Posts Tagged ‘Harlequins’

It is amazing what a bit of trust can achieve

Friday, March 22nd, 2013

I admit it, I’ve become a diehard rugby fan, and I support Harlequins.  It seems I became a supporter at a pretty good time because in the last three years (since I have been going regularly) I have seen them first win the Amlin cup, then the Premiership last year and this year the A League and the LV cup.  So why am I sharing this with you?

Well I think that there is a very interesting story behind this year’s win.  This tournament is intended to encourage clubs to give their younger players exposure to the pressure, and the thrills and spills of knockout rugby, but it is not mandatory to field youngsters, as the prize entitles the winners to an automatic place in following year’s premier European competition, the Heineken Cup.  There is therefore a temptation to bring more experienced players in as that prize gets closer.

This year we stuck with the spirit of the LV cup and fielded a very young team, 15 of the match day 23 were under 23, and I think we had a single international on the bench.  By contrast, Bath in the semi-finals and Sale in the final  fielded their first teams, full of seasoned international players as they were desperate to qualify for Europe next year.  Conor O’Shea, the Quin’s coach, said after the win:-

“I’m just over the moon for the group. It is a long way into the season and we face a massive next nine weeks but, for those players, that is something that is a reminder to everyone coming back in the next couple of weeks. There is a good vibe in the dressing room and a lot of very proud parents of young men but it sets us up to really attack what will be ups and down in the coming weeks. We know that.  They have won a national trophy and we said before the game not to take anything for granted because you never know when you will get there. We have been very fortunate to be in a number of finals in the last few years and to have come away with a trophy.”

However, he was quite happy to back these youngsters whom had trusted to get the club to the final, and they repaid that faith with an unbeaten run and really fine performances against much more experienced players.

Trust is a very powerful thing and can transform people when it is well placed.  I witnessed another example of this when working with a client the other week, who told a group of people lower down the organisation that he was trusting them with previously confidential information and looking to them to help him drive performance in their teams.  It is an act of leadership to encourage others and help them grow, to see potential and nurture it.  It is possibly one of the key roles of a good leader.  So next time you have a challenge, ask yourself if it is an opportunity to grow tomorrow’s star players.

Change Lessons from Harlequins – Tony Copsey (ex MD)

Wednesday, July 11th, 2012

This is the second in a series of interviews where I interview a number of the people who played a part in Harlequins remarkable turnaround from the team that was relegated in 2006 to the team which won the premiership this year.  This was a 10 year journey and it can teach us come interesting lessons.

Tony was a professional player for Llanelli, Saracens and Wales.  He came to Quins a few months after Mark Evans to help him in the transformation, with Tony focusing on the off-pitch aspects of the change.  Whilst one might imagine that a rugby club is all about winning on the pitch, the interesting thing is that in order to do this they require resources to invest in players and facilities, both for the team and the spectators.  Unless you have an owner with deep pockets, there is therefore a very strong link between their ability to generate income and the on field results.

Tony’s job was to ensure that the Stoop (their ground) was a place that people wanted to come to, where they enjoyed their match day experience regardless of the result on the day, because this bought the Director of Rugby time to get the right players in place.  Over their tenure Evans & Copsey drove the gate up from 3,000 to nearer 12,000 a game.  He also pointed out that he had to try to make the facility make money during the week when there was no game from things like conferences and events.

Effectively, there was a team behind the team on the pitch who sold the tickets, did the marketing, wooed the sponsors and did the PR, in addition to feeding and watering the public on match day.  Tony explained that a lot of work went into ensuring no one was more than 40 yds. from a beer or a sausage (metaphorically speaking) and that they didn’t have to wait too long to get served.

They did a lot of work on what the brand Harlequins stood for and what their values were and how this translated into the day-to-day behaviours of the staff.  He also explained the importance of senior players in helping to model the ‘right’ way to behave and help discipline the youngsters about what it means to wear a Quins shirt.  There is a lot of talk about their exciting brand of rugby, and the press is full of people singing the praises of Chris Robshaw, their captain, who now also captains England.  He is a walking embodiment of these values and is fine example of what Tony was describing.

An interesting observation was that emotion is a powerful force in buying decisions where sport is concerned so if you want to attract sponsors, you have to create a club that people care about, and are excited by. 

