Toffees’ New Direction
Everton have made significant changes to its boardroom structure following the departure of CEO, Robert Elstone. fcbusiness speaks to new CEO, Prof Denise Barrett-Baxendale about her role and the changes being made across the business and football sides of the Merseyside club.
On joining Everton in the Community as CEO in January 2010, initially to develop and lead a transformation strategy, did you ever imagine that one day this would lead to you becoming CEO of the football club?
To be honest, this was not something I gave any consideration to when I first came to Everton. At the time, as you say, I was fully focused on delivering a transformation strategy for Everton in the Community. Within 18 months or so, I was appointed to the role of chief operating officer at Everton before being promoted to deputy chief executive officer in June 2013, while simultaneously continuing to lead our official charity.
Naturally, as a very proud and lifelong Evertonian, I was humbled and grateful for the support of the chairman, Bill Kenwright, my fellow Board of Directors and Mr (Farhad) Moshiri in deciding to invest this responsibility in me to help shape Everton as a club. It’s a great honour to be entrusted with the role of chief executive.
This is a great club, the fourth most successful club in the history of the game in this country, footballing royalty and we have the best, most committed fans. I can assure every single Evertonian that I am completely committed to driving our club forward and making the most of the opportunities that we have. I am also tremendously excited by the prospect of being in a position to set a path forward that will underline our ambitions for the future, reflect our values as The People’s Club and always maintain the motto set out for us by our forefathers Nil Satis Nisi Optimum. Nothing but the best is good enough.
Your appointment was made amid a reorganisation of the club’s Board following the departure of your predecessor, Robert Elstone, to Super League. Could you elaborate on some of the change that has taken place?
There was a lot of work to do at the club this summer. Change can be disruptive, especially when our traditions speak of solid structure, long-serving managers and a club that commits to the long-term. But change also brings opportunity and the circumstances to determine afresh who we want to be and how we want to deliver.
As a Board, we were keen to ensure that the new leadership structure would present us with clear lines of responsibility and accountability while also providing us with a strong platform from which we can continue to move forward. Dr Keith Harris has been appointed deputy chairman and he will be the Board member responsible for driving the club’s new stadium project forward, an area in which he has vast experience from his time as director of Wembley National Stadium Limited. The opportunity we have at Bramley-Moore Dock is potentially one of the most significant in the club’s history and, through Keith’s experience with Wembley, he understands both the opportunities and the complexities in delivering a new stadium.
Alexander (Sasha) Ryazantsev has also joined the executive leadership team, with responsibility for the club’s financial and commercial performance. Sasha has been a member of the Board of Directors since March 2016 and has mainly focused on relationships with creditors and investors, most notably being responsible for attracting our £60m Revolving Credit Facility from ICBC, the world’s largest bank by assets. Sasha will be instrumental in ensuring we make the most of the opportunities we have, including growing our commercial revenues and delivering a new stadium, while ensuring we run the business in a sustainable way.
As a club it is imperative we move forward and grow and it is key that we have the right personnel to deliver that plan. I have also put in place a new leadership team that comprises of nine executive director level-positions and will be responsible for the day-to-day operations across the club, supporting the Board of Directors and new director of football Marcel Brands to achieve our long-term ambitions on and off the field.
What are your roles and responsibilities as CEO?
In the broadest sense, my role as CEO is to provide leadership, strategy and direction, making sure we are clear on who we are, where we are going and what resources we need to be successful as a football club both on and off the pitch.
As well as winning trophies and admiration for our football, Evertonians want to be proud of their club. We need to make sure all of the changes and decisions are being made in the ‘Everton way’ and will be delivered by a team who will deliver in the ‘Everton way’.
Since taking up this role I’ve been spending a lot of time at the training ground, working closely with our new manager, Marco Silva, and our new director of football, Marcel Brands, and it is essential that I do that so we can firmly embed the structure around how we want to work going forward. It’s important that the three of us are aligned and we have the same common purpose, which is to win football matches, be successful and be the best club. It’s my job to support Marcel, Marco and the rest of our staff in the ways I can to give us the best possible chance of delivering the success our fans crave.
With all the changes, will there be a change of direction for the club?
We are focused very much on how we can fully realise our ambitions as a club, with the fantastic fanbase we have and a natural, innate aversion to settling for anything but the best. Football has changed massively since I joined Everton eight years ago. Revenues have increased and clubs are huge, complex organisations, particularly at the top end of the Premier League, so to be competitive we must continue to grow and evolve. The key to us being able to achieve this is to continue to maximise our potential income through growing our partnerships portfolio and grasp the opportunity to move to a new stadium at Bramley-Moore Dock. Both, in turn, will support our ambitions on the pitch.
