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Who would be the ideal chief exec of Scottish Rugby?

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John Beattie | 17:49 UK time, Sunday, 24 July 2011

I've been chased by head-hunters twice in my life.

In Borneo as a small boy I got lost in the mangrove swamps and my father organised a troupe of Dayak hunters to look for me with blow pipes, parangs (jungle knives) and a dose of high hopes, or whatever else it was they called the stuff they chewed.

Actually this is fiction, and just as fictitious as the head-hunters looking for the new Scottish Rugby chief executive asking me last week if I'd like to use my considerable experience in writing short articles and hosting radio and TV programmes to lead Scottish Rugby to glory and earn £300,000 a year or so in the process.

The only truth in these first three paragraphs is that Scottish Rugby do indeed seek a new chief executive.

One task for the new Scottish Rugby chief executive will be to fill Murrayfield for major matches. Photo: Getty

One task for the new Scottish Rugby chief executive will be to fill Murrayfield for major matches. Photo: Getty

And what kind of person are they after? My guess is that there are lots of different angles to this appointment.

The most obvious one is that it's a difficult job.

There are lots of difficult jobs in life, but if you compare it to, say, being the anonymous chief executive of a major power supplier being paid £3m a year to ensure that customers are overcharged, then it's difficult.

Or if you compare it to being a partner in a legal firm earning £1m a year, or an investment manager on a similar pay scale, then it's difficult.

As far as I can see, nobody has walked away from being Scottish Rugby chief executive completely unscathed. We've had marketing chief executives and accounting chief executives and yet the rank and file of rugby haven't been happy in Scotland.

All of the sides think that they are being short changed. The professional teams feel they are under-funded, the clubs think money is wasted on the professional game, the fans don't feel valued, and everyone has an opinion on ticket pricing, season structure, and just who are the good and bad guys in the organisation.

You might argue that some of the best potential candidates won't put themselves forward for the job because they know it's tough and the performance of the national team on a Saturday will affect the pressure you are under on a Monday.

Madness, I know, but life.

So, here's my plea. I think this time we need someone a bit different for the chief executive. All of the chief execs to date, including Gordon McKie, have had their strengths. There's not been a bad bloke among them.

This time, though, I hope Scottish Rugby go for a corporate rugby bloke who can pull all warring factions together so that the game can move forward in harmony.

We are too small a country, and too small a sport in that country, to muck around fighting each other all the time. I am sick of all the moaners in the game.

The key roles of a new chief exec, as I see them, are to ensure the game is close to the government for funding, to establish a link between the professional game and grass roots, and make some cash by keeping our game close to broadcasters and sponsors.

The new man or woman has to be strong enough to stand up to the board if need be and drag Scottish rugby further and further away from its public school, blazered, middle-class image.

Despite what I am saying here, I think there are lots of my former team-mates who could do the job.

Without wanting to exclude anyone, men like Jim Aitken, Roger Baird, Andy Irvine, John Rutherford and Jim Calder could all do this job - Jim Aitken might be argumentative and, like the others, wouldn't take the massive pay cut, but it needs a figure like one of these to step in, gain respect, understand the problem, understand the numbers, and move forward.

The man in temporary residence, Jock Millican, could do the job. Bill Gammell has just sold Cairn Energy and I'm on a board with him and he'd be superb but, again, he has far bigger things on his plate.

Anyway. I think, above all, that's what we need. Someone we respect to move this game of ours forward.

This new appointment is going to be so, so interesting.


  • Comment number 1.

    Time we had someone who can unite the country. The Borders & Edinburgh still carry too much weight. But most of all, we need someone to tell it straight, wherever they may come from. As a small country we need to be united in purpose. NZ does not waste its energy with infighting so we should not.......

  • Comment number 2.

