|Chris Thomas- CEO, London Wasps & Wycombe Wanderers|
|Profile of the week|
Thursday, 19 January 2012 12:05
Chris Thomas is the CEO of London Wasps and Wycombe Wanderers.
A chartered accountant with over 20 years experience in the financial services sector, Chris has held senior finance positions within NatWest Group, KPMG Consulting, Zurich Financial Services and the Bank of America.
He possesses a combination of financial expertise and business acumen and takes responsibility for the delivery of business improvement and change across both clubs.
Before taking his current role full time, Chris experienced a very successful interim period which saw him assume the responsibilities of the departed Paul Harrison in April. During this period, he steered the club through the St George’s Day Game project which saw over 60,000 people gather at Twickenham for the inaugural fixture.
How has your experience in banking and insurance helped you in your current position with both London Wasps and Wycombe Wanderers?
Quite a lot, actually. It’s one of those businesses that needs a lot of work on the finance side. Cash is quite tight typically within rugby and football clubs so having good financial discipline and good financial experience is quite an advantage.
Having just joined the sports world a couple of years ago, what’s the most favourable part of your job?
As a sports fan, its very strange working with people you’ve watched for a couple of years, such as Dai Young, Simon Shaw, Phil Vickery and Riki Flutey. You walk into work and you’re seeing very familiar faces. Also, it’s very strange seeing things from the inside rather than just from a supporter’s perspective.
Conversely, what is the most challenging aspect of your job?
I think certainly at Wasps we’ve had a lot of off-the-field events that have been quite difficult. As an accountant coming from finance, having to deal with the media is something I’ve never had to come across in my career before. Supporters and the public always want to know what’s going on. Everyone has an opinion. Trying to manage that aspect, whilst presenting the right story is quite tricky.
How difficult is it to come into an industry where clubs are constantly taking a hit financially?
One thing banks aren’t short of is cash. Sport clubs are loss making and have revenues that are very lumpy. You get your sponsorship revenue in installments and you have your sixteen games a season. For a rugby club, that’s when you can drive your income, so it’s very different pressures.
Also, the ability to go and lend or borrow money is quite difficult with sports clubs. At the moment, banks are not willing to give any sort of finance to sport clubs and there is a lot of pressure to reduce overdrafts or move it onto loan accounts. It’s very difficult to find any finance to help you cover long and short term funding requirements.
A lot of clubs are reliant on an owner to write the cheque at the end of the day for the difference between your revenues at your costs. That’s the case across the Premiership, with the exception of the Leicester Tigers and Northampton Saints who do make profit.
Has it proven tricky juggling your duties and managing your time between the two clubs?
The difficulty is matches because between the two clubs. They play over forty games at home and you have to be a bit selective on where you’re going. As a business, it’s very similar running the finance, sales and marketing. We now have one team here that manages both clubs, so we have sales people who will sell Wasps products and Wycombe products in one go. You don’t need two teams, one specialising in football and one specialising in rugby.
On the pitch, both your clubs haven’t been doing so well…
With Wycombe, it’s difficult to compete in that league. There are clubs there with large budgets and it’s a case of whether we can keep above that relegation zone. They’ve been very good in the loan market, bringing in some players very cheaply to try and bolster the squad. The ideal for Wycombe would be a nice comfortable place in League One, not yo-yoing between the two divisions.
With the rugby, it’s just unbelievable how many injuries we’ve had, which is really what’s causing a lot of the problems. If you look at Bath who’ve got a similar injury record to us at the moment and they’re only two points ahead of us and we’re both at the bottom of the table. It’s difficult to compete when a lot of your key players are either retired or in the physio’s room.