|Mark Donnelly- Group CFO, The Football Association|
|Profile of the week|
Monday, 13 February 2012 16:12
Mark joined the FA as Group CFO in May 2011 with responsibility for Finance, Legal, HR and IT.
Mark previously was the Finance Director of the LTA, being a key member of the Board and Executive teams. Mark joined the LTA in 2009 from The O2, the very successful music and sport venue. At The O2 Mark was latterly responsible for running the venue having previously been the FD of The O2 and AEG Europe. Mark was a member of the team which managed the construction and hugely successful opening of the venue in 2007.
Prior to joining AEG, Mark has a wide range of media FD experience including at a private equity backed Outdoor advertising company and national radio/ TV (Virgin Radio and Ginger Media Group). Mark qualified as a Chartered Accountant with KPMG in 1996.
With the LTA, you were part of the team to help change British tennis’ fortunes? How did that go and how much work has to be done?
It was a really enjoyable couple of years there. I think with any sport trying to make some quite fundamental changes in the way the sport is run, the whole performance structure and grass root structure takes a very long time. I think the LTA was making good progress and there were definitely some tangible signs that they’re moving in the right direction. Obviously, the attention is on the top players and the performance at the Grand Slams, in particular at Wimbledon. But, even leaving aside Andy Murray’s ongoing performances, if you look at some of the young girls that are now coming through and some of the juniors on the men’s side, there really is some good cause for optimism there.
As you mentioned, the public determine success by how a player does in the Grand Slams, particularly Wimbledon. How does LTA measure success?
I think again, it is important to remember it’s across the whole sport. It’s not just the elite side of the game and it’s not just that two week period in June and July. In terms of the measures that the LTA were looking at and trying to implement, it was the whole performance structure - the number of players coming through, the transition from good juniors to into seniors, the number of kids playing the game and the number of people regularly playing the sport. Then, you get onto the commercial side of it, looking at how tennis itself is developing and things like the ATP World Tour Finals coming to London for five years was a huge thing for tennis in this country.
I think in some ways they’re probably a lot more complex. A commercial organisation is pretty straight forward. You’re driven by profit and all the shareholders know fundamentally what the key return is whereas in sport, you’ve got so many different factors. As a governing body we got to be commercial and we got to try to generate as much as we can to invest in football. Our key targets are the number of people playing football, number of teams, how we develop the coaches, how we try and improve the young kids and develop the kids coming through. Obviously, then we got the national team, which gets a lot of attention. Then, Wembley and St Georges Park are huge projects for us as an organisation so how well we deliver those are going to account to our success.
It’s broader than finance. I’m responsible for all the internal corporate services, which include HR legal and IT, so the first challenge I guess is that it’s quite a broad and varied role, which is great. The challenge from a financial point of view is, clearly with any organisation, it’s a difficult environment at the moment and we’re constantly trying to grow our revenues and manage our cost base. I think the added complexity of a sport’s organisation is trying to access where you prioritise investment and how do you then measure whether you’re getting return on investment in very different areas where you’ve got non-financial indicators.
I think as an organisation, we’ve got around 600 people so there’s managing the organisation in terms of different locations. Technology plays an increasingly important part in what we do and how we run the game across the country and how we get more efficient in delivering the game. So, there are a number of different challenges across all those areas.
We definitely got an objective to maximise the amount of income and profit that we can invest back into football. We’re not profit focused in that we want to return money directly to a group of shareholders, although our shareholders are representative of interest across the game. It’s important for us to maximise that investment into grass root football and back into the professional game via the F.A. Cup. We’re absolutely commercially driven, but we will make investments into football that are not for profit.
It’s great working for the F.A. I think it’s a fantastic organisation. I guess the slightly frustrating thing is that a lot of the work the F.A does, particularly in grass roots and developing just doesn’t get picked up and is probably not as much a story for the national papers, which is a shame because there is a huge amount that goes on across the country in developing the game. I think it’s important for the F.A that we’re seen to be getting the big decisions right and there are some difficult challenges that we are going to face. We’re always pretty high-profile and there’s a lot of scrutiny in what we do, but overall I think it’s a fantastic organisation.
As a lifelong football fan, the chance to work directly in football and have the ability to impact on the way football is run and how football is going to develop in the future is great. I’ve got young kids and you can see the direct benefit on how the game is getting coached and the opportunities for developing the youth football format are brilliant. As for the perks, I’ve got to say I still love coming to Wembley everyday, you still get the ‘feeling’ as you walk up to the stadium and see the stadium. It’s just a brilliant facility. To be involved in an organisation that’s got so much history and importance attached to it is brilliant.