    Scottish rugby still is much better off than Srilankan rugby. I don't intend any insult towards Scottish rugby which is after all decades above Srilankan rugby. I state this because Srilankan rugby had its glory days too when after gaining independence in 1942 continued to excel in rugby due to the involvement of a large no. of English and dutch descendants, both as players and coaches, as they were involved in tea plantation in the country and also due to the surfacing of some very unique Srilankan talent. We were a dominant rugby force in Asia and Japan had to work their socks off to beat us. When the English Lions and the Wallabies crossed the indian ocean to visit each other, they would land in Ceylon to play some warm up rugby and found to their delight a formidable challenge and an ideal preparation to their upcoming tests. Even until the 1980's we continued to excel and in an rugby asiad we came to the final only to be beaten narrowly by Japan. From the 1990's on wards, men of power wealth and greed took over and corruption and bribery became commonplace so much that we have slipped to the 2nd tier in both senior and junior rugby in Asia. I hope that Scotland, with their rich history and their strong team do not fall into such a mess and get an inspirational leader and continue to excel.

  • Comment number 3.

    John, do you not want the job? Maybe tweak Jim C once he has sorted Edinburgh with Craig Doc. But sadly it feels like a thankless task.

  • Comment number 4.

    re: bums on seats - put something on the pitch worth watching wearing dark blue, and there'll be plenty wanting tickets to Murrayfield. I noticed that in the Ireland game how the Scotland fans always turn up in good numbers to watch the matches but the product that has been served in the last 10 years has been disgraceful. Scottish rugby fans have shown outstanding loyalty considering what we've had to watch.

    Give us a Jim Renwick, a David Sole and an Andy Irvine once in a while, and turnstiles need never be a worry... unless you overprice the fans, IRFU style! :D

  • Comment number 5.

    I've just returned from 18 months living and working in New Zealand and their organisation and enthusiasm for rugby is most definitely something to aspire to. Their grass roots rugby is well supported and this is as important, if not more so, than the game at the senior level, as without the former the latter just simply doesn’t exist.

  • Comment number 6.

    "Even until the 1980's we continued to excel and in an rugby asiad we came to the final only to be beaten narrowly by Japan."

    Its was not hard to excel in Asia rugby when at the time there were only a few semi decent teams and then Japan out on their own.

    Though i'd have to say that in the 80s South Korea and Hong Kong were better than Sri Lanka and this is the way it has continued ever since.

  • Comment number 7.

    I am inclined to agree with a lot of your comment but have one key area of disagreement and that is the belief that the best man for the job ought to be a former international player. You did not say this in so many words yet your examples of ideal individuals were all former internationals, but neither did you define what your idea of a 'corporate rugby bloke' is either.
    This is by no means a disrespectful remark aimed at the characters you have identified in your artcle, some of whom I have played with or against, and others I know from my involvement in the management of the game overseas.
    These days it is very hard, in any environment, to find people who understand the meaning of the term 'The Greater Good' and it is this problem that has to be addressed by the SRU.
    The Greater Good in my opinion is firstly the survival of the game in Scotland at all levels; next comes the development of grass root rugby - which has to be the responsibility of the hundreds of clubs that have been in existence for tens if not a hundred plus years - supported by the governing body but not run by the governing body and, lastly comes the key issue of finding the means to support those first two points i.e. securing the money!
    I ran an emerging rugby union in the late '80s and early '90s and took this body into the (then) IRFB. I worked tirlessly, and unpaid, to achieve international rugby for the players in that union and did all this whilst holding down a full time job. We succeeded in having RWC 7s brought to our Union and expanded the games' identity throughout the region we lived in and to the global rugby watcher. The skills adopted were business skills but the underlining factors were having played the game and, in my case, refereed it and been an adminstrator. In short, I understood it across the board and wanted to do something to enhance the game for The Greater Good of all those involved where we lived and worked.
    This might all sound fanciful and to compare the SRU to an emerging IB Union in the '90s will no doubt cause some people to squeal in disapproval but the fact is the basics are the same. Scotland, the land of my birth, is not so big in numbers of players yet it has at the heart of the game a tradition and a history of always competing against the biggest and best that is the corner stone of our survival and occasionally our success. Business skills need to be the basis of our new CEO's portfolio but he doesn't necessarily have to have played at t

  • Comment number 8.


