Smart moves: How Gloucester Rugby owner is using sport and business nous in new role

Robin Hutchison
Martin St Quinton is juggling his role as owner and chairman of Gloucester Rugby with a new job in the London office of search consultancy SRi

When it comes to sporting achievement they are dreaming big in the West Country. In Bristol, billionaire businessman Steve Lansdown is using his considerable wealth to breathe life into a number of different sports.

His most high profile interests include Championship football side Bristol City and Bristol Rugby Club, who finally won promotion to the Aviva Premiership last month after a number of false dawns.

Among the most eagerly awaited fixtures for fans of the latter will be a trip up the M5 to Kingsholm, the home of near neighbours Gloucester.

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The club was taken over in February by Martin St Quinton. He became the sole owner and chairman after acquiring the remaining 60 per cent of shares from the Walkinshaw family, who ended an association with the club dating back to 1997.

Lansdown and St Quinton, 56, share a burning desire to bring success to a part of England where sporting silverware has often been hard to come by.

St Quinton has already seen the seeds of his hard work bear fruit after chairing the committee that oversaw the £45m redevelopment of Cheltenham Racecourse’s grandstand.

Opened on time and on budget on the first day of November’s Open meeting, the magnificent structure looked particularly striking in the spring sunshine at March’s four day Festival.

That event has witnessed three horses – Coulton, Urbande, and Monkerhostin – carry St Quinton’s colours to victory over the years.

Yet the former photocopier salesman is hoping his latest role, as a non-executive director of leading search consultancy SRi, will provide the ultimate fusion of sport and business.

Best brains

St Quinton joined the Victoria-based firm in April after acting as an advisor to chairman Mike Squires, who initially brought him in to oversee the transition of shares from the original angel investors.

He is now using his substantial experience in business – he has held chief executive positions at Danka plc, Azzurri Communications, and Annodata Limited – to help SRi as they expand into new markets and sectors. And he is looking forward to the challenge.

He said: “I have always been interested in sport, but I’m also really interested in people. As a result, the search industry and the recruitment of good people is a perfect fit for me, not only as someone who has employed a lot of people over the years, but also having witnessed the increasing commercialisation of sport.

“I’ve always employed a number of ex-sportsmen and women in my businesses as they tend to have a desire to win and, in many cases, a great ability to work as a team.

"But that increasing commercialisation means it is more and more important for sports clubs and federations to also employ the best brains in business to help them make the most of their off-field opportunities.

"When I first got involved in sport there was no way they could afford or even attract people from other industries. Now the CEO of Arsenal is as well-rewarded and well-respected as the CEO of GlaxoSmithKline.”

St Quinton, who sold Azzurri to the Prudential Group for £180m in 2006 but is still involved in seven companies as either chairman or a non-executive board member, has witnessed first-hand how businesspeople can make the move into sport.

Kick every ball

His CEO at Gloucester, Stephen Vaughan, is a former managing director of Club 18-30, a holiday company few in English rugby’s boardrooms are likely to have considered of late - if ever.

But between them the pair have overseen five straight years of profit. Whilst the numbers involved are a far cry from those at Arsenal, it is an impressive achievement in the domestic game, where even some of the biggest names struggle to balance the books.

St Quinton added: “Stephen was making waves in the travel industry but had all the right qualities we required in a CEO and we were able to attract him across.

"Search is about getting high-calibre people who are right for your organisation, and when it comes to sport and leisure there are none better at doing that than SRi.”

The company’s influence in that leisure sector was also strengthened in April when they announced the acquisition of Munich-based sporting goods and fashion executive search firm, Heads for Brands.

The new office now joins others in Australia, Canada, China, Singapore, and Switzerland, as well as their headquarters here in London, as talent acquisition becomes increasingly global.

As others prepare for holidays or soak up a summer of sport, there are a busy few months ahead for SRi.

Not only will the company be represented at the Olympics in Rio, as the next appointments, including performance director roles, are made for the next Olympiad in Tokyo, they will also have a hand in the employment of a number of high profile personnel at England’s top football clubs.

Commercial sensitivities prevent St Quinton from revealing much more, but he is convinced those who make sound appointments off the field will reap the rewards on it in the long-term.

He said: “At Gloucester I kick and catch every ball on a Saturday, but I don’t feel powerless or frustrated if we lose.

"On the contrary, I believe I can play a huge part in making sure we win next time by helping recruit the best people, whether players, coaches, or the commercial team.

"It’s about getting the right people who have the talent but also the desire to pull in the same direction. It is remarkable what you can achieve in sport and business when that is the case.”