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Governance, Governance & Commercial Growth, Sport Business | Feb 2, 2021
A window into the working worlds of people from across the sports industry now that nothing is as it was.

Collette Roche is the Chief Operating Officer at Manchester United, a role she’s held since 2018. She lives in Cheshire, in the north west of England, with her husband Graham, two daughters and dog Bobby.

How are you feeling now on a scale of 1-10?

It’s a tough time for everyone right now but, within the context of the pandemic, I would say ‘8’. Fortunately, my family and friends are keeping safe and well, I am managing to juggle my work alongside my commitments at home and am spending more time with my family than I’ve ever been able to do previously. The 2 points I’ve dropped are due to the fact I’ve pushed myself too hard in the gym and injured my knee which has stopped me from running, dog-walking and yoga this week!

Who was the last person you spoke to before me?

My team – we’ve just had our regular video call to check in on how everyone is doing and share our plans and priorities for this week. It may sound strange, but the current environment seems to have brought us closer together – lots more sharing, collaborating and catching up.

 

Are you working from home or the office? If both, what’s the split like?

As COO at Manchester United, I need to split my time between my home office, Old Trafford and our training ground. In line with the government guidelines, we are encouraging and enabling our colleagues to work from home as much as possible, so I spend around 60% of my time at home, 30% at Old Trafford on or around matchdays and 10% at the training ground, where I have twice weekly Covid tests.

How have things changed since Covid? How has your employer adapted?

I am very proud at how well we have adapted to a Covid world at MUFC. At the onset of the pandemic, I was asked to lead the club-wide Covid response team, so quickly mobilised the leadership team, setting clear priorities around our players, our people, our partners, our fans, and our community, and then worked with our amazing teams to develop plans to deliver on our commitments. From day one, we transitioned 900 colleagues to working from home, secured the stadium and offices and started to build policies and processes around creating a Covid-safe training and playing environment. This meant we were able to get football back up and running as part of ‘Project Restart’ and whilst very different to our normal modus operandi, we were confident it was safe and compliant.  The biggest change has been hosting matches at an empty Old Trafford, which never feels right, and we can’t wait to welcome fans back when it’s safe to do so.

I try to ‘mix it up’ a little when working from home, so I am either in the study, the living room or the kitchen. We live in the countryside, so I’m fortunate to have lots of light, space and fresh air and even the odd birdsong in the background on video calls. 

Where do you work? What’s the environment like?

I try to ‘mix it up’ a little when working from home, so I am either in the study, the living room or the kitchen. Or even sometimes outdoors during the summer. We live in the countryside, so I’m fortunate to have lots of light, space and fresh air and even the odd birdsong in the background on video calls. Many would say it’s not as amazing as working at the ‘Theatre of Dreams’ every day, but I quite enjoy the change of scenery and most of all the company of my loyal canine colleague, Bobby, who never leaves my side!

Who do you share your ‘home office’ with? (What does your partner do? How do they work? How do you split the business of running your life together?)

I am currently sharing a `home office’ with my husband, who works as an apprenticeship trainer/assessor, my eldest daughter who is studying Business Management at Newcastle University and my youngest daughter who is studying A-Levels. As you can imagine we have a strict schedule about who is working where, which we agree each week in advance. Given the girls are self-sufficient, everything at home is a team effort – we all chip in with cooking, cleaning, dog-walking, and shopping. Everyone has lots of jobs to do.

Who are you looking out for at the moment (whose welfare are you responsible for?)

In addition to my immediate family, I also look out for my extended family and my MUFC family. Unfortunately, my mother was diagnosed with cancer at the onset of the pandemic, so making sure she stays safe is a top priority. Luckily her treatment has been a success to date and given she is a ‘tough cookie’ she is coping well.

How have you changed as a manager? As a person?

I guess I have been more reflective, supportive, and understanding. One of the positive aspects of working from home and hosting virtual meetings is that you get to see and appreciate your colleagues’ challenges and home environments much more clearly – whether that be barking dogs, small children needing attention or demanding teenagers. I also focus on my teams’ wellbeing as much as their task list nowadays, to make sure they have the flexibility and support they need to stay positive and productive. I listen more than I did previously to what my team don’t say as much as what they do, to try to gauge how they are coping and again look to provide support where I can. I also try to be more flexible and creative around how we can manage workloads and deadlines in this volatile and uncertain world.

Collette working from her home in Cheshire, near Manchester.

 

How do you run a meeting?

I’m quite structured and focused, so always have an agenda, the right people in the room and clear outputs and actions. I encourage everyone to contribute – even if they prefer not to! – so we get a balanced and diverse view on key issues.

How would you describe your work/life balance?

What can I say; it works for me, though many, including my family and friends would say I need to work less and relax more. The nature of my role and our business is 24/7 – if I’m not planning or running matchdays, I am leading the corporate functions such as HR, IT, Security and Property – so there is always work to be done.  The hours are long and for most, considered unsociable – especially as many fixtures are scheduled at weekends and at 8-10pm – but I’m not complaining.  I love my job and it never feels like a chore; I have the privilege of watching our team play great live football every week, which is the envy of many!

I like pressure and am used to working under it – in fact without pressure, I am probably less productive. I guess the reason for this is because I accept what is within my control and more importantly what is not, I don’t worry about things I can’t change and I give 100%, so I can’t give much more.

What does your daily routine look like? How do you run your job and your life?

I am a serial planner and organiser which is probably the reason I got this job. Every day is carefully structured – I wake, check emails, review the news, chair the early morning leadership call, then a series of meetings, quick lunch and hopefully a dog walk, where I can catch up on non-confidential calls! I like to exercise every day but in reality, it’s every other – either run, FIT class or Yoga.  Dinner is always a family affair, followed by a good Netflix series (so many to choose from!).

Early mornings or late nights?

Both!  It depends on my work schedule but if I get home after 11pm following a midweek match, I do like a later start and a cup of tea in bed the next morning.

How do you focus? 

I think the question for me is how do I not focus; I’m told I am very intense. I have always had the ability to concentrate and get through lots of tasks efficiently, which I learned at a very early age when I was training five days a week, competing nationally in gymnastics, studying for exams and holding down a part-time job.

How do you cope with stress?

I can honestly say I am very lucky and don’t tend to get stressed. I like pressure and am used to working under it – in fact without pressure, I am probably less productive. I guess the reason for this is because I accept what is within my control and more importantly what is not, I don’t worry about things I can’t change and I give 100%, so I can’t give much more. That said I do practice breathing, yoga and love running with Bobby outdoors, which probably helps too.

How do you unwind?

Not very easily, though a nice glass of wine, a good book or movie tends to do the job!

Who do you consider your mentor to be?

My husband, Graham, without a doubt.  We have been together for 25 years (can’t believe it’s that long!) and he knows me better than I do.  His advice, support, encouragement and help in solving problems at home or work is first class; he is also a football fanatic, so that helps too.

If we started this year again, what one thing would you change?

I’m not sure ‘one’ change would have had any significant impact on what we are faced with currently, though I am certain we will all be ‘changed’ as a result. On a lighter note, I would say my wardrobe….I would have invested in more loungewear and less formal shirts!

What one thing will you take with you into the ‘new normal’?

I will be taking a ton of things…but if forced to only have one it would be ‘a much broader perspective.’

Who are you speaking to next?

My family – it’s dinner time!

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