Nick Hawker's address to Trust AGM
Chair's statement to conference.
I’m going to provide you with an overview of the last year but also include some information on, not just what the Trust has done, or caused to be done, but how we’ve gone about doing it.
So, a little bit of background…
During my tenure as chair of the Trust my over-riding objective has been to continuously improve the interaction between Club and Trust. I still recall my first Club Board meeting with some trepidation, such was the contentiousness between the two organisations. I’m relieved to say that latterly these meeting have been collaborative, progressive, and increasingly, ambitious. I’m not at all sure it’s always evident, but we have made considerable progress.
Over the years I’m extremely grateful to David Lee, with whom I first developed our current Club/Trust pathway, through good governance, to a more mutually respectful relationship. It was David who first actively recognised the right of the majority shareholder to have a real say in how the business that we owned behaved.
Following on from David, Richard Pym continued to build on that pathway, helping us to attract skilled directors who, remarkably, are willing to provide their services for free but more importantly, do so because we are supporter owned.
During his own tenure Richard arranged for the repayment of the loan outstanding by the club to the Trust. Over £800k. That is very relevant to where we are today, as will become apparent!
It was Jonathan Hart, one of our independent Directors, who noted ‘we should aspire to be the pre-eminent supporter owned club in the country’. Today, we have a club board that are fully engaged, and I believe, aligned to the ambitions of us all, as a supporter owned club.
Amid all of this, we are here today because of several reasons… I’ve spoken before of the gratitude we should all show the first pioneers of supporter ownership at Exeter City, and the many supporters who have represented our interests as Trustees and officers over the years.
The past two seasons we have sponsored our home games against Northampton Town to acknowledge the motivation provided to those pioneers by the late Brian Lomax, then Chair of Northampton Town. Some of those pioneers are here today, I’m sure and I hope, in the coming 12 months, our 20th Anniversary of ownership, we will acknowledge all of this.
We are all cognisant, of course, of the amazing contribution the Academy make to our fortunes. Arran Pugh and his team are not exactly ‘un-noticed heroes of the Club’, but nor do we hear their names chanted on the Big Bank and to be frank, they should be.
And the one constant throughout all of those years, has been the Trust of course, but also Julian Tagg. It’s impossible to fully understand the contribution and value that Julian has been and is to the club.
We still meet on a weekly basis, normally around 10 o’clock on Thursdays at Lloyds Lounge, if you ever want to join us, and Julian still pays for the coffee and toasted tea cake… a fact I’m properly proud of!
Sometimes, I’m not at all sure what we decide at these meetings, I only know that on the rare occasions we don’t have them, I notice it. I think they are an integral part of the relationship between Trust and Club.
So today, we are where we are. Let me try and explain where that is.
If you haven’t already read the Club Trust Agreement, then please do. It’s on the Trust website and it’s essential reading for all Trustees!!!
I’m certain the newly elected Trustees are all ‘word perfect’ on it!
This is a simple diagram of the decision-making process between Club and Trust.
Any club board decision needs to be checked against the conditions of the CTA. If there is no requirement, then the decision is made by the club board. Where there is a requirement, the matter is referred to one of two club-board sub-committees:
The Finance & Governance Group; or
The Supporter Experience Group.
Each of these are Chaired by a Trust or Officer of the Trust. Currently these are Steve Chudley (FGG) and Clive Harrison (Supporter Experience). Their role is to make a recommendation to the Trust Board, via a working group (which involves members as well as Trustees), around the benefit or otherwise of the decision required.
Two recent decisions have been the investment in the Cliff Hill Training ground accommodation, and the employment of Gary Caldwell.
Both were covered by the CTA in so much that each involved a contract to a value in excess of £50k. In the event, the Cliff Hill investment was felt too important for the Trust Board alone to decide, and so it was deferred to you, the members.
You may recall a meeting, held here, around the CHTG investment, and I believe that recently, for the first time, Trustees were involved in the interview process for the new manager.
Nick Edwards, Julen Beer, and Peter Ferlie all attended a second interview. Clive Harrison and Elaine Davis, both Trustee elected Club Board directors also attended an interview each.
At every level of club governance, the Trust are involved.
For the past two years, and I suspect into the future, the Trust have supported the playing budget to the tune of at least £200,000.
Two years ago, Matt Taylor requested a playing budget of £1.750m. The Trust offered an additional £500k to cover the following the three years, to be spent as Matt required.
I still recall the meeting we told Matt of our offer, who commented, ‘you’ve sent my head in a spin’. This is the difference you have made. During the promotion season the playing budget was supplemented by you… directly!
This arrangement has been hugely beneficial. Not only did it help us to gain promotion through an enhanced playing budget but, I’m delighted to say, we have not parted with a penny!
Through good fiscal governance, throughout this period, we have maintained an agreed strategic reserve, equivalent to 2-3 months’ salary, which has meant the club has always afforded the playing budget!
Today, as I’m sure you are aware, the Trust, you, have guaranteed a £600k loan facility in respect of the Cliff Hill.
