Norwich City’s new Chief Operating Officer Ben Kensell spoke to members of the local media following the announcement of a new senior management structure at the Club last week.
Speaking to BBC Radio Norfolk and the Eastern Daily Press, Kensell said it is business as usual as everyone continues to work together and move forward at both Carrow Road and Colney.
How has the last week been for you?
It has been interesting, but ultimately it is business as usual from my perspective and for every member of staff at Carrow Road and Colney. Even though change is sometimes a little unsettling, it was received in the way it should be which was we’ve got a job to do. It has been busy, but everyone is knuckling down and doing what they need to do.
Can you tell us about the new senior management structure and how it will work?
Steve Stone did a great job for the Club. My job, as I see it, is to continue some of the good work that he has done, especially around fan engagement and opening the communications there. Having worked closely with Steve I understand where we are at as a football club, where we need to get to and where we want to be.
It is my job now to help drive the direction along with Zoe Ward [Business and Project Director] and Stuart Webber [Sporting Director]. It is not a new direction but there is a new dimension to it in the way that we are a bit more collaborative in the approach.
I’ve always tried to be collaborative with the teams I have been working with across departments as well. Delia [Smith] and Michael [Wynn Jones] and the Board want a collaborative one club feel to Norwich City and that’s why the set-up has been put in place at senior level.
I worked with Zoe before Stuart came into the business so we get on very well. With Stuart, I have nothing but admiration for what he has done and we have worked closely. It can be tighter between the two sites [Carrow Road and Colney Training Centre] and that’s what we want to improve.
Stuart’s role doesn’t change a great deal but his influence can come across to Carrow Road a lot more. It’s a much more collaborative structure because I head up the non-football side of the business which is quite complex but it is a revenue driver, it is focussing on efficiencies, fan engagement and bringing the culture of the two sites closer together.
Zoe is a key driver between both sites, and that’s why the structure has been put in place by the owners because they want to create a one club vision and I think you have got three young, hungry, ambitious, driven, committed people to Norwich City who can deliver that and we are really privileged to have been given that opportunity.
The positivity is there amongst the staff and they are incredibly proud to work for the Club. It feels like we are pulling in one direction, but there is always work to be done there. It is part of our jobs to create that united culture and sometimes it is just that energy, passion, drive and commitment to move things forward on and off the pitch and that is what the three of us are trying to deliver under the Board’s supervision.
One of the things that has come up with supporters was a concern that some of the bridges that have been built between the Club and supporter groups may be lost, what can you say to reassure people?
That is simply not the case, they will probably go from strength to strength. The great thing about having a triumvirate representing the Club across Colney, Carrow Road and the area in between is that we can communicate a lot greater.
From my perspective I am a real champion of it, I really enjoy open communications. I want to champion safe standing, I want to champion a lot of the things that Steve had been working on and what people also have to remember is that it wasn’t just led by Steve, there was a team beneath him that truly believed in it and that was part of a communications strategy led by Joe Ferrari and his team at Carrow Road. It doesn’t sit with one individual, it sits with multiple individuals who feel passionately about engaging with fans in the right way.
Will the Club’s views on safe standing change?
I am very much in favour of it, as I think many other football clubs should be. There is a lot of mystery surrounding whether it can happen at the moment but we will definitely be lobbying and championing and leading on that because it’s something that we feel passionately about and we will continue that.
In terms of generating finance, we know Take That are coming back next summer, is this a key revenue area for the future?
This is part of our strategy. The idea is that we become a venue that doesn’t just open 25 times a year. It needs to be always open for conference and banqueting events, events outside the traditional footprint of the pitch, and that’s the way we commercialise and bring our business forward.
Concerts are a massive revenue driver for us and I think we do them well, but we can continually do them better. There are other events that we are looking at doing too and hopefully we can announce them soon. That is part of the key strategy around how we grow our revenues around Carrow Road as a venue.
What do you see as your biggest challenge stepping into this role?
Challenge is excitement for me. But the biggest challenge for our Football Club is our financial position. Being a self-financed Club is a balancing act, but I’ve been in the job four years now as Commercial Director, so I was responsible for driving all of the revenue generating areas, so I am very familiar with that and I know what success looks like.
Our financial position is much better, but we need to continue on that track and continue being really certain on how we balance the books whilst giving Stuart and Daniel as much opportunity to get investment onto the pitch. I also think there is an element of engaging with fans and continuing the great work we have done at Colney from the fantastic support we got from the Canaries Bond.
That in itself was a game-changer for the Football Club and what we can achieve at the Academy. Zoe was a massive part of that and I think it will go from strength to strength now. We’ve got to make sure that we spend the money wisely and get really good return on that. And Tom Smith [Director] deserves great credit coming up with that idea, and now we’ve got to follow it through. There are multiple challenges of running a football club but it’s a pleasure. I am in an incredibly privileged position, as is everyone that works at the Club, to have an input and an impact on how we run from a day to day basis.
Can you tell us more about your background and how you got into football?
Before I got into football I worked in corporate hospitality, working for Wimbledon, Ascot, Henley, for the autumn internationals at Twickenham so I have always been in and around sport. Then I got my opportunity at Arsenal in the move from Highbury to the Emirates Stadium, stayed at Arsenal for seven years heading up the commercial areas and the premium experience areas, then went to Charlton as chief commercial officer and David McNally [former Chief Executive] put a call in and wanted me to come to Norwich.
I had a young family at the time and didn’t want them to be brought up in London so we thought what better place to come than Norfolk and we are proved right there. David brought me into the Club and showed me his vision and how he wanted the Club to be represented from a commercial perspective and I think we have delivered on that.
It sounds like you are now a Norwich fan but there are whispers that you might be a Gillingham supporter as well?
I am a Gillingham fan but I am a Norwich supporter. I was born in Kent and my dad took me to Gillingham so that was the team I went to see. But having worked at Arsenal, Charlton and Norwich, you become naturally affiliated with those clubs and have an admiration for them and Norwich is a great Club.