What attracted you to the role of head of corporate affairs at Newcastle United?
I came to the North East more than 12 years ago and my family quickly came to view this as home. As editor of The Journal, I felt it right that I should campaign on behalf of the region, to talk up the area which we had decided to call home, and to make sure that businesses were as connected as possible. Arguably, working for Newcastle United affords an even better opportunity to continue that work. The club is probably the biggest brand in the North East and a successful football team can only be a force for good in the region.
What will be your main roles and responsibilities?
NUFC managing director Lee Charnley has already said that the club has become disconnected from a large section of the North East business community. The club has many happy, regular corporate sponsors but it needs to retake its place at the North East business table. To act its size.
My main task is to build bridges. To go out and speak to people and see how best the club can improve relationships that already exist, to forge new relationships and to rebuild relationships that have lapsed.
Tell me about the team you’ll be working with…
It’s almost gone under the radar, but Lee has been busy restructuring the club – it’s not just been about keeping Rafa Benitez as manager and it’s not just about what happens on the pitch. What Lee has said and done has given me the confidence to join the team and get involved.
I am mainly working with Nicole Atkin, the head of business development, and Dale Aitchison, the head of partnerships, but my role sees me work across all the departments.
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What reputation do you think the Newcastle United brand currently holds among the local business community?
In simple terms, there is a view that Newcastle United has had the drawbridge up for a few years now. We need to let people know that not only is the drawbridge down but that there is a welcome mat at the front door.
Many people have a view that the club had become complacent and simply sat back and waited for people to come and do business with them. I don’t know if that was perception or reality but, thankfully, there is an acceptance internally that the club has to change things, to raise its game. Lee is very keen to have an open dialogue with business and for the club to take its rightful place at the North East business table – and I am here to help with that.
Why is the relationship with business important?
Newcastle United benefits from a strong, thriving North East economy – and the economy benefits from a successful Newcastle United. A situation where the club acts in isolation and plays no part in assisting with the health and wellbeing of the regional economy makes little or no sense for anyone.
What are you most excited about in this new role?
That’s difficult to say. I played football for more than 30 years, so what’s not to like about being involved in professional football? However, I really like the idea of making a difference – and when you can make a difference while working for a brand that is recognised the world over then… wow!
Newcastle United can be a significant force for good in the North East. It is already doing some work that is not properly recognised – but there is a lot more that can be done, especially in partnership with others. That partnership approach is key to the future.
What do you think will be your biggest challenge?
There is a big catch-up operation that needs to be done and it’s obvious that there will be a certain amount of cynicism and negativity to overcome. But having said that, I will be pushing against a door that is more open than it has been in recent seasons.
You were previously editor of The Journal, how will this experience help you in this latest role?
The Journal is a newspaper that majors in business, culture and sport and in my time there I met many, many people and made a great number of contacts. I had to be an ambassador, relationship manager and external affairs director, and play a major role in business development – as well as being a journalist!
So, the people skills I developed at The Journal, and the contacts I made, can be of considerable value to NUFC.
Rafa has injected some much-needed positivity but NUFC will still be playing in the Championship this season. What impact will this make on what you are trying to achieve? And how will this change if the club manages to win promotion?
Yes, Rafa has made a major difference. Every time I hear something about what he has done, he rises in my estimation.
The impact of the so-called Rafalution is enormous and the levels of optimism are higher now than they have been for years – despite the drop to the Championship. That optimism is infectious and makes my job a little easier. Getting promotion would mean winning matches and that success would be brilliant for the club and the region. But my work is about building relationships that will last through good times and bad.
What are your short and long-term ambitions in your new role?
My short-term goal is to make sure Newcastle United reclaims its seat at the table of North East business discussions and that every company in the region who would like to talk to us is able to.
Looking further ahead, I’d like to see the club at the heart of North East business, to see St James’ Park used as a business hub, a place where companies and individuals know they can come to clinch deals, impress clients and get business done – all while the trophy cabinet fills!