Over the past 18 months we have grown our commercial partnership portfolio by signing a record main partnership deal with SportPesa, acquiring an innovative shirt sleeve partner in Angry Birds and adding partners with a global audience to our partner portfolio. Our work in activating our partnerships have won global awards and we want to continue to deliver value for money for our partners. It is our aim to build a long-term sustainable club partnership portfolio by attracting partners in sectors where we are currently not involved. For example, in the airlines sector, tourism or automotive as well as being proactive in any emerging sectors.
The opportunity to move to a new stadium at Bramley-Moore Dock has been described as a ‘game changer’ not just for the club but for the city. We all love Goodison Park, it’s the most magical place to watch football, but we understand that to be a modern, progressive football club we need the facilities and resources to take us to the next level, and the reality is we cannot satisfy those needs at Goodison Park in the long-term. That’s why the new stadium project is central and so important in terms of our vision for the future.
On the pitch there has been the appointment of Marco Silva along with several strategic appointments within football operations. Can you explain the reasoning behind these changes and how you hope they’ll translate to further progress on the pitch?
Chief among my priorities is to structure and resource our club to fully achieve our ambitions on and off the pitch. We must therefore attract the very best talent to Everton and I believe we have done that by bringing Marcel Brands as well as Marco Silva to the football club.
In Marcel, we have appointed a director of football with a proven reputation for developing players and building clubs in technical roles over two decades in Holland. In Marco, we have a modern, forward-thinking coach with Premier League experience who has a record for getting the best out of players. His philosophy fits perfectly with our long-term strategy and we are looking forward to seeing what can be achieved as he works closely with Marcel.
To support our manager and director of football, we’ve also appointed a new head of football strategy in Richard Battle. Richard was previously part of our successful Academy and will work closely with Marcel to develop a wider football strategy for the club, further strengthening the links between the first-team, the Under 23s and the Academy. Together with Marcel, Richard will be looking at what it means to be an Everton player so when a young player comes through the Academy, there is a clear pathway integrated into that wider football strategy.
Joel Waldron has also stepped up to the role of Academy director to oversee the Academy operations at USM Finch Farm in an expanded role from his previous position of Academy manager. It’s important, too, the fact that Marcel, Marco and myself have exceptional relationships and it does rely on that triangulated leadership, the three of us wanting to be the best we can be. They have been terrific in terms of how they have become part of our football club and there’s a lot of opportunity for myself and my senior team to embed them in further.
Our common purpose is about being the best we can be and the execution of excellence in performance. That we have made a solid start to our campaign – underpinned by a fast-paced, dynamic style of play, passion and a strong work ethic, team spirit, a commitment to winning and to the development of our young players – is really encouraging.
Everton had three players at this year’s World Cup including Jordan Pickford and Gylfi Sigurdsson. Do you see their presence as a boost for the club? And how important is it you develop/attract players of world class calibre to the club?
If we are to fully achieve our ambitions, we must continue to attract the very best talent to Everton, whether that’s top-class players such as Gylfi Sigurdsson, Jordan Pickford and Idrissa Gana Gueye, who represented their countries with great distinction at this summer’s World Cup in Russia or the very best backroom and Academy support staff to help bring through the next generation.
That’s why we were so excited to secure the services of Marcel, who has a proven track record of unearthing talent and developing players. During his eight years at PSV Eindhoven, he overhauled the club’s transfer strategy and rejuvenated its Academy, helping to build one of the youngest teams ever to win Holland’s Eredivisie. Both Marcel and Marco have placed a key emphasis on the development of young talent.
Everton is renowned for its world-class Academy and Marcel and Marco have a shared vision to utilise our productive and respected youth system as a vital component of their strategy. But, of course, it was fantastic to see Gylfi, Jordan and Idrissa performing so well at the World Cup and, in particular, to see the heroics of our goalkeeper, now firmly established as England’s No. 1. This in itself speaks of where we see ourselves and wish to position ourselves as a club.
The club has committed to the huge project of building a new stadium at Bramley-Moore Dock. What progress is being made on this development?
