Jez George - Programme Column
It was fantastic that so many supporters attended the shareholders AGM and were so engaged in the evening. A number of inquisitive and detailed questions were asked to conclude the formal business conducted by Chairman Dave Doggett, and then a presentation on the club and Trust by Danny Kerrigan and myself. We are so preoccupied with working to grow, develop and enhance every aspect of the club that it is rare to have the time to step back and reflect on the unbelievable progress and rapid change of the last eighteen months. Some aspects of the club are unrecognisable, the club as a whole is a different animal and the size of the business is now amongst the biggest in this division. That's remarkable considering this is only our second season back in the Football League after a nine year absence. It is also testament to the work of many, with their relentless drive, energy, determination and ambition.
I am reading two brilliant books at the moment. One is called legacy. It's a study of the All Blacks, - their cultures, philosophy and values - with constant comparison to how their world class approach can be applied to the world of business. In the first chapter there is a line that sums up the biggest challenge of my job. Getting the balance right between vision and action. It says "vision with no action is a dream; action with no vision is a nightmare!" For me, that is how much and how to delegate - not my greatest skill but one that I must develop. The other book is Shackleton's Way. It's a leadership book, based on lessons from the great Antarctic explorer, Sir Ernest Shackleton. I believe that leadership is leadership and you can learn from other walks of life and apply it to your own circumstances. I prefer actual case studies to the theory, much to the annoyance of Graham Daniels, a brilliant theorist and thinker of management and leadership.
It is crucial that any business, or member of staff who stays any length of time in the same business, is able to adapt and evolve. What was right several years ago won't necessarily be right going forward. The world has changed, society has changed, people have changed, expectations have changed and the way in which everyone communicates and interacts has changed. Therefore, we must adapt to an ever-changing environment and whilst we will always be defined by our past, we must look forward to define a successful future. The DNA of our club will never change and must never change. That is a challenge, especially when change happens so quickly and growth is so rapid. We now have more finance and resource than ever before, but we must use it wisely and never stray from our culture of hard work, honesty, innovation and fighting against the odds to achieve what the outside world may consider to be unachievable. Nothing is impossible at Cambridge United and for those people who limit their ambition, standards and aspirations to simply be the same as everyone else are best going somewhere else to operate in a comfort zone that is foreign to Cambridge United. Our mantra is simple: never satisfied. We must always strive to achieve more. And our motto is equally definitive: United in Endeavour. That's how we achieve, together, as one team.
If anyone epitomised that ethos and preached the values of community, teamwork and togetherness it would be Dave. That's why it’s so important that he's our chairman. He is the figurehead of our club, the defender of these principles and the connection with our supporters, all levels of the local community and the councillors that will ultimately decide the medium to long term prospects of Cambridge United through their consideration of Grosvenor's planning application in March. No club could have a better chairman and no CEO could have a better chairman. I think the shareholders appreciated that on Monday night.
When we talk of the past, and the contribution made by so many people for the club to have survived the traumatic years in the Football Conference, then two particular gentleman deserve praise and thanks. Dave mentioned them both on Monday, as they both retired from the board, and I would urge you to make your feelings known to them at half time today in the best possible way.
Terry Baker is a wise, intelligent man with a twinkle in his eye, a touch of mischief; the ability to provoke a discussion and articulate a point of view. I've really enjoyed some exchanges with him during board meetings and have a great respect for him, his family and what they've contributed to the club over many years. It was a privilege to attend his 80th birthday party, a privilege to serve on the board with him and in the last eighteen months, a privilege as CEO to report to a board including his acumen, wit, humour and occasional hand grenades!
The same could be said of Colin Proctor. He's a remarkable man, with incredible passion, drive and energy that puts all of us to shame. People, a half, a third and even a quarter of his age could take a lesson from the way in which he sets out about life and gets things done. He's a force of nature and a whirlwind that hopefully can now enjoy the fruits of much of his labour having served the supporters so diligently over six years as their representative on the board. Again, I have nothing but respect for Colin, what he's achieved for the club, his longevity and how he's contributed in so many ways over so many years.
But the board also needs to evolve and we have added two gentlemen of fantastic calibre, attributes and stature in Christoph Loch and Steve Chamberlain. Both will help me tremendously. As well as always being able to discuss the club, the business and future plans with Dave and other board members, Renford in particular, Christoph has been a fantastic sounding board for me and a massive help in opening doors for us to develop our commercial portfolio, particularly in the introduction at board level to AstraZeneca.
Steve will also be a huge asset and in taking the role of finance director, he will work with me closely as we develop our business plan and monitor performance against budgets. One of the biggest challenges for an organisation growing so quickly is to manage the growth and ensure that our cost base doesn't spiral out of control. Much of our costs are fixed as they are mostly people. Most of our income is variable, so the budgeting of income and the control of costs is crucial. Steve's experience, expertise and business acumen will be crucial and a big help to me. His first job has been to help us appoint a new finance manager, Steven Kennedy to replace Emma Wragg, who is leaving the role. We welcome Steven and wish Emma our best wishes for the future.
Both Christoph and Steve will be huge assets and their appointment to the board represents a real coup for the club and will give us real credibility within the business community of Cambridge.
Finally, I have been informed that some sections of the stadium did not hear Coconuts at the final whistle after our win against Dagenham & Redbridge. Others have suggested that it wasn't played immediately on the final whistle and/or was interrupted. Please let me apologise.
Coconuts should be sacrosanct. It's tradition.
It's part of Cambridge United, it's part of the magic of winning at home and it absolutely should not be compromised in any way.
Please accept my sincere apologies and we guarantee that it won't happen again. It wasn't our intention that it happened on this occasion, but we will ensure that an uninterrupted, loud and full rendition of our winning anthem is ringing out immediately after every win.
In an industry where supporters are taken for granted and treated as "customers" not fans, with continual rises to the cost of tickets, we want to be the opposite and engage with fans, uphold traditions and act as responsible guardians of YOUR club. We are unique in that we have so many supporters that are shareholders; over 600 individuals have an actual stake in the club. We know that dividends are emotional ones (Wembley x 2, Manchester United, Old Trafford etc) and not financial, but that's how it should be. And that starts from the top with all the directors writing off their loans and converting them to shares, immediately after a profit in excess of £1m. There are not many clubs where that would have happened.
And talking about supporters on the board, and earlier Colin's retirement, we congratulate Dave Matthew-Jones on his appointment as Fans Elected Director. Dave needs no introduction; he has been the leader, spokesman and stalwart of CFU for many years. He has a tough act to follow but the fans couldn't have a better man to represent them and the club couldn't have a more diligent, committed and respected addition to the board.
Let's really ramp up the atmosphere in the final third of the season so that we can help to ensure that Coconuts is heard regularly at the final whistle between now and the end of April, starting this afternoon.
Enjoy the game.