    I love rugby, and have supported my team (Scotland) through thick (small amount) and thin (huge amount). I have come to the conclusion that Scotland is a nation of sporting indifference. The main sport is football (soccer) and is dying at national and professional level. Attendances are poor, the quality is dire, and attracts journeyman players.

    Rugby is a minority sport up here, so how on earth can it pretend to be otherwise? Until we produce results on the main stage, and spark interest in youngsters, we have no chance of going anywhere. The current players are doing their best, but unless they get some wins under their belt, it does not matter a jot who runs the show!

  • Comment number 9.

    Scotland have always been close to having a great team but lack the self belief to finish the job. This WC they have a read chance to get out of the group stages but they have to beat Argentina who really have gone off the boil of late. All the same Scotland need a big performance to beat them but its very very attainable.

  • Comment number 10.

    Summer rugby!

  • Comment number 11.

    how about reducing to 13 players as well as playing in th summer - bit of space to make things interesting !!

  • Comment number 12.

    With England also without a CEO, why not take a cue from Mr Pickles and appoint a joint CEO for England and Scotland in the same way as a number of local authorities share a chief executive. At the very least, a cost saving!

  • Comment number 13.

    Blindfaith - I agree

    RichAbey thanks for that and thanks for the wishes

    Uilleam - I think I would mess it up spectacularly

    Mocko 500 - It is hard for us as a small country to win all the time

    Musselburghman - I don't believe it has to be a former internationalist

    hawkeyethejock - Yup, it is hard to win

    I now have to go, but will be back

  • Comment number 14.

    Mark Evans would be the ideal chief exec for Scottish Rugby. He might not be Scottish but neither is Andy Robinson.

    Mark Evans was a very effective CEO at Harlequins, boosting their coffers and financial standing, he has left it in a rosy position. The only blemish on his record is of course bloodgate. A man of his knowledgeable and pedigree would be the perfect.

    I think that to lure him to an interesting challenge like this a salary increase would definitely be needed though.

  • Comment number 15.

    John wrote "The key roles of a new chief exec, as I see them, are to ensure the game is close to the government for funding, to establish a link between the professional game and grass roots, and make some cash by keeping our game close to broadcasters and sponsors."

    Where does the paying customer fit into this equation, John. You know? the long suffering individual who pays his hard earned cash over to the SRU and turns up on Friday night/Saturday or Sunday afternoon and watches the spectacle unfold before his, or her, very eyes. The one that Gordon McKie forgot all about, no drove away?

    Without the loyal supporter you have nothing but a bunch of over-fit idiots chasing an odd shaped ball about a park. Not much there for the broadcaster or sponsor. It is the loyal supporter that creates the atmosphere, gives somebody for the sponsor to market to and something exciting for the broadcaster to show their viewers.

    How could you forget such a person?

  • Comment number 16.

    I wonder why people aren't thinking about promoting Kenny Baillie from Glasgow. He has done an excellent job at the Warriors, has kept just about everyone happy (not easy) and has come up with some excellent ideas like the Richie Gray masks.

    I see that he has been persuaded to stay on for 3 more months at the Warriors (he had resigned at the end of the season) and I can think of far worse people to be running the commercial side at the SRU.

    At the same time it would make sense to have a larger team of less highly paid individuals than the old regime. Kenny would be very good in the marketing role, but others could be brought in for more specialist roles (e.g. making more revenue from Murrayfield, youth development, running the pro game etc.).

    The other guy doing a really good job at present is Colin Thompson, the Community head, and it would be good to see him in a more senior role.

  • Comment number 17.

    Actually wanted to comment on the Hugo Southwell article but this is the closest you can get to that. Just strikes me how many people get injured 'recklessly' tackling Lee Byrne when he has his studs flashing around at head height going up for the high ball!

  • Comment number 18.

    Whomever the new appointee is the key criterion must surely simply be 'someone who is prepared to think again about how we approach the game in Scotland.'