Delivering a new waterfront home for Everton at Bramley-Moore Dock as well as cementing and sustaining a suitable lasting legacy for Goodison is one of the main priorities of the Board of Directors and something we are absolutely committed to delivering. Our advisors and technical teams have been busy working to progress our plans for Bramley-Moore Dock as well as an outline planning application for the Goodison Park site. We have a lot of work to do to make both exciting projects a reality, but we are now more aligned than ever before.
Only last month we appointed a stadium development director. Colin Chong has extensive experience in delivering stadiums and other large-scale capital projects and, together with our strengthened internal team and a best-in-class team of external advisors, we now have all the resource and expertise we need in place as we move towards the crucial planning phases. Part of Colin’s remit will be to ensure that we will fully consult with all groups on both the Bramley-Moore Dock and Goodison schemes, including finalising designs and capacity and developing the best possible legacy for Goodison Park.
Over the course of the next few months, a period of engagement with our fanbase and residents local to Goodison will be undertaken. The feedback we then receive from our fans will help our final designs as well as our submission of a planning application. We are continuing to explore and hope to finalise our financing options over the next few months as well. Any deal we enter into will be the best deal for the football club. For the support we have received from Liverpool City Council overall, I would like to personally thank Mayor Anderson and his team for their ongoing assistance and their commitment to supporting us in this exciting project for Everton and the city of Liverpool.
What will happen to Goodison Park once you move to the new stadium?
We are committed to our promise to leave a lasting community legacy on the site of Goodison Park. I’ve spent many hours lying awake at night thinking, “How does a proper People’s Club exit its community after more than 125 years?” Then I realised that the answer is very simple. We don’t! We won’t leave our community. We will never abandon our spiritual home. We want Goodison to become a community asset that will be at the heart of a happy, vibrant, prosperous community which will thrive in the Liverpool 4 (L4) area when we relocate to Bramley-Moore Dock.
I’ve been working with a number of colleagues across the city in developing a Trust Board that will look after a site that will always be sacred to Evertonians for generations to come. As part of that work, I am excited to confirm that consultation with local residents and stakeholders regarding the legacy for L4 will get underway later this year.
Over the course of the past three years, we have developed and built some amazing community facilities in the shadows of Goodison Park, including the state-of-the art Everton Free School and Sixth Form College and The People’s Hub. Our latest development, The Blue Base, has been operational for several weeks now and we’ll be officially opening it in September.
The site, which was formerly the St Francis de Sales Parish Social Club, has been transformed into a fully accessible facility to deliver our community programmes for older residents in our community and a pre-match and post-match suite for vulnerable and disabled fans to visit on match day. It is also available for the local public to use for functions away from match days, making it operational throughout the year. These facilities will form part of a lasting Goodison legacy, ensuring Everton remains very much at the heart of the community in L4.
How will the development of the new stadium impact the club in the short to medium term as planning and construction gets underway?
Clearly, the process of moving to a new stadium is a complex project with many moving parts, but we are taking steps to make that transition as smooth and seamless as possible. Over the past year we have been working on a continuity business plan which includes the relocation of our staff from Goodison Park to our new headquarters on the seventh floor of the Royal Liver Building in Liverpool City Centre. Staff in several departments of the club – including Finance, Marketing, Commercial, Hospitality, Partnerships, Communications and People Services – will be based at the iconic waterfront building.
There are many benefits of this move, none more so than having our football club operating from the heart of the city’s commercial centre, but most importantly it gives us a business continuity plan as we prepare for our move to Bramley-Moore Dock. That does not mean we will be abandoning Goodison Park and just opening the stadium up for matches on a Saturday. We will be establishing a full match day operation centre at Goodison Park for key personnel.
Moving to a new stadium is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity so it’s vital we get the right design and capacity at Bramley-Moore Dock and that the project remains affordable and therefore allows us to continue to fulfil our ambitions on the pitch. No final decisions on either capacity or final detailed designs have been made as yet but our fans’ input into this process has been vital and we plan to consult further on these matters before final commitments are made. This input is invaluable in shaping our new home. Prior to submitting a planning application, we will be undertaking more engagement and, in turn, formal consultation with our fans, neighbours and wider stakeholders at both Bramley-Moore Dock and Goodison Park.
Our new home on the waterfront will not only be a fantastic new stadium for Everton, but also kick-start a £1bn regeneration of North Liverpool and we’re proud to be the catalyst for significant numbers of new homes, jobs and infrastructure – as well as introducing our world-famous waterfront to billions of Premier League fans around the world every weekend.