THE ANDREW DAVIDSON INTERVIEW: MAGAZINE JOURNALIST OF THE YEAR - ADAM CROZIER - The English FA's new chief executive has to drag the clapped-out association into the new century. Resigning coaches, huge egos, awkward sponsors, irate fans, mega TV deals -

THE ANDREW DAVIDSON INTERVIEW: MAGAZINE JOURNALIST OF THE YEAR - ADAM CROZIER - The English FA's new chief executive has to drag the clapped-out association into the new century. Resigning coaches, huge egos, awkward sponsors, irate fans, mega TV deals -

by ANDREW DAVIDSON
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Adam Crozier is only an hour and a half late, struggling back to London through the rain from his St Albans press conference. The interviews, the traffic, the rain, you know, sorry, sorry. He steps round the packing cases outside his soon-to-be-vacated Lancaster Gate office, looking even younger than his 36 years. He has his hair slicked back, late-80s adman-style, and is wearing a rather classy charcoal designer suit, single-vent, with blue gingham check shirt open at the neck. Youthful, lithe, compact, you could mistake him for a professional footballer.

It's been a long morning for Crozier. He's still oozing tension, his grey eyes darting anxiously. He's been presenting Sven Goran Eriksson, his pick as the new England football manager, to the British press They, you would guess, are still getting the measure of both men, but especially Crozier, an unknown quantity who came from nowhere (well, Saatchi & Saatchi, but that is nowhere in footie terms) to head up the Football Association that runs English soccer. Three weeks after the last England manager, Kevin Keegan, had made his emotional exit at Wembley, Crozier had surprised everyone by getting probably the world's best manager as replacement. And the reaction?

Crozier thought it had gone well... Well? The second question was something like: OK, Sven, you say you admire English footballers, but in 20 years managing top European teams, you never signed any, did you? Did you?

To me it looked pretty hostile. But most notable was the way Crozier sat by his man, shiny-faced, impassive.

'No, no, I think they were fair and open this morning,' says Crozier in his slight Scots burr, 'and on balance I think he impressed them.' Then there is a little silence as Crozier sets his wide face into another contemplative, implacable stare, like an Easter Island statue. He does this a lot, making you wonder whether he is a great one for just thinking, or simply knackered.

Probably a bit of both, given the nest of vipers he has to deal with at the Football Association. Nothing, but nothing, could have prepared him for the demands of dragging English soccer's governing body into the 21st century. His previous job, helping to save Saatchi & Saatchi post-Maurice and Charles, must seem a doddle in comparison. At the FA he's got to handle a clapped-out structure, braggart-bully club chairmen, emotional team managers, multimillionaire superstar players, irate sponsors, disillusioned fans, large vats of television money - and that's before you even get to the press. In the face of all that, his pounds 300,000 annual salary seems rather modest (certainly, compared to Sven's pounds 2 million-plus). He's one of Britain's brighter management stars. Why, you want to keep asking him, are you doing this?

'Because of the challenge,' he says quietly, 'and because I love football.' No irony, no sarcasm. Crozier, as he admits himself, is not a complicated man. Indeed, his own family complain he sees things too simplistically, too black-and-white, and you can read as much on that emotionless slab of a face.

But behind Crozier's calm front there's no shortage of ambition. Getting a top-notch replacement for Keegan before you can blink is pretty much the form. He always moves fast. In only 10 months at the FA, Crozier has already got a new three-year plan voted through, new structure in place, 40% of the old FA staff pushed out, new talent brought in, new headquarters in London's Soho organised, big ambitions outlined.

'The vision I have set for us is to use the power of football to build a better future,' he says. To enhance communities, to break down prejudice, to improve education...

Crozier describes himself as someone who is 'economical with words' - others have called him glacial - but clearly he is prolific when it comes to intentions. And everyone just wants to tell him: excuse me, Mr Crozier, this is football; we can't even agree on how to run it, let alone try to improve the world with it.

So what is he? A masochist, a moderniser or just a dour Scot? He looks puzzled. 'When people ask me 'What is your greatest strength?' I always say, it's staying calm and thinking clearly under intense pressure.' He speaks with a slightly detached air of interest. Introspection, you could guess, is not his strongest suit.