Tony was also constantly reviewing the back office team’s roles and tuning them to the needs of the club as their situation changed.  Getting the right processes in place and the right people was key.  He aimed to try and make his staff the kind of people that got headhunted.

I hope to be able to continue this analysis over the coming weeks

Previous interviews:

  1. Mark Evans

Change Lessons from Harlequins – Mark Evans ex-CEO

Monday, June 11th, 2012

As a Change professional, and a keen rugby fan I have been fascinated by the journey Harlequins Rugby club have been on for the last 10 years  or so.  Of course, now Harlequins are the premiership champions and have provided 9 players to the latest England squad currently touring South Africa, both the press and commentators have been talking about their  phoenix-like rise from relegation to the championship in 2005 and the ‘Bloodgate’ debacle in 2009.)  It is a great story but I knew it couldn’t have been that simple and wanted to understand a bit about the hard work and journey behind this ‘overnight’ transformation… that took 10 years hard graft!  So I went to talk to Mark Evans, who was the man with his hand on the tiller.

In the days of amateur rugby, the Quins were a pretty successful club, who drew their players, from all over the country, but who largely worked in the city, and had a reputation for being rather ‘posh’.  However, once the professional era came, their systems simply didn’t support success in the new era.  A club that drew a crowd of a little over two thousand, simply couldn’t afford the players they needed to win.

Mark arrived with a very clear view of what needed doing:-

  1. Start to change the ethos and perception (2000)
  2. Begin to build a youth development programme which eventually became the Academy which a decade on  produced 12 players of the Premiership Final  squad of 23 (2001)
  3. Begin an outreach programme to local clubs across the region rather than schools to drive crowds to make club bankable. (2001)
  4. Build a new stand (there were three built in total, between 2003 and 2010) so capacity went up in stages.
  5. Increase the playing budget (from 2006)
  6. Secure a new training ground (2010)

Interestingly, throughout his 11 year tenure, he did no more than tweak this strategy.  He was able to depend on the support and understanding of the club owners to weather the storms on this long journey.  He realised that there was a possibility that, en route to success, the club might get relegated but saw this as a bump in the road.  When you recognise that this kind of thing might happen, you don’t need to panic when it does.

Over the years that I’ve been going to watch them, which happens to pretty much coincided with Mark’s time at the top, I’ve seen two (of the the three) new stands built.  The ground has a capacity of around 15,000 and regularly gets gates of over 12,500, and on this championship run, has often been sold out.  There is a policy which involves local schools.  They can also now fill Twickenham (82,000) for their Xmas holiday game and, together with Saracens, this year they claimed a record for the biggest club game in the world of 83,761 at Wembley (I was there too!)  So support, and therefore revenue was ticked off Mark’s list.

They now have a state of the art training ground at the Surrey Sports Park in Guildford and an academy that is producing a crop of fabulous young players.

From my perspective this is an unusual story because it was driven from a single plan by one man, supported by the key stakeholders.  He was fortunate in that he arrived at the right time, and the need for change was clear for all to see.

He also has a very pragmatic view about how success should be measured.  There are the very clear measures I laid out above, but he also recognises that whilst fans measure success in cups won, in  knock-out competitions, you can’t expect to win cups every year.  What you can do, is to expect to be challenging for them in the knockout stages, as Leicester have done, competing in 8 consecutive premiership finals! 

I asked him why he left when he did and he had a similarly clear answer to that.  He recognises that people have different strengths and the kind of person that is really good at transformation, is not necessarily the right man for the next stage of the journey, which is a much more ‘steady as she goes’ kind of phase. 

Mark made it clear that this was not something he did on his own but the result of a lot of hear work from a lot of people, including Tony Copsey, Dean Richards, Richard Varney, Jon Salinger, Jenny Winstanley, Laura Oakes, Julian Gent, John Kingston, Tony Russ, Tony Diprose, Collin Osborne, Anne McCarthy, Conor O Shea and the ever present FD John Dingle (and I’m sure many others including the squad of players!)

I’m hoping to bring you other perspectives on this journey from others involved in it over the coming weeks


  1. Telegraph story: Also rans to contenders
  2. Wikipedia: the Quins