We head to the boardroom for the latest instalment of Industry Insider – we had a chat with Liam Scully, Chief Executive of League One side Lincoln City FC about his career in sport, a time he failed, best advice and much more!
Tell us about yourself, what is your current role and what roles have you done previously?
My name is Liam Scully and I am the Chief Executive of Lincoln City Football Club. A role I have held since August 2017.
I am also the Chair of the English Football League Trust and a Non-Executive Director at Lincolnshire County FA.
I previously worked for the Club Doncaster group, which incorporates Doncaster Rovers, Doncaster Rugby League Club, Club Doncaster Sports Village & Club Doncaster Foundation and Sports College. At Club Doncaster I held a range of roles over 17 years, finishing up as Chief Operating Officer.
What do you do in your current role?
My primary remit with Lincoln City Football Club is the overall responsibility for the effective, efficient running of Lincoln City Football Club across both sporting and business directorates on behalf of the Directors and fans.
I oversee all fiscal activities including drafting, monitoring and achieving budgets as well as other objectives as set by the board, such as fan and community engagement.
“Normal” isn’t a thing in sport so what does an “average” week look like for you?
I am not sure I could even begin to answer this, but as you would expect, it is long hours, with no real downtime. Office hours are usually back-to-back meetings, both internal and external with matchdays -1/+1 also very busy with a range of unplanned events/meetings.
At Lincoln City, we have locally based Directors as well as pan North America and South Africa. As a result meet times are often 7pm onwards, running late into the night.
How did you end up where you are right now? When did you know you wanted to work in sport?
I have worked in professional football/sport or community sport all of my working life, since leaving full-time education when I was 16. I have undertaken a range of roles from the shop floor to the boardroom, and despite being only 37 years old, I have been working in football for over 20 years.
I knew I wanted to work in football/sport as soon as I realised a playing career wasn’t an option (due to lack of talent).
What is your number one focus when it comes to your work?
My number one job is to help and support the incredibly dedicated and skilled team members at Lincoln City.
It is also important to keep a healthy balance and apply bandwidth to all key areas of the organisation. For example, it could be easy to spend more time on the fun stuff (typically the sporting side), as opposed to looking at health and safety policies or the long and detailed reports our Finance Director regularly produces. It is really important to maintain a balanced so all parts of the organisation are given your support.
Can you tell us about a time you failed and what you learned from it?
Too many to mention. The key is to fail fast and not let this deter you from pushing boundaries.
The job often requires you to take a calculated and measured risk. Ultimately a CEO is judged on outcomes, and if you aren’t willing to push boundaries, you will risk not delivering objectives. That said, it is critical that you do have an eye on the “what if…” (it goes seriously wrong).
What are you excited about in your industry at the moment?
It is exciting to be a custodian of a football club at the time we are trying to collectively deliver reform in our game. This comes with great pressure, and it is critical that we deliver a game for the next few generations, not just for the next few seasons.
The pressure is on, but I’d rather be in this place, than working on a maintenance project.
If you could change one thing about your Industry, what would you change?
Just one? That is hard….
Linked to the point above, the governance of the game is weighted towards those currently at the top of the football pyramid. As we know, we have a dynamic pyramid so just because Oldham (for example) finds themselves currently in the National League, it doesn’t mean they should have any less of a voice from the days when they were a Premier League club.
Sport is a hectic industry, what do you do to switch off?
I don’t know. Hope that when someone works this out, they tell me?!
In all seriousness, it is very hard to switch off. You will be with your family in the queue at the supermarket and someone will want to impress their opinion on the current status of the football club on you.
You have to be respectful that they are a fan or a sponsor of the club and they may just want to wish you well or tell you what they don’t like. Even the annual summer family holiday is often filled with transfer window work. As crazy as it sounds, some of the best time to get away is during the season, when the season has found its rhythm and long before any transfer windows.
What is the one piece of advice you would give to someone wanting to work in the sports industry?
Work hard every day. Primarily for yourself and your own self-pride, but in this industry is a goldfish bowl and you are always on show. How you handle conflict or adversity is really important. People will judge you on how you behaved on your worst day, before they judge you on your best day.
How to connect with Liam Scully…