A day in the life of...Bruce Buck
Blue is the colour but £140m in the red is the problem
Saturday 28 January 2006
The alarm has just gone and the football club he chairs is about to announce a record financial loss. But Bruce Buck's mind is on other things.
His day job is running the European operations of the US law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom - a job he took on in 1989 - and this morning he's due in at his Canary Wharf office to write up a memorandum of understanding for an as yet unannounced merger deal his firm is advising on.
He grabs a quick breakfast of Weetabix and skimmed milk at his home in Fulham and gets ready for a car to drive him to the office for 7.15am.
There's no Radio 4 for Mr Buck on his journey into work. He prefers to listen to Smooth FM, a radio station that plays jazzy, relaxing music and coincidentally has a tie-up to broadcast all the matches involving Chelsea football club, the one that has just reported a £140m full-year loss and the one that he has chaired since Roman Abramovich bought it in the summer of 2003.
Mr Buck's secretary has come in early, knowing that her boss expects to get a full two hours of legal work completed before he goes off to explain to the financial press why Chelsea has racked up such giant losses.
Skadden, Arps specialises in mergers and acquisitions work and capital market transactions.
Mr Buck's clients have included some large UK companies. It was through this work that the Chelsea job materialised. "I'd met Eugene Tenenbaum while he was an investment banker at Citigroup and when he went on to work for Mr Abramovich I kept in touch with him. In the spring of 2003 Eugene and Roman asked me to represent them in the purchase of an English football club."
Normally Mr Buck would spend most of the working day on Skadden, Arps work. He usually fits in any Chelsea meetings first thing in the morning or in the evening. And then there are the matches most weekends.
But today is different. It's financial results day for Chelsea and the chairman is the man the club has chosen to front the presentations.
By now, and with the 24-hour news stations already giving prominence to Chelsea's financial losses, Mr Buck is ready to travel to the football club where a group of financial reporters - sports writers have been excluded - will be waiting to quiz him in the hotel adjoining the Stamford Bridge stadium.
Accompanying him at the presentation in the Lord Attenborough suite - named after one of the club's many celebrity fans - are the chief executive Peter Kenyon and the finance director Chris Alexander.
In the taxi to west London, the Chelsea chairman, a tall, thin, urbane-looking American, gets an opportunity to look at some of the slides that will be used at the presentation. He says he is not nervous about the task ahead of him, even though he is expecting criticism from many who feel that Chelsea, under its new rich owner, has simply bought its way to success.
"We'll show significant losses but we are advancing in our plan." The plan is to take the club to a break-even position within five years. He says he might call one or two of the others in the team to check a few things about the presentation but won't be bothering Mr Abramovich. "Roman has seen the five-year plan and his message was to go and implement that. He's certainly not checking in every day to ask how the plan is going."
Talk of five-year plans could almost sound Stalinist but Mr Buck is a capitalist, tooth and claw. Asked whether he favours a salary cap for footballers, which some favour to even out the inequalities between different clubs, Mr Buck comes down firmly against the idea. "This is a capitalist society and a cap wouldn't make much sense unless it was adopted all over Europe."
With the board meeting over, Mr Buck is ready to get back to his day job, albeit temporarily. He has already arranged for his secretary to fax him the document he's been working on since early in the morning.
The takeover is in the early stages, so it's just a question of making sure all the bases are covered in the memorandum of understanding which will soon be sent out to his client.
With a Chelsea board meeting scheduled for 2pm, Mr Buck takes himself off to the brasserie at the Chelsea hotel where he picks up a sandwich and takes a look at the newspapers, some of which have already got stories on Chelsea's losses.
The previous night, Chelsea was the subject of a Radio Five Live Evening timed to coincide with the club's centenary. Mr Buck offered himself up for interview and talked broadly about the business side of the club's affairs. He is ideally suited to being the public face of a club that has not always enjoyed a harmonious relationship with the media. Certainly he is far less prickly than Ken Bates, the club's chairman until the Russian takeover.
The big item on yesterday's agenda for the Chelsea board was the thorny subject of ticket pricing. Chelsea is often criticised for its high ticket prices and Mr Buck is aware this is a subject on which almost everybody has a view.
"I think we've come in for some unfair flak. We consult with a cross-section of our fans and next weekend we will have another meeting with the fans' forum before the Liverpool game."
Chelsea's tickets start at a not-very-cheap £45 for seats behind the goal and some fans complain that a lot of traditional supporters have been priced out of going. Mr Buck hints that there might be a move to discount a few more matches next season (tickets for the Carling Cup and the FA Cup are already cheaper), especially in the European Champions' League after disappointing attendances for the early-round stages of the competition this season.
He explains that ticket revenues these days are an increasingly dwindling proportion of total revenues because of the increasing importance of sponsorship, merchandising and broadcasting revenues.
Mr Buck is back in his Canary Wharf office, where he tries to clear his desk and speak to colleagues inshort meetings.
By this time in the day, Mr Buck's thoughts turn to the weekend, which kicks off with an evening at Lucio, an Italian restaurant close to his home on Fulham Road. He meets his wife and one of his three sons who brings along his girlfriend.
It was his sons who encouraged him to take an interest in football when the family moved to London in the mid 1980s. "All three were interested in football and all three were Liverpool supporters, but I wasn't interested in traipsing up to Liverpool. So one day I took them along to Chelsea. I became a season ticket holder in 1991 and I have been going ever since."
Mr Buck says he got on well with Ken Bates and is "sorry that he left in a huff". There could hardly be two more contrasting characters, though. Mr Bates, now the chairman of Leeds United, distrusted the City and picked fights with people too numerous to mention. Mr Buck is a financial man through and through, a man who is comfortable mixing with the Wall Street or City of London establishment.
And when controversy surrounds Chelsea, as it so often does, Mr Buck is the man sent in to smooth ruffled feathers.
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