Mark McCafferty, CEO of Premiership Rugby on the growth of his sport, opportunities for global growth and the role of leadership in sport.
GlobalSportsJobs: People have been talking that this is the great time of opportunity for rugby. How do you see that opportunity and how does that translate to your world of top-level professional clubs?
Mark McCafferty: I think people are very well aware that the Rugby World Cup is coming to England in 2015. And then the following year the next Olympics in Rio is the first time that rugby sevens gets incorporated into the Olympic movement. So I think those two things will be quite seminal points for us that we need to focus on. So that's the nature of the opportunity. What we do with that opportunity is going to be determined by the next three or four years.
There are a lot of plans underway and are lots of things people want to achieve but I want to try and emphasise a lot is that quite a bit of the infrastructure is already there and just needs reinforcing, building upon and adding to. I think there is a lot of good that is done in the community game across the country right now and a lot of the time people just need a bit more resource, help and volunteers and coaches coming in. Let's build on that and then the game will grow with it. The youngsters will come into the game and most importantly they will stay with the game through into their adult life.
GlobalSportsJobs: Given the number of oversees players starring in the Premiership, the World Cup is a fantastic showcase for most of your clubs as well...
MM: Yes it is. The number of overseas players, just to put it in perspective, is a lot less than people think. The English qualifying players in the Premiership now are numbering around 70-72% of all of the players.
However, there is a fantastic contingent of overseas players and I think people will really warm to those during the 2015 World Cup as well.
And that's another aspect of it - I think one of the things we have to do within the professional game is to inspire people. We all have our role models and our heroes and heroines from the Olympics. And part of our job along with the England teams is to create those heroes that people can look up to and say I want a piece of that, I want to play that game and I want to go watch those games and be part of that sport. That's the other side of the opportunity of 2015 and 2016 as well.
GlobalSportsJobs: Evidently, that's been the core of the discussion of Rugby Expo over the last couple of days. What has the experience been like for you?
MM: It's been brilliant. It's another indicator of the degree to which the profile of the game is growing both at the professional and at the amateur level.
I think Rugby Expo has found a really neat formula of spending time on those two elements of the game, both of which are independent. The professional game is never going to survive unless there are players coming through the amateur ranks. And similarly the professional game needs to act as the showcase for the amateur game in terms of attracting people into the sport, not only to play but to watch and volunteer. A lot of that inspiration will come from seeing stars in action and that's our part of the bargain and what we have to deliver.
Rugby Expo has found a great way of combining those two and spending time really getting stuck into the issues of how we make both parts of that game better.
GlobalSportsJobs: In the wider world of business, what makes a great leader? What can the world of business can learn from sport, and vice versa?
MM: Drawing on the experience I've had working for people who I regard as great leaders,
I think you've got to be able to assess with your team what the priorities and what the challenges are. It sounds straight forward but being able to do that very clearly and getting a very clear picture in your mind of what the priorities are for the business is crucial.
The way you then communicate that is the next step and people write very complex strategic documents sometimes to try and summarise how a business should be moving forward. But I think the communication of strategy comes down to who can condense it into a few key bullet points. Some of the most effective leaders I've seen have been those who can condense quite complex issues into very simple and straight forward words which people can be inspired by and say I want to be part of the team that delivers that.
I think that translates pretty well into the sport as well. I think the only thing from my experience in sport is that it's probably in general more complex. Trying to move forward is perhaps more difficult in sport for two reasons:
1. The complexity of the stakeholders and the number of people who have a legitimate say or want a say in what you're trying to achieve.
2. The media attention is relentless and therefore a lot of the things you do get immediately played out in the media which makes it more challenging. The great thing about media coverage is that it gives a fantastic profile of all sports. The downside of that is it's very difficult to do things that are slightly controversial or difficult without it being immediately in the public glare. That's something you have to live with but I think it's a dimension that most businesses don't have. So even though sport is a smaller business, because of its profile I think making progress sometimes has to be done in a different way.
So I think great leadership in sport is being able to take those lessons but also being able to manage it through the complex stakeholder group and manage it through the media. Sometimes we get it right, and sometimes we don't.