Donald Kerr first made his name as a Planning Director at advertising behemoths, JWT, and in recent years the long-term Brentford supporter has played an ever increasing role behind the scenes at Griffin Park, firstly as a hard working Director of Bees United before being nominated by BU as its second supporter-elected director on the board of Brentford FC six years ago, and he is now Vice Chairman of the club.
Given his advertising and marketing background and his deep involvement with Brentford’s award winning Community Sports Trust, Donald is well qualified to describe exactly what it is that a director does at the club as well as taking stock of where the club is now and how it compares with many of our rivals:
The first thing to say about being a director of BFC is what a huge privilege and pleasure it is to represent the Club in any capacity. Even in bad times this would be true, but over the last three or four years that have seen us climb the Football League and play increasingly entertaining football, it has been especially enjoyable. My involvement in the club became more formal with my election to the BU board and, as one of the less busy directors, my selection by that board to be one of the Trust’s representatives on the Club board. This all coincided with the increased investment and subsequent takeover by Matthew Benham, and, in turn, the departure of Greg Dyke to the FA and his replacement by Cliff Crown as Chairman.
We have a relatively small board of directors, but with a fairly good spread of different experience and expertise, and, with the focus on making sure the business is well run and successful in commercial terms, the board meetings are similar in structure to those of companies in other sectors. We are in the midst of developing a long term strategy for the Club and this process mirrors others in which I have been involved in my previous pre-football business life. But it would be crazy to say that it isn’t more exciting because it is such an exciting, dynamic and high profile industry.
As the business has expanded over the last few years, and the issues facing the board have increased, the football side has taken up proportionately less time in the meetings. Frank and Mark Warburton attend for anything up to an hour, depending on the time of year, with the transfer windows determining that more than anything. Mark keeps us informed on first team issues, and Frank covers all other aspects of football matters. Ose submits a report as part of the board pack we receive before each meeting and he attends meetings on an occasional basis to ensure we monitor developments on that key area of the Club.
The board meetings are very lively and, as we cover the whole range of the business, quite lengthy and intense. In the past few years they have followed on from the Lionel Road board meetings and so it makes for a fairly long day for those of us on both, but Lionel Road is so fundamental to the future sustainability of the Club that it has made it vital to keep them closely linked. I have to defer to those with much more financial expertise than me when we get involved in that side of things, but Cliff has introduced ways of presenting the figures which make the finance more easy for those less expert to understand and to contribute. Dave Merritt and I ensure that BU’s voice, and by implication, those of the fan in general, is heard in the meetings, and, as a trustee of the Community Sports Trust, I report on that side of things too. I suppose my expertise, such as it is, lies in the marketing area , and so I tend to get more involved in those issues more than others. With Mark Devlin being elected to the Football League’s commercial sub-group and my position on the Football League Trust board, we are able to keep track of wider industry issues too.
As regards other commitments, I attend the quarterly Football League Trust meetings in Manchester which are chaired by Gordon Taylor and attended by FA and PL representatives, as well as Andy Williamson, COO of the FL. And I sit on their small but active marketing group as we attempt to raise the profile of the work done in the community by all FL clubs nationally. Cliff attends the quarterly FL meetings with Mark Devlin, but, when he was unavailable, I substituted for him in October which provided a fascinating insight into the workings of that body at both a general and specific league level.
One of the more pleasurable parts of being a director is visiting the board rooms of other clubs and meeting the people who run them. Over the last three seasons I have missed only a few away games and so have enjoyed the hospitality of clubs all over the country. It is rare not to get a really warm welcome and, particularly among the smaller clubs we played, a strong sense of all being in the same struggle to be as commercially successful as possible or, for a few, just to keep heads above water. What immediately struck me, as someone who worked in a fiercely competitive business where few business details would be shared with the opposition, was the frankness and openness of the conversations over the pre-match meal. But of course, we share many common issues; trying to recruit the best talent possible, trying to increase attendance at games and maximise on and off field revenue, trying to contain the constant upward pressure on player salary costs, and trying to meet the often wildly unrealistic expectations of the fans.
Like any away fan, directors pay their own way, but I am acutely aware that on arrival we are fed and watered, usually in very comfortable surroundings, before every match. I have huge admiration for the Bees away support and their amazing resilience particularly on the tougher trips like the long journeys to Carlisle for the Cup last December, or to Hartlepool at the end of the previous season, or to Boro’ at the beginning of this one. It’s not easy to remain good humoured in a boardroom after a game where we’ve dominated and taken nothing away, but we’ve equally had the satisfaction of seeing others wish us all the best as they’ve left Griffin Park empty handed.
I try to split my time at home matches between using my season ticket in Block D (or whatever it’s called now) and representing the Club in the boardroom. We have a good reputation for being a warm and friendly bunch and for more than making up for the limitations of our facilities with the hospitality we provide. On a personal level, it is fascinating to host our boardroom which, in addition to welcoming owners and directors from other clubs, and their distinguished guests, often also has managers who have no games that Saturday or who are currently “resting”, and players from other clubs who may be injured or just out of favour.
We are extremely informal at GP, but there is huge variance in the style adopted by other Clubs, from those who like us all to mix, one or two preferring to sit everyone round one table, to those that leave us to our own devices, greeting us, ensuring we are looked after, but seating us separately and keeping pretty much to themselves. Clubs generally put a limit on the number of people who can attend the board room. Usually, there are no more than four or five of us travelling, with Cliff, Mark Devlin and myself being almost ever present, although on a couple of occasions in the past I have found myself outnumbered ten to one by the opposition. Frank joins us if he isn’t travelling on player business and Matthew comes to several away games too, although not always joining us in the boardroom.
Uniquely and rather charmingly, Uwe Rosler used to pop into the opposition boardroom to update us prior to the game on his team and reasons behind his choice. It was always a surprise to the host directors that he did so, and, as you can imagine, it transmitted a very strong and, to some, enviable signal of unity at BFC.
There will be further revelations from Donald tomorrow as he sheds more light on life in the boardroom.