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19 December 2015

Read Chief Executive Jez George's Programme Notes

As 2015 draws to a close, and since I am not renowned for my festive cheer, I thought that I would use my column today to thank so many staff who are rarely highlighted but have made the last twelve months so successful off the pitch and have given the club such a great platform to really continue our progress into next year and beyond.

The football staff are always going to be the ones in the spotlight, but every now and again, it is only right to give the "unsung" heroes the credit they deserve.  This is even more important when you consider the growth and evolution that has taken place behind the scenes over the last calendar year.  In their own way, within their own roles and responsibilities, they have all contributed to the sustainable business that now underpins our football club.

Before I name names within our staff, I would like to personally thank Dave Matthews-Jones and CFU for their role in supporting so many changes.  It would have been easy for them to have been obstructive when so many of their members had been the volunteers, but they've been the opposite.  Communication channels have opened - I meet with Dave and Robert Osbourn every month - and the transparency from everyone in discussing what we are trying to achieve and how we are trying to achieve it has been a major reason why so much progress has been made.  We discuss real detail that affects the fans, debate really important issues on how to move forward but share a vision for a financially sound, sustainable, successful football club that is at the heart of our community and never forgets that you are supporters, not customers.

We are here to serve you and provide you with a team to be proud of.  Moreover, we want to be a club that you are proud of.  That means ensuring we provide "something for everyone" in terms of our community programme, youth development scheme and academy.  It also means in the way we conduct ourselves within the wider business networks, how we interact with commercial partners and our reputations amongst the great and good of Cambridge.  We are motivated not only with the "what", i.e. success, but the "how".  We want to be an innovative, forward thinking, hard-working, humble, respectful, honest club.  For that, we need innovative, forward thinking, hard-working, humble, respectful and honest staff.  That is our aim anyway!

We now operate several businesses within our business, with senior managers heading up each department.  It has been well documented that Liz Slack's first day coincided with a certain cup draw and a certain ball number 30!  In the last eleven months, she has built on the success of that game to shape a commercial operation, encompassing retail, catering, hospitality, sponsorship, events and conferencing, which is completely unrecognisable from what she inherited.  Her commercial team of Sam and Olly have both made a huge contribution towards our increased professionalism and sales.  Sam, in particular, is now really developing our new facilities as a conferencing venue, which is such an important income stream because it is totally non-dependant on first team football results.  His focus, drive and enthusiasm to create effectively a new business has been tremendous and we couldn't have anyone better in this role.  The more aspects of our income that are "bullet proof" against the short-term vagaries of football results, the better.  And the stronger our business model will become.

December is one of the busiest months of the year for the retail outlets, so if anyone should enjoy their turkey and trimmings on Friday, it should be Gareth and Lorraine!  They have both worked tirelessly in the shop and ticket office throughout the year to ensure a vastly improved service.  We now have quality lines of merchandise and clothing in the shop, sales have boomed and we even have plans to add to our current arrangement with Hobbs Sports, to increase our profile in the city centre in 2016.  We have also totally revolutionised the process of ticket sales, with an ever increasing number purchased in advance.

And talking about December being a busy month, one person who definitely shouldn't be cooking turkey and the trimmings on 25 December is Paul!  I dread to think the number of Christmas dinners that he's cooked.  Hopefully Monday night, at the fans/players event, will be his last one of the year!  Paul has a tough gig, his work is often unseen, rarely praised and easy to criticise but he's been an absolute star in helping us to grow the match day hospitality with a vastly enhanced quality of food and his days become even longer as we grow the conferencing business.  We will add resource in the New Year so that we can develop further, particularly how to better look after our fans on match days.  Despite investment last summer, we are still restricted by the tea bar infrastructure regarding the quality and quantity of food that we can serve.  It's not Paul's fault, or his staff.  They achieve miracles.  And one bad experience or one cold burger isn't representative of the 99.9% of food we sell.  We've had fantastic feedback from a Football League mystery shopper and out the quality of food and customer service.  We know that we need to do better; we will.

Underpinning the whole company are the administrators that keeps all the wheels turning, while income is being driven by the department heads.  Andy Beattie is a vital cog in this process, now looking after all Football Operations, as well as ensuring that everything runs smoothly on match day and within the stadium.  He's also found a penchant for painting!  Seriously though, he's overseen the office move (x2!), the installation of the new shop and ticket office, the new retail outlet and the marquee now cited behind the Habbin Stand.  His next project is converting Marvin's into a themed room, based on our home changing room, for corporate events and children's birthday parties.  Watch this space! 

And Andy would be the first to admit that his job is made easier by the knowledge, professionalism and experience of Mick and Ian.  The pitch looks like a carpet not only because of the investment last summer but also their expertise.  An ageing stadium also needs constant attention and, along with a legion of volunteers, they always ensure that we are ready for the numerous events that now take place on a daily basis as well as the 25/30 games each season.

Our business now turns over £5,000,000/year, more than treble our latter days in the Football Conference, and the financial requirements of the Football League, in terms of general reporting, SCMP, match day information etc, is far more arduous.  Therefore, our accounting processes and procedures needed to develop accordingly.  Emma Wragg has done a great job in implementing the organisation and detail required, so that we now have accurate and timely management accounts, cash-flow forecasts and constant review of budget v actuals.  As we continue to grow, both in size and turnover, we will strengthen this department and always ensure that we have the expertise and manpower required.  Emma was thrown in at the deep end and has responded in typical Cambridge United fashion.

Before naming each of the first team, academy, youth development and community staff, I want to mention a member of staff who probably won't ever be mentioned but does an unbelievable job.  Holly looks after all the administration for our huge youth development and community programme.  It's the part of our club that truly differentiates us from everyone else's League Two, and whilst James Cutting is brilliant in driving revenue, managing the staff and constantly looking for ways for us to grow further, he couldn't do it and we couldn't do it without Holly.  She's efficient, hard-working and an absolutely crucial member of the team.

I'm sure we've spoken about and/or written about all of these people at some point in 2015, but a big thank you to Joe, Matt, Martin, Gordan, James, Will, George, Richard, Mark, Tom, Adam, Marc, Dan, Chris, Jake, Jonny, Ross, Darryl, Paul, Bob, Vanessa, Amy, Ian, Luke, Max, Johnny, Luke and Ryan.  Your hard work and commitment to the quality of delivery we give players throughout every level of our football departments is greatly appreciated and improves every year.

There is one person that I've deliberately omitted until last because he will be proof reading the article and will think that I've left him out by mistake!  Tom Stewart has only been at the club since May but has totally revolutionised the way in which we communicate to fans, sponsors and participants within our various youth and community activities.  Programme sales are up, twitter followers are up, Facebook followers are up, website hits are up.  He's talented, incredibly conscientious and his impact at the club has been incredible.  The old adage of "you can't please all the people all the time" rings true whenever it comes to social media or programme content, but with CFU's input and other feedback, he's pleasing more people, more of the time!  Or at least that's what the numbers say!  Obviously when the first team wins football matches, it makes his life easier.  Let's hope that he has a really easy 2016!

Our latest employee is another person that we hope has an easy life, with not too much work next year.  We welcome Nick Irwin, our Head of Medical, to Cambridge United and his debut his afternoon at the Abbey Stadium.

And finally, another recent appointment.  Shaun has settled in really well since his appointment, he's a pleasure to work with, and he's already shown all the qualities that we identified during our recruitment process.  The team are also showing the energy, drive and ambition that epitomises his approach. 

Please get behind him and the team in the next spell of crucial fixtures that could define our season. 

Happy Christmas,


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