Some of you may recall, at last year’s meeting, Richard Pym commenting on the poor morale of the club back-office staff.
Since then, I am delighted to inform that each member of staff received an end of season ‘Promotion’ bonus, the back-office has been refurbished with new furniture, pay scales have been reviewed and recently enhanced to reflect the challenging economy, and we have introduced sick-pay benefit, cash back on medical expenses, and a salary protection scheme for long term illness.
We have also introduced a bonus scheme that potentially will benefit every employee, subject to business performance.
You may also recall that at last year’s meeting a member required the club to become a ‘real living wage’ payer. I’m delighted to say that this has been enacted. The Club, through Trust intervention, are now a competitive employer.
To continue, let me tell you about the Club Board sub-committees, chaired by Trustees.
The Finance & Governance group, chaired by Steve Chudley, the Trusts Finance Officer, review the club’s management accounts on a monthly basis and other financial statements such as budgets, cash flows, and periodic statements, making appropriate recommendations to the Trust Board in respect of actions required.
The Supporter Experience Sub-Committee, Chaired by Trustee Clive Harrison, are responsible for the experience you have at games. Most recently, Clive has led the group in combatting the unfortunate chanting that has occurred from time to time which appears, for the moment, to have worked. This has a real impact on the club as I know some supporters felt so strongly that they chose to no longer attend games which of course, loses us revenue.
At a recent Fans Forum I was asked what tangible benefit the independent Directors delivered. I must admit I was taken aback by, in fact, a very reasonable question. During the year, amongst many other things, I have recorded the following;
Clive Bawden has helped to design and deploy the transition of accounting systems from SAGE to XERO. This will provide speedier and more accurate accounting information, but also efficiencies in the recording and paying of expenses and approvals.
Clive has also worked on our risk register that will soon become an integral part of the Club/Trust Board decision making considerations. I’m also reliably informed that without his fan input, the club shop would be significantly less profitable, such is his purchases of merchandise!
Jonathan Hart sits on the Supporter Experience sub-committee and is currently helping to design a marketing campaign to improve the recruitment of Trust members. To my knowledge, this is the first time ever the club has acted on our behalf to develop membership, using its resource and skills. This is a major step forward. Jonathan also sits on the Academy Technical Board.
Finally, Jeremy Tipper has helped to deliver a comprehensive HR software solution that will enable us to administer and deploy club policies and people related comms. Jeremy was also instrumental in creating the framework within which we recruited our new manager and is providing further HR input shortly.
Jeremy was last heard from whilst at the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro…. I have a video. He, together with his partner and mountain guides were singing the Stanno Song.
The point of my raising these things – the club shop merchandise, the membership recruitment drive, and the singing of the ‘Stanno’ song, it’s a demonstration of their commitment to the club, but also to our model of ownership.
They have, I believe, bought into Exeter City, just as we are.
All three Directors, like you, travel the distances to represent the club all over the country, and here in Exeter. No expenses paid for this!
Toward the end of last season, we became aware of difficulties with the Priority ticketing arrangements. We had hoped to transition our membership administration to SPEKTRIX, the clubs ticketing solution but sadly, it has fallen well short of our expectations.
To this end the Trust have invested in new membership software that will resolve these problems and deliver a more complete service to our members. The new solution brings together the various functions we use under one umbrella and as members, you will each have a login to access member information.
Following go-live the numerous pieces of software we use will be brought under one solution that will offer membership polls, including election ballots, blogs, event booking, and an automated e-mailing system.
My hope, in the new year, is that we will be able to add yourselves to the decision-making diagram in so much that, by offering polls out to you, your preferences on certain matters can be recorded and acted on.
I should record my thanks to St Mirren Football Club for allowing us access to their system and for the advice and guidance they provided – they use the same system!
Finally, since December last year, we have been working with a gentleman from Northumbria University to produce a ‘Supporter Year End Report’, that will contain all of the club’s year end data together with explanations, graphs, photographs and statistics that bring the data to life.
We lost around four weeks whilst our attention turned to recruiting a new manager, but my hope is that it will be available by December 8th – the date of the Club AGM.
We’ll e-mail this out to you once complete but shortly afterwards will seek to form a forum to review its content and design, to improve the offering for a mid-season re-budget effort.
Finally, I’m delighted that our partnership with both CCT and ECI continues to deliver benefit to the community. Even independently, we make a difference, and it was my great honour to join with fellow Trustee Doug Gillard, and our opposite numbers from Torquay United and Plymouth Argyle to celebrate the recognition of Argyle striker Jack Leslie, who has a statue outside of Home Park, and was posthumously awarded an England cap following his omission from an England squad on the basis of his skin colour! We have moved on.
Finally, may I thank my fellow Trustees and Club Board directors for their support over the past 12 months, and for the great enthusiasm and work ethic that we all benefit from.
I’m very happy to answer any questions people have.
Chair of the Exeter City Supporters Trust.