Interview with Derek Richardson in the Times
Posted by: Atomic Wasp (IP Logged)
Date: 22 December, 2014 12:54

This should put some scare stories to bed, but no doubt our creative elite will come up with something else instead.

‘I hate the elitist way rugby is. It has to be for everybody’

Wasps are the perfect fit for Derek Richardson's bid to broaden Rugby's appeal as the club christen their new home

David Walsh Published: 21 December 2014

Sting in the tail: Derek Richardson, the owner of Wasps, has big dreams for the clubSting in the tail: Derek Richardson, the owner of Wasps, has big dreams for the club (Peter Tarry)

WE'RE sitting in a room at the Radisson Blue Edwardian hotel near Heathrow in London. His name is Derek Richardson, a Cork-born, Dublin-raised, Monaco-nurtured and now Surrey-settled Irishman. He is also the man whose vision has taken the Premiership rugby club Wasps to Coventry.

The club’s life as Midlanders begins this afternoon at the Ricoh Arena where a record crowd of 28,000 will watch captain James Haskell lead his side out against London Irish. Announced in October, the move to the Ricoh wasn’t uniformly welcomed, especially among the team’s London-based following. People wonder about Richardson, who he is and what has motivated him.

The conversation flows, the story of his successful business career told modestly and then it comes to the question of why. He’s inclined to blame his wife Dawn. “She’s as big a rugby fanatic as I am. We’ve never played golf or anything like that.

“The nearest I got to a hobby was getting a private pilot’s licence. I don’t regard Wasps as a hobby but I got involved because my wife, myself, our two daughters, all love rugby.”

He appreciates the disconnect between buying a high-profile club and his natural inclination for a life far from the limelight. “If you talk to anyone who knows me, I’m definitely not egotistical. I like to stay in the background. I get on well with the Wasps players because I think they know me as a normal sort of guy.”

You search the internet for his backstory and it isn’t there. His 50 years have passed beneath the radar. He started in Dublin, inheriting his father’s insurance brokerage and building it into something that his old man would never have imagined.

“I was 24 when my dad died of cancer. I always knew I wanted to work in the business, so I joined it after school, put my feet up, ate sandwiches and did nothing all day. It was the same in school, I’d never worked. Then I had six months’ warning, Dad wasn’t going to be with us. I was going to have to make an honest living. It was character-building.”

Understatement is his style. There were six employees in the business he took over, 60 when he left Ireland for Monaco 14 years later. By then he had started a new project, 123.ie, an online insurance company that became very successful and from which he earned €35m when he sold 66% of the company to Royal and Sun Alliance four years ago.

Speak to people who have dealt with Richardson and they say the same thing. Good guy, down to earth. They remember him at Wanderers rugby club in Dublin, coming with his dad Herbie, standing by the rail outside the old pavilion at Lansdowne Road and Herbie they especially remember because he’d buy the young fellows a drink.

“Dad was a real Wanderers man and I’d end up doing touch judge for the thirds. I’d played second-row in school but had friends that weren’t playing so I gave it up. We’d go to Leinster and Irish games. They were my teams back then.”

He was at Lansdowne Road for the memorable Wasps v Munster semi-final 10 years ago. “That was an amazing match. The Munster fans, the Wasps fans, Trevor Leota’s late try, the outstanding rugby. I felt then that Wasps were the most exciting English club. You could argue Leicester were bigger but from an entertaining rugby point of view, Wasps have been the best team in England.”

The move to Monaco happened in 2002, from where his working life involved regular flights to Dublin and London. Being based in an tax-free state helped him to accumulate the wealth that would underpin his takeover of Wasps in April last year but the key to it all was his move to Surrey three years ago.

“A lot of insurance products are still manufactured in London and in 2011 I had a particularly important product-build that was going to mean having to spend a lot of time in London. I persuaded the missus to move to London for the year and we’ve never left.

“I enjoyed living in France but when we came to London, I realised how alike Britain and Ireland were.

“You can speak the language, as we did in France, but being able to enjoy the banter is another thing. Coming to England, I realised that.”

A friend from Monaco put him in touch with the guy who was trying to put together a consortium that would buy Wasps from its previous owner, Steve Hayes. When the consortium fell through, he asked Richardson if he would be interested in buying Wasps.

At this time, Wasps were about to be served with a winding-up order. The club had a £1m debt and annual losses of £3m.