But as part of the team that held Saatchi & Saatchi together when the founders walked off - with half the top staff and a third of the business - he cemented his reputation as an unflappable manager with a gift for presentation. Many inside the agency thought it inconceivable that Crozier and Tamara Ingram, appointed joint managing directors, would keep the business afloat. They were too young, too inexperienced.

But they did.

David Kershaw, now chairman of the breakaway M&C Saatchi and unofficial mentor to the young Scotsman, describes Crozier as 'quietly persuasive', a management star at 30 who thrived on change and could as easily have joined the Saatchi brothers' new firm as head up the old. Indeed, he was nobbled by the brothers but just too late, two minutes after promising others he would stay.

'Adam's very quick-witted. You would see him get things through with clients that required hard selling, and he would do it without selling at all,' says Kershaw. 'It was like intelligent seduction. Clients loved that.'

Crozier in turn says that Kershaw gave him the best advice he got early on in his career: shut up and listen - the motto that underpins his uneffusive management style. 'I am a great believer now that it's not how long you talk, but what you say,' says Crozier.

Those on the receiving end testify to the style's effectiveness. Trevor Taylor, deputy chairman of Inchcape and former chief executive of Toyota car distributors - one of Saatchi's major clients at the time of the split - says Crozier was the best thing about the agency. 'I told Maurice when he rang asking us to come with him: only if you've got Crozier. I was not interested in bosses, only the people on our account, and Adam was brilliant. He's uncomplicated, extremely logical, knows how to handle himself, and you never see him get ruffled.'

Crozier says he gets his sense of calm purpose from his father, one-time factor (estate manager) for Lord Bute, and his people skills from his mother, who worked as a secretary. Born on the Forth and brought up first on the island of Bute (turn left at Glasgow) and then in Ayr, Falkirk and Edinburgh, Crozier was the second of three children, the only boy. He remembers no push to go into business, no pressure from his parents, only the security of a tight family. 'My parents just wanted me to do whatever I wanted to do.'

And that, from an early age, was to play football. He was a useful midfielder, 'more ballwinner than creative', and had trials for Hibs and Stirling Albion, but they came to nothing. He also went to a tough comprehensive school in Falkirk, where he learnt to handle himself.

That thwarted passion for football, say his friends, explains why he found the FA's job offer so enticing. It was unfinished business. And the rough education - no quarter given to Fancy Dans - explains the steel that many detect below his quiet affability. 'He's ruthless,' says one, 'but not gratuitously so.'

Crozier says he never planned his career. He read for a BA in business organisation at Herriot Watt because it was 'suitably general', and took a job on the milk round with Mars (at Pedigree Petfood) because he knew it would offer 'fantastic training'. His stint there had a profound influence, he says. Most of all, he learnt about the importance of deciding clear objectives, and plotting how you can achieve them, before leaping into a project. 'Very pertinent to here,' he adds.

But he felt you either stayed two years or for life at Mars, so he leapt into a job at the Telegraph newspaper group. Why media sales? He has no idea, except that, while his family was in Edinburgh, his mother - 'formidable but lovable' - had worked as secretary to the managing director of The Scotsman. Maybe his interest was piqued. It was also 'a funny time' at the Telegraph, he says, Conrad Black had just taken over, new working methods were being introduced. Crozier's love of change, perhaps, just drew him in.

And it was there that Crozier made the first and, so far, the only big mistake of his working life. Keen to impress in his first sales job and struggling to make an impact in a media recession, he exaggerated to his bosses the amount of money he was taking in from advertisers - in other words, falsified his own figures. At the time, he nearly lost his job over the incident. It was, as he now admits, a pretty naive action, but one that, he says, 'has been blown up out of all proportion' since he took on the job of FA chief.

'It was just stupid,' says Crozier now. 'I tried to exaggerate that I had done better than I had and rightly I got rapped over the knuckles for it.'

Did he think then it could be a career-killer? 'No, I was 23 and I just thought: 'God I am embarrassed, how could I have been that stupid?' But in the long run it has been a good thing, it has reminded me that you have to do things absolutely straight, it's made that crystal clear.'

