Tell us about yourself, what is your current role and what roles have you done previously?
My name is Alan Burrows. I am the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) at Motherwell Football Club in Scotland.
I’ve been at ‘Well for what is approaching 14 years now. I’ve had numerous promotions in my time at Fir Park, starting as the website administrator, then Head of Communications, then to General Manager, then Chief Operating Officer, and, finally, Chief Executive. In essence, those are changes of job titles – in reality, I’ve done two different roles – Head of Communications and Chief Executive.
What do you do in your current role?
I am the most senior executive at the football club on a day-to-day basis. My primary responsibilities include making major corporate decisions, managing the overall operations and resources of the company, and acting as the main point of communication between the board of directors and the various stakeholders.
In addition, I am the person responsible for setting the culture of the business and those who work in it, ensuring everyone is pulling towards the same common goal.
What does a normal week look like for you?
It may sound a little cliche, but there is no such thing as a normal week. Genuinely. That’s the beauty and the challenge of working in professional football. Every single day is different and no matter how much you plan and organise yourself, different things appear that you didn’t expect and have to be flexible enough to deal with. I try to get around most of the people and departments of the club most days/weeks.
I see it as my job to oversee each area, being on hand for help or guidance or decisions if required. I also represent the club on various bodies and boards, all of which are on Zoom, given the pandemic restrictions.
The most predictable element of the week is match days, which for us are on Saturday afternoons most of the time. As a huge football fan, that is one of the most enjoyable elements of the role, although you would hardly believe it if you saw me during the game or after a defeat!
How did you end up where you are right now? When did you know you wanted to work in sport?
From an early age, I always had the ambition to work for Motherwell Football Club. If I am honest, I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to do or what I would be good at, but I had a huge passion for the club, and working at Fir Park was always “the dream.”
How I realised that dream is a story that’s been told fairly regularly in Scotland, as it’s probably the ultimate fan to boardroom story.
When I was in my early 20s, I had come out of a relationship and had moved on from the hospitality industry, which I had studied for and worked in for four years. I was a bit of a crossroads and a little bored, so I decided to start an unofficial Motherwell supporters website and associated amateur football team. Motherwell was my escape. It always had been. I never missed matches, my life revolved around what the team did, so it seemed like a good idea at the time. It would prove to be a crucial one.
In the summer of 2007, to cover the club’s pre-season trip for my website – as the club wouldn’t pay for its then website admin to be there – I decided to take holidays from my work and go on a solo trip to Obertraun in the Austrian Alps, about 75km south of Salzburg.
When I got there, which was a literal planes, trains and automobiles experience, the management team and players were very kind to me. They embraced me being with them, even stripping me down and plunging me into a freezing cold glacier stream as a part of the initiation(!). And they helped me record some really good behind-the-scenes content, which I’d rush back to the small hostel I was staying in and spend about eight hours uploading a four-minute video! It was manna from heaven for me.
On the second to last day of the week we were there, the club secretary Stewart Robertson, who is now MD at Glasgow Rangers, left a voicemail on my phone which would change my life forever. It said that the club were very impressed with the stuff that I had put together and that they would like me to come and do that for the club. I was so excited I could barely contain myself. I could’ve flown home to Scotland without the need for EasyJet.
A month or two later, in September 2007, I realised my dream and started full-time at Motherwell FC. I worked as hard as I could, pushing myself and the people around me hard, leading the club’s communications, press relations and PR. We were lucky to win some awards for what we were doing, and I also built up a very good relationship with the then-CEO, Leeann Dempster, who introduced me to various elements of what she was doing on a day-to-day basis. I didn’t know it then, but she was preparing me to step up into her shoes.
When Hibernian FC headhunted Leeann, she floated the idea of me being her replacement. As much as I had developed a desire to move up and test myself in that sort of role when the opportunity arose, I had to think hard about it and spent a week or so mulling it over. In reality, I was always going to do it, but I wanted to weigh things up with my soon-to-be wife.
To be fair to Leeann, she had to bat for me as I was probably not an obvious choice for the Board at the time and even the supporters. I was young and inexperienced; I was essentially just the guy who used to run the messageboard and sit in the East Stand at Fir Park. We never documented the sort of on-the-job apprenticeship that Leeann had put me through. I will be forever grateful to her for the role she played in giving me the opportunity.
I started as General Manager in 2014, but my brief was pretty much as it is today. My job title changed to COO in 2016, then to CEO in 2017, and it’s been an incredible ride so far, with many highs and lows.
What are you excited about in your industry at the moment?
The introduction of tech to help enhance how we do things on a day-by-day basis. We have recently invested in Pixellot technology that has significantly improved our analysis department, and we hope to see some great results in the future.
Also, we have investigated and hope to sign up with Zone7, a data-driven AI system that enables higher levels of athlete performance and availability.
The advances that we see across departments will hopefully make a material and positive impact on performance and are very exciting. I look forward to seeing where science will take us.
What is your number one focus when it comes to your work?
Every single day when I go to work, I want to try and make the club better in some way than it was the previous day. I am relentless about improving what we have, on and off the pitch, making things better and taking the club forward.
While I think we have made excellent progress on many fronts, much of which I am very proud of, there is always room for lots of improvement, both individually and collectively, and that is what I focus on.
In your area of work, what is something you feel most people don’t talk about or focus on enough?
I would say the thing football probably doesn’t talk about enough is how we, as an industry, can use the incredibly privileged platform we have to play a positive role in our community and society. It’s something we are very passionate about at Motherwell – ensuring we not only try and put the best team on the pitch we can every weekend, but also represent the town and the community by being a leader on issues that are impacting the lives of our fans, their families and neighbours.
One example of this is our work on mental health and suicide prevention, which sadly is a significant issue across North Lanarkshire. We can get into areas and speak to people that other forms of traditional media and communication can’t, and because of that, we have an obligation to do so. We have real-time examples of that actually saving lives, not only showing how effective it can be but how important it is.
It also feeds back to what sort of club you want to be. Do you want to be a club that represents and empathises with its supporters? We do, which is why we take this and other issues head-on. Football has a huge captive audience and, therefore, can be a real force for good if mobilised collectively.
What is the one piece of advice you would give to someone wanting to work in the sports industry?
It might sound old-fashioned, but it’s true: work your backside off and dedicate yourself to it.
Regardless of what element of the sports industry you want to major in, demonstrate just how much passion you have for it by going over and above every time. Showcase your dedication by constantly pushing yourself and others to be better and doing everything you can to make a positive impression by how you conduct yourself.
Most importantly, always show humility. If you can match hard work, dedication, talent, and humility together, I sincerely believe you’ll achieve anything you dream of.
How to follow Motherwell FC and connect with Alan Burrows…
I mentioned earlier that I was proud of some of the things we’ve done at Motherwell over the last six years or so. One of those is our digital/social media output, which our team has developed into something that I think is worth checking out, even if Motherwell isn’t your club.
Hopefully, by following us, you get a sense of who were are, where we want to be, and our values as a fan-owned, community-focused, family club. Grant Russell, Alastair Reilly, Laura Brannan and Scott Gibson do a fantastic job, so it would be great if you could follow us on one or more of our platforms:
Tik Tok: MotherwellFC
And, if I’m not pushing it, I’m on Twitter/Instagram as @Alan_Burrows.