Switching sectors and dispelling the ‘non-commercial’ myth

Switching sectors and dispelling the ‘non-commercial’ myth

Jes Ladva, Odgers Interim Managing Partner and Head of Practice for Local and Central Government, on opportunities for top public sector talent to move into commercial sectors, in this case, the world of sports.

In January, I wrote a piece on ‘Hot trends in local government in a general election year’ which explored a range of areas including social housing, immigration, renewable energy and community power. All weighty, complicated topics packed with multiple issues and challenges.

My piece concluded with a quick look at a central theme I lead on – ‘cross sector’ movement, particularly from public to private sectors and I highlighted sports as a high-profile sector where there are considerable cross-over skills. I also referred to a forthcoming in-person event we were holding, under the Chatham House Rule, for local authority Chief Executives interested in transitioning into non-executive and executive roles in sports. That event has now taken place and proved to be a successful forum for candid and illuminating discussion. In this piece, I will touch on some of the interesting points we talked about, with a particular focus on ‘porosity’ – the flow of top talent from public sector roles to private sector businesses, and vice versa.

The event was co-hosted by myself and my colleague Simon Cummins, Global Head of the Odgers Berndtson Sports, Gaming & Media Practice, and attended by 12 Chief Executives from all around the country. Odgers has a very strong track record in sports sector executive appointments, both on an interim and permanent basis. Among the high-profile appointments we have handled are…

  • Olympics CEO’s and Boards
  • Aston Villa Football Club – Chief Executive Officer
  • Arsenal Football Club – Chief Operating Officer
  • The FA – Chair, Chief Executive Officer and Head of women’s football
  • British Olympic association - Chief Executive Officer
  • Welsh Rugby Union – First female Chief Executive
  • England Rugby - Chief Executive Officers x3
  • Wimbledon Championships – Chief Executive Officer

It is evident from this list that sports is a market we know well. Indeed, one of our significant competitive advantages, spanning both interim and permanent talent, is our ability to access and promote cross-sector experience, elevating the skills within Local Government Executives. As a result, we are well-placed to facilitate porosity and indeed have a duty to allow for competitive and diverse shortlistss. We can tap into private sector talent for local and central government clients, and we can match public sector executives with private sector opportunities they may not even have previously considered.

This brings me back to our event, which centred on how leadership skills in local government are relevant for sports organisations. You will note that I use the word ‘how’ rather than ‘if’ because it is incontestable that many public sector leaders have a skillset that can be very valuable to top sports teams or organisations.

The event also pointed up some of the main criteria sports businesses look for in leaders, notably: an understanding of elite sport; insight into making a positive impact at grassroots level; championing Diversity, Equity and Inclusion to ensure fairness at all levels and provide opportunities to disadvantaged groups; and commercial knowledge.

That last point on the list is certainly a key one. There is unfortunately a longstanding and widespread misconception that government people are not commercial. A lot of time at our event was spent dispelling that myth. And myth it is, given the number of councils that manage their income in the face of continued and significant challenges whilst demand increases.

I am a staunch advocate for fresh thinking regarding the way local authorities are perceived – they are far more complex organisations than many people appreciate, and sophisticated commercial skills are a must-have in council executive teams. To help drive home this point, last year Odgers Interim created the OLASE, an alternative to the FTSE index, designed to highlight the similarities between local authorities and listed UK companies.

Equipped with commercial and a wide range of other skills, local government executives have a great deal to offer sports. It is without question an exciting area. As my esteemed colleague Bambos Eracleous, a man with great sports sector knowledge, frequently points out, the lines between sport and entertainment are blurring (see Bambos’ latest piece on sports-adjacent programming.)

Moreover, sports continues to attract large amounts of investment from media companies and elsewhere. Last year’s $6 billion acquisition of American Football Team the Washington Commanders by a consortium of investors was the highest price paid to date for a sports team, outstripping the $5.3 billion price tag for Todd Boehly takeover of Chelsea FC in 2022. More recently, in December the Premier League announced a new £6.7 billion ($8 billion) TV rights deal.

These are staggering numbers, and by one projection the sports market globally is set to be worth over $623 billion by 2027. Career opportunities are to be found across many sports at many levels. If your goal is to strike out in a new direction away from local government, let’s talk.

Viva porosity!


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