In fact, virtually everyone had forgotten about the incident until the Telegraph dug up the story soon after his FA appointment. That's the price you pay for living in the spotlight.

It does, however, put him in a difficult position, especially when he insists that the one thing he won't tolerate is staff who deliberately mislead him. Isn't that kind of assertion a mite dangerous after what he did at the Telegraph?

'No,' he says firmly, 'that was just a silly mistake and people make them every day... It's about crossing something deliberately, more a people thing...'

And despite his insistence that he was promoted to Scottish sales manager just two months after the incident, he didn't stay long at the Telegraph, accepting a job at Saatchi's, which, he said, had been after him for months.

There, in 1988, he really found his feet, moving through media, becoming a board director within two years and MD just four years after that.

What was it like? 'Amazing, fantastic,' says Crozier. 'Saatchi's was expanding massively, and it was all about how good you were, no time-serving nonsense. The whole spirit was very positive, very uncynical, no problem too great. And it was a real fun place to be. It was an intoxicating mix.'

Those who worked with him then remember him as driven, controlled, cool - but not cold. He also had a good eye for what was going on elsewhere.

'He didn't have the insular perspective of many in advertising and, coming from media, he was good with facts and figures,' says one ex-Saatchi staffer.

If he had a flaw as a boss, it was that he always liked to tie up matters tidily, often promising that people would do things before he had even consulted them - a trait that would annoy some colleagues.

They were also tickled by the fact that the softly spoken Crozier, who rarely had more than a couple of drinks with his workmates, seemed strangely drawn to larger-than-life figures such as Sky TV's Sam Chisholm, and Talk Radio's Kelvin MacKenzie, with whom he became close.

'Adam was always lending Kelvin an office when he needed it,' remembers one friend, 'and it's the only time I've seen Adam be a little bit dirty, a bit naughty. Kelvin would come in and shout, in his normal way, 'You're a complete ****, Crozier!' and Adam would just love it.'

MacKenzie, for his part, says he has long been an admirer of Crozier's 'steely' determination.

And certainly, Crozier, by that stage, had found his metier: being in charge. He could run his own staff and mollify the big company bosses that came through Saatchi's doors without ceding power. Notice, too, how he has brought together such disparate club chairmen as Arsenal's David Dein and Chelsea's Ken Bates at the FA. 'I realised that is probably what I am best at, the ability to be in control.'

That extends to his personal life, where he admits he is, by nature, 'a bit of a control freak'. He likes routine, rarely lets go, sticks to a hard core of old university friends, has always been a pernickety dresser, hates it when little things go wrong. Like many executives who thrive on change, he says he likes everything outside work to be 'settled': family, home, lifestyle.

He met his wife, Annette, at Saatchi's, where they both pitched for Sky's business - 'Three days after they asked us to work on it we moved in together,' he laughs. (The dedication paid off: they won the business.)

They have two little girls, Molly and Grace, and a nice house in Teddington, in London's leafier suburbia. They like going to the pictures, eating at restaurants, taking the kids out on Sundays. 'Yeah, it's really dull, but I just love it, I love my family to bits, maybe because I had a close, stable upbringing.'

His eldest daughter is severely mentally handicapped, something that Saatchi colleagues felt must make enormous emotional demands on him.

And if anything was going to stand in the way of his accepting the FA job it was his sense of how it might affect the family. Getting stalked by photographers, getting pilloried in the tabloids - it's all part of the job description. 'I don't think any other chief executive gets the kind of pressure we get here... I am starting to become conscious that I am, to a certain extent, public property, which frankly is not always very nice.'

He got a real sense of it during the furore over hooliganism in Charleroi at Euro 2000 this summer. 'You ask about stress. I remember having to go into a press conference with 300 journalists and 50 TV crews in one gymnasium. It was pandemonium, cameras up your nose as you walk in, answering questions that affect the whole nation and how it feels about itself. You do feel under pressure.'

If former colleagues note that he looks edgier now, that's why. Pressure takes its toll. 'Annette is very supportive,' says Crozier, giving a rare insight into his emotional life, 'but I think she worries about what it is doing to me, more than anything.'

