What is the attraction between professors and football clubs? First there was Sir Roland Smith, emeritus professor of marketing at University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology, who became chairman of Manchester United in 1988. Then, in late 1993, Professor Tom Cannon, former head of Manchester Business School, led a consortium in an unsuccessful attempt to buy Everton FC. Most recently, early last year, Professor Stuart Timperley, a senior faculty member at London Business School, was appointed chairman of First Division Watford FC.
Watford, as Timperley well knows, has a colourful and often troubled history: owned by Elton John, managed by Graham Taylor, nearly bought by Robert Maxwell (he was stopped by the Football League) and then, in 1990, acquired by timeshare millionaire Jack Petchey. Timperley, who grew up in the Wirrall as a Tranmere Rovers fan, joined the board that same year.
Now, having taken the chair, he has started to put into practice his business-school preaching on corporate transition, cultural evolution, human resource management and strategic change. One of his first moves was to introduce supporters' forums and appoint a new commercial director.
Yet aside from an improved cash flow from transfer fees, the club is still trying to cut costs to reduce a trading loss for last year of £1.4 million. `In commercial terms the club has been underperforming very badly and, after almost eight years of drift, was in need of leadership and direction,' says Timperley, who has previously served on the boards of Freightliners and International Leisure Group - and currently acts as a senior adviser to Allied Domecq. `Football clubs are notoriously tough things to manage,' he admits - even, it seems, for professors.