Francis Baron: If I had to start again...

The outgoing Rugby Football Union boss tells MT what he would have done differently.

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

I had no real aspirations to play sport at a high level, but I regret not getting a rugby Blue at Cambridge; I just missed it two years running.

I studied mechanical sciences at university, so I trained as an engineer. I worked for Marconi for 18 months, but I soon realised it wasn't for me. Engineering was a bit too regimented: you didn't get much chance to use your initiative. So I decided on a complete change of career at the age of 21 and went into marketing.

I ended up at WH Smith, where I launched four satellite channels in the early days of satellite TV, and went on to do a turnaround at a travel company called Owners Abroad. I'm proud of saving a company that was on the point of going under, and then re-launching it, successfully, as First Choice Holidays in 1994 - although, with the benefit of hindsight, we should have left this a year later, rather than doing it just as the UK was entering a major recession.

In my first 18 months at the Rugby Football Union, I tried to run it as a plc, but I quickly learned that the job was more complex. The grass-roots game is run by an army of 50,000 volunteers; you have to get out and explain your decisions to these people, because you need their support. So I had to change my approach - to become more diplomatic and persuasive, to spend more time listening.

Hiring coaches was the hardest part of the job. They're picked by a committee of experts - but if they don't work out, it's the poor old CEO who has to fire them.

Still, there's no major thing I'd have done differently. There have been difficult times, but I think we've got the big decisions right. It has been an honour to serve the game, and I'm proud of making it one of the most financially strong sporting bodies in the UK. Now it's time to let my successor build the team that will help England win the World Cup in 2015.

Francis Baron will leave the Rugby Football Union in July, after 12 years as CEO.

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