Yet few at Saatchi's were surprised that he took the FA job. He had been advising the FA, via a recommendation from Inchcape, on presentation matters for a couple of years around the 2006 World Cup bid, and everyone who worked with him knew how obsessed he was with football. He was a familiar sight, old Celtic shirt flapping outside his shorts, turning out for the Saatchi team that played under floodlights at King's Cross. What they didn't know was that he had already turned down the chance to become chief executive at Celtic - a challenge he felt not big enough for his ambitions, despite being an ardent fan.

So why did he say yes to the FA? 'Because if the FA was ever going to change it was going to be now. The last year was as bad as it could have been, it had lost its chairman, its chief executive and the England manager... All they said to me was: We want to change, but we don't know how. Can you do it?'

He didn't need asking twice. He felt he had gone as far as he could at Saatchi's and was already looking round for new challenges. And what did he find at the FA?

'It was a shambles. People didn't know who they reported to, no-one knew what they had to achieve, when they talked of the culture they used words like fear, suspicion, mistrust. It swiftly became clear that there was a bigger job to do than I realised.' So a new structure was introduced, fresh talent from Guinness, Barclays, Freshfields, Mars brought in, staff reduced to around 200.

Then there was the money. Colleagues at Saatchi had pointed out to him how undermarketed a resource English football was. The Premiership clubs in England were making a mint from television and sponsorship - why wasn't the sport's governing body? Crozier hasn't wasted any time on that score either. 'Last year, profit was around pounds 3 million. Next year, following all the deals we've done, profit will be around pounds 125 million.'

And being a Scot running England wasn't a problem? Silly question... 'It wasn't an issue. It was just about getting the best person for the job, as with the England manager. It's what I said to people this morning. I do understand why people have this thing about foreigners but they have to get real. It's great England won the World Cup in 1966 but that was over 34 years ago. We've been banging our heads against a brick wall ever since, got absolutely nowhere and if business teaches you anything it is that there is a time to stop running into that brick wall and do it a different way.'

So who did he support when England played Scotland last year? 'It was two months before I started so I didn't have to worry about it. I think people would forgive me if I said that was one match I would cheer for Scotland on a personal level.'

And how did he assess England's performance in Europe 2000? 'Crap,' he says succinctly.

Ah. Crozier, as I write this, is already in trouble for his comments about Keegan's man-management skills - that press again - but he stresses that he always got on well with the former England boss, sees him as a close friend, even if he was, well, surprised at the timing of his resignation.

But what can he do about something like that? Likewise performance on the pitch. All he can do is get the best manager in, and give him the best possible backing. Otherwise it's out of his hands. He's got other issues to concentrate on: getting the income sorted, getting Wembley rebuilt, getting the Government - any government - to take hooliganism seriously.

In short, a lot to be getting on with. But he likes the big challenges, he never panics. He says he gets that from his father, and before I go, he tells me an anecdote from his childhood. One day, going to school, he left a plug in a basin in an upstairs bathroom with the tap running.

When he got home that afternoon, the whole house had flooded and a ceiling had collapsed. 'And my dad just looked at me, and he said: 'Well, Adam, you won't do that again, will ye?' And that was it.'

His dad was right, he laughs. Ever since, he's had an obsession with checking that taps are turned off. But it taught him more than that: it taught him a whole approach to life. Stay calm, get it in perspective, think before you holler.

It will stand him in good stead at the FA. How long will he be given? He says, as long as it takes. Others aren't quite so sure. His friends expect him to be out, running a massive media company before he's 41. We shall see.

CROZIER IN A MINUTE

1964 Born in Falkirk on 26 January 1964. Educated Graeme High School and Herriot Watt university

1984 Graduate trainee, Mars Pedigree Petfood

1986 Media sales, Daily Telegraph

1988 Media executive, Saatchi & Saatchi

1990 Media director, Saatchi & Saatchi

1993 Vice-chairman, Saatchi & Saatchi

1994 Joint managing director, Saatchi & Saatchi

2000 Chief executive, Football Association.

Find this article useful?

Get more great articles like this in your inbox every lunchtime

Subscribe

Get your essential reading delivered. Subscribe to Management Today