about how much you’re going to spend on transfers and wages.
Daniel and I are directors of ENIC. I oversee the HR team, the finance team, a lot of the stadium team and IT. The stadium is taking up a huge amount of my time. It’s one of those things where if someone asked if you would do it again, you’d probably say no. But it’s been fascinating.
There’s always something that turns up, often bizarre, that needs to be solved. It’s as invigorating as it is tiring. When I run out of energy I’ll stop. Which won’t be soon. I need to get the stadium done and the NFL in too. We have a 10-year deal with them to host NFL matches, which is why we have this amazing sliding pitch.
My typical day
I really don’t have one. Last night we had dinner with the Real Madrid board because we’re playing them today. I stayed in town and drove here in the morning by 8am. I had a meeting with HR, with IT, then with our insurers. I’ve got Bank of America coming this afternoon, so will do a stadium tour with them.
We’ll take them to the game this evening. We’ll probably finish up at about 11pm. Then tomorrow it just goes on. Goldman’s arrive on Friday and we have another game on Sunday. You get into a cycle, particularly in the season. In the close season you think it will be really quiet, but here in the office we’re still busy.
Because it’s entertainment, it’s 24/7. It’s long days. Myself and the three other board members go to most games, home and away. When I do get a chance to relax, I don’t do anything. I’ve got five kids; I don’t get any time off.
“Because it’s entertainment, it’s 24/7, long days. Myself and the three other board members go to most games, home and away”
Once you’ve been director of a Czech football club, a Greek football club, a Swiss football club, and an Italian football club, I’m not sure I’ve seen any quirks in the Premier League that would have blown me away.
Football is more highly regulated than you would think. Fans will pull you up on anything you do wrong. Sometimes you might do something from the business perspective and it doesn’t work for the fans at all. So you have to work on that trust, which is a balance.
How the ACA helped my career
I couldn’t have done my work in Poland or Africa without the ACA. It’s transferable. Some of the accounting records in places like Hungary were so archaic. Having an ACA I knew what good practice was. All of it was absolutely invaluable. That’s why we end up as CFOs, COOs or MDs, because of that understanding.
The habits of an accountant
We don’t just report and churn out numbers. What I want my team to do is to use their tools and skills as practically as possible. So that, for instance, the marketing department know that they’ve overspent right now and not realise six months later.
For more details on Tottenham Hotspur’s new stadium, and how you can be there, click here