    No matter what the 'official' reports say the number of players and supporters are reducing with ever fewer teams being put out by clubs. Is there someone out there bold enough (and more importantly willing) to take this role and question whether professional rugby based around districts supported by amateur clubs still works for us or whether we should sacrifice that approach and immediate success in the short term for long term stability and better playing numbers in the future? At the moment it is 'Central Scotland' not 'Scotland' going to the World Cup and given the comment in the piece about the size of the country surely we can't afford that restriction either.

    Whomever ends up getting the job however I hope we can all support them as much as possible and remember a Chief Executive has never yet taken the field to play and be responsible for individual players performances.

  • Comment number 19.

    #17 - Gus
    I don't know why to have used the inverted commas round recklessly - please explain.

    To help with your answer try reading Laws 10.4.e and 10.4.i - the laws are quite clear.

  • Comment number 20.

    #19 Everybody outside of Wales, and some in Wales, know very well that the high foot and knee tactic employed by Lee Byrne when he jumps, unnecessarily, for a high ball is dangerous. The case in point, Hugo Southwell did not make contact with Lee Byrne in any area other than the sole of his boot. In my view that is a kick by Lee Byrne and is covered by Law 10.4c.

    That Lee Byrne was in the air when he executed the kick is immaterial.

    That the ref got it wrong again on that occasion only demonstrates how difficult the job of being a referee is.

  • Comment number 21.

    Back on topic, I understand that Nic Cartwright is available, although he ultimately wants to move to the US.

  • Comment number 22.

    What's obvious is that central control won't work, not only does Scottish Rugby not have the resources to do so, it doesn't have the skills, never mind the political implications. It's managed to widen the gap between central administration and; the volunteers who run the game day to day, the fans who're not prepared to buy a poor product, the corporate market that needs to justify its expenditure and our next generation of youngsters playing the game. While an accountants tactics with the leverage of a large creditor behind them gained some good short term results they weren't strategic and have therefore been to the detriment of long term development of the game.

    It's now harder than ever to engage with consumers and we've been losing them not gaining. The board must not only recruit a new CEO they must back them in implementing a total change of culture and focus. While other clubs and bodies are talking about investing in developing global brands, Scottish Rugby has declining attendance, reduced participation (sorry don't believe the figures we're told), a reduction in merchandise sales and diminished connection with it's fans.

    We don't need a former international player, we don't even need a seasoned corporate CEO, it's a circa £30M company! What we need is strategic clarity, transparency in the management process and a large dose of reality.

  • Comment number 23.

    sport_bald @ 22 wrote: "We don't need a former international player, we don't even need a seasoned corporate CEO, it's a circa £30M company! What we need is strategic clarity, transparency in the management process and a large dose of reality."

    Couldn't agree more with this. I add that the position does not warrant a 300k salary, and neither does the position of CFO. 80-100k apiece is a more realistic figure.

    I put forward that the new CEO should be looking to use the professional game to support the club scene as well as to provide a platform for the representative sides. To that end, the club scene should be run by the clubs through the SRU committee structure and led by the SRU President. The CEO should concentrate on getting the pro game right, attracting more people to go and watch, extending ties with clubs that exist around the pro teams (and not just the premier ones) and maintaining the link between the pro player and his original club or clubs.

  • Comment number 24.

    John, I'm not asking for us to win all the time. Look at how we played against France, if the players turned out that kind of performance regularly, then I wouldn't mind how often we lost. The crowd react to watching exciting rugby, especially if they're wearing navy blue.

    There's a pragmatism around the SRU that has funneled down to the pitch and it makes for a dour spectacle. Since Scotland have little else to lose among the Tier 1 rugby nations, why not encourage our teams to play with more invention, creativity and a bit more dare?

    Ok, we might get papped in spectacular fashion once in a while but at least the fans will go home thinking "that was worth the £70 I paid for that ticket"...

  • Comment number 25.

    £300k for a CEO - you have to be joking! The CEO for the NHS in Scotland was advertised about the same time - £140k for a £6-8b budget and 150,000+ staffing. This is a small quasi public sector company that has few staff and a small turnover. The business model is relatively simple and there is no great pressure to turn a profit - merely to break even. So lets not get carried away with salary when the rest of Scotland is really struggling to break even or even stay afloat! Apart from internationals the average crowd at a pro game is about 1500 - 2000 - about the same as a mid table First Division footie team! I'm sure they do not pay their CEO that amount of dosh!

