Hugh Morris: How an MBA helped him become English cricket's first managing director

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The Independent Online

Before sliding his feet under an executive desk at the England and Wales Cricket Board, Hugh Morris spent many years behind the crease as a high-scoring member of the Glamorgan team and a Test cricketer on three occasions.

Having hung up his pads, this well-respected sportsman has become a key player in the drive to raise the calibre of English cricket, with the ultimate goal of regaining the Ashes and rising again in the international rankings.

After the recent defeat by Sri Lanka and media mutterings about the board working the players too hard, he knows full well that the England operation will be under intense scrutiny when they take on New Zealand in February. Yet Morris's remit, as English cricket's first managing director, does not allow him to dwell too heavily on a single season's results.

The job, which he took up last October, is principally a strategic one, taking the long view as to the best ways of improving English cricket at all levels from school playground to the Test arena. After retiring from the game in 1997, he oversaw the creation of the Cricket Academy at Loughborough University and while working his way up at the board, he has remained passionate about the mission to bring on promising young players.

The new MD role will plunge him into overtly commercial waters. English cricket turns over £80m a year and running it calls for top notch business acumen. "I had built up many years experience as an international cricketer but had never worked outside the sport," Morris explains. "If I was going to try and make my way in the business world then I knew I would need more knowledge, skills and experience in some key areas and this is where the MBA came in."

He is certain that his executive MBA from Henley Management College was an important factor in the board's decision to offer him the new job.

Morris's career plans had been rudely interrupted in 2002 when he was diagnosed with throat cancer, undergoing three major operations and radiotherapy. "That experience gave me a lot of time to think and sharpened my appetite to go for the MBA," he says.

"I hadn't been in a classroom for 20 years, so there was a certain amount of trepidation when first signing on," he admits. "It turned out to be the best learning experience I've ever had. The two years I've spent studying for the part-time modular MBA have enabled me to fill many of the gaps in my portfolio."

Henley places a high priority on personal development. Morris says the electives on leadership and inter-cultural analysis have been a great help in his attempt to create "a culture within the team which should lead to us ultimately gaining a competitive advantage".

Is cricket a business in the strict sense? Absolutely, according to Hugh. "As the sport's governing body, we have set ourselves very ambitious strategic goals over the next four years and we are approaching them in exactly the same way as would any other business. I administer a budget in excess of £15m and am now putting into practice on a daily basis all the skills I learnt on the MBA course."

As well as helping him to monitor his own performance and that of the organisation, the MBAlearning experience, he says, has given him greater self-confidence in making business decisions.

Sponsorship and corporate involvement are key elements of sport today and Hugh appreciates the importance of building strong relationships with the business world. Here again, his MBA has produced dividends.

"Around 75 per cent of our income comes from broadcasting and sponsorship. Allying English cricket with some of the highest profile brands in the world is clearly very important to us and the Henley MBA marketing module has proved very useful in this vital aspect of my job."

What did his fellow MBA students from more conventional backgrounds make of a former Test cricketer on a business course? "They were initially intrigued by what I did. One of the people in my group was a project manager at Heathrow Airport and we were able to do a meaningful comparison between our sectors.

"The deeper we got into the course and the more we learnt from each other, the more I found that there wasn't a single assignment where the business of cricket could not easily be related to any industry we studied.

"In the 10 years of the board's existence, we've grown from a £33m turnover to £80m a year. Inevitably, many of the business principles we dealt with on the course were totally relevant to the development of the sport. The fact that the MBA programme allowed me to do most of my assignments on the board itself suited me very well and my colleagues benefited too. I was essentially acting as an internal consultant and providing useful reports to the organisation."

The experience of studying in small groups was a major benefit of Henley's approach, he says. There were 37 on his course from widely different backgrounds, split into groups of seven or eight who had to pull together a group assignment.

Relationships were built up both during the residential sessions at the college itself and via weekly teleconferences. "I learnt almost as much from the group assignments as I did from the lectures, and I learnt an enormous amount from those," he recalls.

Believing that English cricket has been too inward-looking in the past, Hugh was determined to grasp the bigger business picture before he felt ready to run an organisation that encompasses every form of cricket in this country.

Regardless of how the Test team performs in the short term, he is adamant that the MBA has transformed his approach to forging a bright future for English cricket, whether it be played on the local recreation ground or at international level.