CHRIS STONOR SPEAKS TO SUSSEX'S NEW CEO
Much to the surprise of the cricketing fraternity, Rob Andrew, the former rugby international and later Operations Director of the Rugby Football Union (RFU), was recently appointed as the new CEO of Sussex CCC. Why has someone who has been involved all his professional life in rugby changed sports to cricket?
Why cricket - why Sussex CCC?
I wanted a change in my life and a CEO position attracted me. I decided before the last Rugby World Cup that it was time to leave the RFU and I announced this decision during February 2016. I wasn’t sure my new job would be in cricket, although the sport has always been in the back of my mind having played a few first-class games before I chose rugby. I had looked at other positions within my sport as well as outside it but the Sussex venture offered multi-faceted roles that excited me. And the timing was spookily serendipitous. If the advert had appeared three months earlier or later, it is unlikely I would be here.
For, I have not planned any of my career. It’s just happened. After retiring from playing rugby, I began as a surveyor; then spent 11 years at Newcastle RFC and 10 years at the RFU. I stayed at both jobs too long. I’d reached a stage of my life that whatever my next move would be, I needed to do it now.
You have accepted an enormous salary cut in coming to Sussex - why?
Everything I do is not driven by money. Life is about opportunity. The whole job felt right to me. I enjoy spinning plates and at Sussex there is much to be involved with. The off-field recreational development and the recent formation of ‘Sussex Cricket Ltd’ is a great example. Sussex is a fantastic club with a rich history but English cricket is reaching a defining moment in its evolution as discussions intensify about a potential city-based T20 Tournament. I feel with all my experience working in rugby, I can help the club through this difficult period and negotiate the best deal for them. I believe my Chairman describes this as my “transferable skills”.
The rugby journalist, Eddie Butler, described you when you first joined the RFU as a rebel and pioneer; do you still hold these attributes and will you express them at Sussex?
Yes, I do and if need be I will. You have to take risks in life. Moving to Newcastle was a big one for me. I then went to the RFU not to become institutionalised but because I cared deeply about English rugby; for by 2006/07 the sport was broken and moving in the wrong direction. To change things, sometimes you need to be bold and think out of the box.
Do you feel the city-based T20 tournament is already a done deal?
My take on it is this: Unless some compelling facts emerge over the next few months - and there is still much missing information - and unless a series of curve-balls appear - I would suggest it is more likely to happen than not. We should know better in March when the ECB offer us more proposals.
The ECB have confirmed that each county will be paid £6.5m over an initial five-year period if the tournament goes ahead. Sussex have no debt and already redeveloped their ground. Surely, this places the club in a strong position over most other counties?
I don’t disagree with you. Talking to the Board there is concern that non-Test match grounds will become less relevant in the future. That is the club’s challenge. How can we protect the Sussex brand? First, we require more answers as the devil is in the detail. Either it is negotiated to where every county is happy or it begins to unravel. I suspect there will be enough guarantees and satisfaction which means the city-based tournament could be very advantageous to Sussex. That’s what I told the Board before Christmas.
What particular aspects of Sussex are you looking forward to being involved with?
There are many but the pro-cricket department and watching youngsters develop is always exciting. We have some talented cricketers emerging from the Academy. It is vital the club have home-produced players who then turn into senior professionals and underpin success on the field - just like during the 2000s. The signings over the Winter have been well thought-through and there is now a good balance between youth and experience.
Meanwhile, the business of Sussex needs to be successful alongside the recreational expansion; although, returning the club to the success they formerly enjoyed on-the-field is the driver of everything.
Do you believe signing the South African Kolpaks this winter is the right approach?
The team needs experience, so where can this come from? Who is affordable, who fits into the system? There must be emphasis on players who can successfully play the three formats. It is challenging to find such cricketers and looking overseas is a necessary step. Also, this recruitment can help the youngsters improve faster.
A fear of Sussex supporters is that all the success the team enjoyed during the 2000s was just a blip.
Managing the end of an outstanding group and creating a follow up team is so tough as succession is vital to maintain success. Was Sussex set-up structurally to deliver their next winning team? Perhaps, some sticking plaster was put over this issue and we all know plaster eventually falls off.
Sussex have dipped down - perhaps too far - where it is devilishly difficult to climb back up; but if this present and talented squad remain fit, I can see them doing well and credit must go to Keith (Greenfield) and Mark (Davis). So, I am optimistic for the club’s future.
I note you aren’t involved with social media with no personal Twitter or Facebook - is there a reason?
I don’t have the time or inclination for it. In my role, I don’t wish to get involved in Twitter debates with all sorts of people about a plethora of issues. I will engage with supporters but via forums and the club website.
Is your desire for privacy another part of the reason?
Yes, but I’ll be available and visible at the club ground. As a CEO you have to front up. It’s a big part of the role. If you are not prepared to do this you aren’t performing your job.
Are you planning to move to Brighton?
I live in South West London. I drive down to Brighton each day and commute that way, so I don’t see any reason to move.
How do you relax away from your work?
I am not sure I do (laughs). I love sport and enjoy watching it. I have a chequered footballing history. My childhood confused me in what teams to support. I grew up following the great Leeds side of the early 1970s, then I faced a crisis in the 1973 Cup Final when they played Sunderland as I supported them too. I was 10 years-old at the time.
When at Newcastle RFC, Kevin Keegan was manager of the football club, so I supported them, particularly as the rugby team was owned by Sir John Hall who also oversaw the football club.
Perhaps, you can support Brighton now?
(Smiles) I may well do. I play others sports like tennis and still enjoy a bit of cricket. I am told the Sussex club staff have an active side. Perhaps, I can join them for a few games?
You were born and raised in Yorkshire - do you follow the county side?
I played for their 2nd XI in the days when you had to be born in Yorkshire to play for the county. Although, I’ve never been a passionate supporter.
Are you a Geoffrey man?
I grew up watching him. I know Boycs a bit and we enjoy some occasional banter.
Where did the nickname Teflon-Don come from?
Who knows? I suspect it was some journalist that coined the phrase during my chequered career.
You are in your early fifties; you come over as a vital man, a person who has 10-15 years left in the professional locker-room; you have changed careers from rugby to cricket and come to Hove at a greatly reduced salary; is Sussex just a stepping stone where you’ll gain the necessary experience for a bigger cricketing role in the future?
Genuinely I have no idea. I have not planned my career. This is only my fourth job ever. But when I commit to something I do so whole-heartedly. I could be here five, ten or more years. On the other hand the Board might get sick of me after 12 months. I always carry out the best work I can for an organisation. I have only been here a month but already what I see excites me. I can’t wait for the cricket season to start and experience what it looks and feels like. Meanwhile, I’ll do whatever I can to make sure I leave the club in a better position than I found it… whenever that may be.
How did the nickname ‘squeaky’ come about?
When I first played for England I had the reputation of being squeaky clean. I believe it was one of the forwards. Perhaps, Mickey Skinner who coined the name. It’s one of those ridiculous dressing-room banter things.
Are you still called it?
It never fully stuck. Only three or four people from that England team might call me it now.
Certainly, a lot better than Will Carling’s nickname ‘Bumface’.
(Laughs) Yes, that’s true. Although, only two or three might call Will that when they see him. This was all 25 years ago, but we have to live with such things.
Follow Chris @WickedCricket