    Yes we need a CEO who can make the business break even, increase revenues, promote and grow the game and recognise the contribution that the games plays in society. However we need a CEO who can build a good team around them, engage with the paying public and work closely with the clubs - they need to enlist the expertise within the non execs and the wider rugby community! The previous CEO failed miserable with most of these!

    I often wonder how much we should pay our CEO and FD as I trudge through the puddles in the Murrayfield car park on a dismal Friday night, past the bulging SRU Company car park on my way to buy on over priced plastic bottle of crap beer to keep me going as I walk up four flights of stairs to a soulless club room and then back again to watch a team shorn of its best players who are being rested! £300k for a CEO responsible for that ... you're having a laugh are you not!

  • Comment number 26.

    I know the SRU want a chief executive. This needs to be a charismatic person who can communicate, lead and be willing to lead comprehensive change. Would certainly be fairly useful to understand rugby at all levels in Scotland/ elsewhere but they certainly need to be able to lead as its all about people. A leader will accomplish far more than a manager...

    Another key area is the team behind the CEO! They need to work together and "sing from the same hymm sheet" so to speak. There is no I in team. There needs to be agreement on key fundamentals of the game that all involved will sign up to.

    It also needs to be more than about money which appears to have been the focus over recent times. As others have said the fans create the atmosphere but they are also the very people sponsors want to influence to buy their products or use their services! I have been a season ticket holder for the first time last seen for Glasgow warriors. Some games were great others were dire. Inspite of the fact that I really enjoy watching rugby I have had to consider the affordibility of signing up again - can I justify 183.60 (dont forget the nice admin fee unless you pay by cash or cheque at Murrayfield itself) when there are no pay rises in sight and increased costs of living as well as many people being in need around the world. So I've decided to support GW again - lets hope its worth the money turning up in snow and rain to support an often inexperienced but enthusiatic team.

  • Comment number 27.

    Isn't it strange that all of a sudden the SRU will be selling tickets on match day (Plus a 5 pounds admin fee) for the upcoming Scotland Ireland game at Murrayfield. I've never understood what was so complicated about doing that with the surplus tickets on match day. It's a no brainer isn't it ?, or maybe we can afford to leave seats empty !.

  • Comment number 28.

    What Scottish Rugby needs is a seasoned rainmaker that connects with a new audience & spectators via new media and television and can sit across the table from the oligarchs and big business and cut the sponsorship deals, not only for the national side, Glasgow & Edinburgh professional teams, but to inject a new energy and cash into the universities and clubs and schools.

    A man that can hold his own at IRB level and international rugby in the northern and southern hemispheres.

    I have seen such a man at work and that is the lightning bolt that Scottish Rugby needs to propel itself into the future. He is a turnaround specialist of note and you can find him at:

    If the Scottish Rugby Board headed up by new incumbent Sir Moir Lockhead Chairman of SRU & Ian McLauchlan President of the SRU ever wanted a turnaround specialist to infuse energy and cash into the SRU and the 251 Scottish Rugby clubs he is the go-to guy to get in at Murrayfield.

    Get him in as the specialist Scottish Rugby CEO and watch the deals and corporates sign up with the SRU and grow the game of rugby within the Scottish Rugby Union.

    Then watch Scotland climb the IRB ladder from 9th place to 4th place inside a year.

    He is just the kind of person that would make the SRU Board proud of a renewed Scottish Rugby from schools all the way through to the national squad.

    There are few people that understand the cut and thrust of rugby administration at the highest level as normal rules do not apply as well as the voracious demands that rugby makes for a CEO as to be effective, he has to be a rugby man through and through, multiskilled and multitalented in marketing and media, otherwise it overwhelms the man in the chair.

    The SRU have little time to faff around and fiddle while battle lines are being drawn in the fast approaching Rugby World Cup.

    John, as you said above, we need a rugby guy that is a master rugby strategist to make Scottish Rugby great!


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