Today’s mid-week interview sees me speak to UCFB’s football business leader and football business consultant, Christopher Winn. Chris talks about his unique journey into sport, the power of networking, converting challenges into a way to build character alongside his invaluable nuggets of sports career guidance.
Q1) Chris, it’s fantastic to have you on Ash’s Sports Talk. Let’s kick this off by understanding how your career in sport began.
At a young age, I knew that I wanted to work in football. I remember sending out lots of emails trying to secure work placements, internships and not having much luck. Early doors, it felt quite different as most of my friends and peers were chasing more traditional industries
However, I knew it was going to be challenging, and I decided to follow the most-conventional route into the industry, that being to get a degree in something business-related, and follow this up with a graduate scheme accompanied by professional qualification. In my case, I went to the University of Bath to study Economics, which led me to a role at KPMG as an audit senior. After this, I studied an MBA at the University of Liverpool in Football Industries. Shortly after my Masters, I got picked up by Adidas as an Internal Controls Manager for their Northern European market. This was followed up by me joining Deloitte Sports Business Group as a Sports Business Consultant for three and a half years which now finds me at UCFB as a programme leader and football business consultant.
Q2) What’s really interesting about your sports career is that you’ve come from an external background in the finance sector whilst at Amazon and KPMG. On this note, how instrumental are transferable skills in the sports industry, and how did this make you stand out?
When it comes to transferable skills, it had a domino effect in my circumstance. While I was studying at the University of Bath, I had a work placement at Amazon as a Finance Analyst. I started out as an intern in the finance team; despite this, I was learning essential skills in day-to-day business operations. As we all know, football is a business meaning this experience was transferable. This also supported my role at KPMG as I was regularly number crunching, managing and communicating with a diverse clientele and other team members. These experiences also helped me develop more specific attributes, such as communication, work ethic and continuous professional development which are invaluable in sport.
Never take whatever your work experience is for granted as it can serve you well in mysterious ways. I found that when I got to my roles at Deloitte and Adidas if I hadn’t of come from prior experiences at the level of a global brand, I wouldn’t have progressed into sport the way I did due to the skills I built up in those environments.
With perseverance and faith for a healthier economy after COVID19, things will come together! It does take time, and this message is what I relay to my students at UCFB, you mustn’t lose sight, you will still have the opportunity to achieve that long-term vision with consistency and keeping your finger on the pulse.
Q3) You’re role at UCFB looks fantastic. Could you share more about what you’re responsible for and what inspired you to make the transition back into education from your position at Deloitte?
After three and a half fantastic years at Deloitte, I fancied doing something different as I achieved what I set my mind to within that role. I decided to take a summer break to think about my next move. My network was instrumental to my next career step, and something I learnt about the sports industry is it’s so large on the outside but small on the inside.
Throughout my time at Deloitte, I ran some day-long sports master courses at the Johan Cruyff Institute in Barcelona, where I came across an Alumnus from the University of Liverpool who had previously been a lecturer at UCFB. We got talking, and he thought I’d be an excellent fit for UCFB, he then spoke to his ex-colleagues at the organisation and the next thing I know I’m coming into UCFB for a chat about what I can offer. Essentially, I was in the right place at the right time, and my network played an integral role in where I am now.
In terms of what I do, I’m the programme lead for the MSc Football Business at the Etihad Campus in Manchester, Wembley Stadium in London, as well for our Online cohort, where I teach topics specialising in finance, governance and regulation at masters level, as well as accountancy and finance at undergraduate level. Away from teaching side, I have other responsibilities including writing content, and representing the organisation when it comes to media comments on football finance matters across TV, radio and written press which has been a fantastic experience.
Q4) Back in 2019, you had a feature on Business Because which outlined your transition into sport from the banking sector. I noticed networking was a hot topic, could you share with the readers how you built an effective sports industry network and whether this is still applicable to this day?
I tell my students to make the most of the network available at University. This is what you’re paying for alongside your academia. You have a window of opportunity where you can reach out to so many people in sport, and the fact you’re studying a sport-related degree definitely gives you a leg up in that respect. Not only do you have connections within the University, but you also have relationships outside of the institute that the University knows which you could have the ability to contact.
The power of a network stands you in great stead for the future that can open up multiple avenues for you. During my masters, the Deloitte Sports Business Group used to come in and present to us, I made an effort to introduce myself, kept in touch and then came over to Manchester to meet with some of the team in person to seek career advice and guidance. A year later, I applied for a role within that team; they knew who I was, and I imagine this contributed to securing a position.
It’s also vital to remember that building a network won’t be spoon-fed to you. It’s down to the individual to have the courage to reach out, get a coffee with a connection, jumping on a phone call seeking career advice etc. It’s amazing how it works if you stay persistent, for example, I remember having a quick phone call with Chelsea FC’s Finance Manager some time back whilst job hunting which happened from me reaching out to him. It got my name out there and provided me with an opportunity to learn from someone at a senior level in the industry.
My methods still stand to this day. Of course, the pandemic affects how many people you see in person; however, it could open up more free time in people’s diaries to hop onto a zoom/teams call, so use that to your advantage.
Q5) Re-visiting your University experience. What differences have you found with regards to preparing students for pursuing a career in sport compared to your current role at UCFB?
It’s been a similar experience. Both periods have featured a dedicated careers team to ensure CV’s are relevant and exciting, which still counts to this day. For example, if I was reviewing a CV from an application to Deloitte while I was there and they hadn’t made an effort to demonstrate how their skills and experiences are relevant to the role, it wouldn’t be as interesting to look at. This is what the careers teams are great at doing, picking out how you can make your experiences applicable to a role despite yourself not previously having had much experience in the niche you want to move towards.
A key piece of advice I give to my students now is to remain patient, particularly in current times and the sports industry is a tough nut to crack early on. As mentioned earlier, capitalising on building a network is crucial, considering how well it served me.
Q6) As we both know, the sports industry presents multiple obstacles to overcome due to its competitive nature. Would you mind sharing some of the challenges you’ve experienced, and, how have these allowed you to develop into an even more vital sports sector asset?
The greatest challenge I faced was persevering when times were hard. I remember while I was working at KPMG, I was taking my accountancy exams which was quite a stressful time for me. Every student had three attempts at the final exams, and I failed the same one each time by extremely narrow margins. I was self-funding retakes too which cost me a fortune, but I was coming right towards the end of my studies meaning I couldn’t give up. I even lost my job at the time as I was on a graduate scheme at KPMG on the basis that I’d pass my exams within the set number of attempts which didn’t happen whilst working there.
I then began to job search for multiple positions while also applying to take my exam for the fourth time which cost me an arm and a leg as I sent myself to the best college in the country in order to pass my final exam and qualify. Despite this, I still applied to do an MBA, which I’m very thankful for as they accepted me while I continued to finish my accountancy studies.
Regardless of the exam struggles, it gave me a very thick skin, resilience to deal with pressure, disappointment and the knowledge that if you keep working hard and remain determined, you’ll get to where you want to go. It taught me exactly what it means to be emotionally pushed to the limit from a professional perspective, something I learnt from and contributed towho I am today.
Q7) Chris, reflecting on this conversation and your sports career, what is your killer piece of advice for the next generation wanting to pursue a career in sport?
It comes down to patience; success doesn’t happen overnight as it took me nearly a decade to access to the industry. For sure, some will get into sport early doors, and that’s great for them, however, if you carefully craft your skill sets, network, competencies and vision, it will pay off.
Wow, What a fantastic interview with Chris! It was very courageous to hear him openly speak about his struggles on his sports career journey that have built him to become a powerful asset in the industry.