Beginning his career as a solicitor, Neil Doncaster has been involved in the UK football industry for 15 years in a series of senior positions. As Chief Executive of Norwich City Football Club for seven years until 2009, he led the drive to position Norwich City not only as a financially sound organisation but also one that was at the heart of the community as a consultative, accessible family club. Neil was also a director of the Football League and the Football Association in that period.
In 2009, Neil was appointed as Chief Executive of the Scottish Premier League, where he has overseen a growth in income for Scotland's premier football clubs through new broadcasting deals and centrally negotiated commercial partnerships.
As he continues to thrive in this role, what would he say was the secret to his success - winning and holding down one of the top jobs in UK football?
‘In terms of getting the Scottish Premier League Chief Executive's position, my previous football experience was undoubtedly relevant. In this job I need to –
- think strategically and financially - there's always pressure to increase the income available for the member clubs
- stand up and speak publically and make regular appearances in the national media
- negotiate skilfully – for example when renegotiating broadcasting deals with Sky, ESPN or the BBC and in relation to other commercial sponsorships.'
‘I raised the level of my game in all these skill areas when I was with Norwich City. For example, I was a frequent commentator in the national media on professional football policy, made appearances on Radio 4's Today programme and wrote articles for several regional and national papers. As Chief Executive of Norwich City I had to think strategically, of course, and lead the club's drive to improve its income.'
‘But whenever I reflect on why my application was successful, I think there was another factor too.'
‘In 2005 I was looking at what I might do by way of personal development, to maximise my performance at Norwich City and to take the next level up in my career if the chance arose. I looked at the part-time MBA at Norwich Business School. It made sense to me - the studies were spread over 27 months and lectures and seminars were cleverly clustered into regular blocks of time - I knew I could continue to be effective at Norwich City and study a masters degree at the same time. Besides, UEA was within easy reach for me and it did not take long to get to the University from the football club or the city centre.'
‘I started the Executive MBA a few months after making the decision to apply and I finished in 2008. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, worked hard and left UEA with a masters degree with distinction and the winner of the Business School Prize in that year.'
‘The business school's MBA was a properly constructed and well-rounded course. As I went through the various modules, I felt as if I was stopping up any gaps in my knowledge and skills base. When I left UEA I thought of myself as someone who had spent two years raising the level of their performance in the areas where they had had less experience.'
‘As a result, when I came to apply for the post of Chief Executive of the Scottish Premier League, I had a strong sense of self-belief; I knew I could do that job. I knew that I was a resourceful and multitalented manager, capable of working at the highest level, in all areas of the role from finance to handling the media. And thanks to the MBA coursework, I felt as if there wasn't really any major chink in my armour - there wasn't any area of business in which I hadn't had some relevant experience.'
‘I don't think I was successful in getting my Scottish Premier League Chief Exec's job solely because of my MBA, but the learning process and varied nature of the experience undoubtedly helped.'