It staggered Richardson that a club which had twice been European champions in the previous eight years should be on its knees.

“I know this sounds corny but I liked Wasps’ ethos, the fact that no matter who you were you wouldn’t be turned away.

“Brickie, lumper, lawyer, all welcome. I really liked that. One thing I hate about rugby, and you still see it though not as much as in the past, is the elitist way the sport is.

“It has to be for everybody. I don’t like the word ‘demographic’ but we have to have a greater cross-section of people at our rugby grounds.”

He believes the move to Coventry can underpin Wasps’ return to the summit of European rugby and a financial structure that will not be dependent upon the presence of a wealthy owner. London sites were considered but he could see nothing concrete happening for five or even 10 years.

With annual losses of £3m likely to rise to £4m or even £5m, hanging around wasn’t an option. “One of the most important things was to find a 365-day income for the club. The business needed more than my paying in money every year. With the Ricoh Arena, which Wasps now own 100%, we’re in a position to strive to be the best of the best.

“I’m sorry, I don’t mean to sound like Mr President but we’ve now got the biggest rugby club-owned facility in Europe. A 32,000-seater stadium, an indoor facility that can take 12,000 people standing, a hotel, a casino.

“When we looked at the year ending 2013, Arena Coventry Limited [ACL, the company that owned and ran the Ricoh facility] made an operating profit in excess of £2m. In our ownership that money would be channelled into Wasps’ coffers. That’s the significance of this.”

Richardson paid ACL’s two partners, Coventry City Council and the Alan Higgs Trust charity, £2.77m each and took over the company’s £14.4m loan from the local council. That values the entire Ricoh facility at just under £20m. At Adams Park they received 10p from every pound spent on match day. The Ricoh offers the club extraordinary opportunity.

Along the way, Richardson had to convince Coventry Council, Coventry RFC and local community groups that his club would be good for the area. That’s the part that comes easily to him and both the council and local rugby club have been impressed by his approach.

I mention that some Wasps fans believe he bought their club solely to acquire an undervalued property asset. “I’m not a property developer, I’ve never developed anything in my life.

“I’ve never thought of this as something I might make a profit from. We’ve got the chance to build something great here, making Wasps the best club in Europe, and I’m really looking forward to standing back and seeing what we’ve got in five or seven years.”

The journey to the summit begins this afternoon.



Cheers

Rick


@W2APS on twitter, the chap with the banners and flags.

Re: Interview with Derek Richardson in the Times
Posted by: Raggs (IP Logged)
Date: 22 December, 2014 13:04

Fantastic read, thank you for copying it across.

One point though, I do find it very amusing that a man that makes his money on insurance dislikes the word "demographic" grinning smiley.

Re: Interview with Derek Richardson in the Times
Posted by: Penn Wasp (IP Logged)
Date: 22 December, 2014 13:12

well, he made it happen and we have a life ahead of us and at long last, some security.....

good on him

Re: Interview with Derek Richardson in the Times
Posted by: WiseWasps! (IP Logged)
Date: 22 December, 2014 13:40

A big saviour for wasps and always a friendly guy. Good to see him talking about a long term commitment. COYW

Re: Interview with Derek Richardson in the Times
Posted by: Hymenoptera (IP Logged)
Date: 22 December, 2014 17:23

Top bloke..

Re: Interview with Derek Richardson in the Times
Posted by: NotTheVicarage (IP Logged)
Date: 22 December, 2014 17:35

My mate and I were 2 of the few to vote against the move to Loftus Road at the Harrow School meeting, and he spent the next 5 years telling me Chris Wright was only in it for the money, and didn't care about Wasps. I think history proves he was wrong.

I'm sure I'll get the same earache about Richardson for the foreseeable future, but having read this interview I'll take Richardson on trust.

Thanks for the OP.

Re: Interview with Derek Richardson in the Times
Posted by: WaspsAAAHH! (IP Logged)
Date: 22 December, 2014 22:00

Fantastic, thanks for sharing

Re: Interview with Derek Richardson in the Times
Posted by: Heathen (IP Logged)
Date: 22 December, 2014 22:18

(Sm14)

Re: Interview with Derek Richardson in the Times
Posted by: ukms (IP Logged)
Date: 22 December, 2014 22:20

Very interesting .....Thanks Atomic Wasp for sharing.

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