Rugby is a close-knit community where camaraderie is highly valued. It’s no surprise, then, that CEOs of the 10 Premiership clubs have a WhatsApp group.

“We know we can rely on each other. I can reach out to ask things. It helps broaden our knowledge and horizons,” says Andrea.

That’s particularly important during the current period of financial uncertainty that rugby clubs face. Leaders like Andrea take a pragmatic approach to the business of being successful.

Her CEO remit encompasses motivator, teamworker and good communicator. Plus, of course, the need to balance the books.

Defining success

Defining the shape of success is probably where a typical business ethos differs significantly from a sports club. “I think sport and profitability are odd words to have in the same sentence,” Andrea says. “For us, the key objective is to work towards sustainability.”

She measures sustainability in terms of longevity as well as being more environmentally focused.

“We have extremely supportive shareholders who want us to be a sustainable business, so we can have a club here for many years to come.”

As well as getting shareholders on their side, supporting the local community also delivers long-term benefits that support sustainability.

“For example, we visit inner city schools that might have just a bit of concrete as a playground, where we build their knowledge and interest in rugby,” she explains.

“And we offer support in other ways, by using rugby as a tool to boost numeracy and literacy. Understanding the game certainly improves your maths!”

Andrea Pinchen, Leicester Tigers’ CEO, standing in the stands at the Leicester Tigers' ground
Andrea Pinchen, Leicester Tigers’ CEO

The worst thing for me would be if someone said ‘I daren’t try something new because what if it fails?’. Why wouldn’t you want to make a difference and sometimes act out of the ordinary?

Motivated to be better

Andrea aims to keep her business team as motivated as Tigers players are on a match day. “What I take great pride in is our people delivering our product. All our hard work comes to fruition on a Saturday when you can see the fans’ excitement. For me, it’s about seeing my staff grow and evolve to be the best that they can be.”

Motivation is a two-way endeavour at the club. Andrea ensures players learn about life behind the scenes, which includes time spent working in different business departments. “It gives them a good feel for how much goes into putting together a match day.”

Meanwhile, she also pursues her own learning experience by hotdesking, so she works more closely with colleagues. “Initially people thought I was checking up on them, but I replied I needed to learn from them. It helps me to identify inefficiencies in how we operate and make sure my team receives the support it needs. Until you learn that, you can’t really make the right decisions about the business.”

Having always worked in male-dominated industries, her advice to women for achieving their career ambitions is the same as she’d give anyone. “Believe in yourself. Sometimes the only thing stopping us is ourselves – our self-doubt. Just go for it.”

Ready to listen

Andrea is a keen promoter of honest and transparent communications. Her previous career in the airline industry at Emirates, with roles from senior cabin crew to running security and leadership training, honed her communications skills.

“Working with people of many nationalities I learned from different cultures and experiences. I don’t go into situations thinking ‘I’m right, you’re wrong’. You have to accept differences and build on them to get the best out of everybody.”

This point brings her onto how diversity and inclusion can benefit business. “Ten people around a table trying to solve a problem all with the same background and upbringing will probably deliver the same answer.

“With greater diversity, you’ll get 10 possible solutions and that’s massively valuable in any business to avoid just going down one track.”

Andrea Pinchen, Leicester Tigers’ CEO, chatting in the stands
Andrea Pinchen, Leicester Tigers’ CEO

Without open conversations, I don't see how you'll be successful because I think everyone will just stay in their own silos and keep their heads down.

Building a successful brand

Andrea’s experience in her 20 years with the Tigers encompasses many disciplines. She started as ticket sales manager then commercial manager before becoming chief operating officer and then CEO. 

The timing of her appointment as CEO in 2020 could have been better – it coincided with the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“It was a surreal period,” she recalls. “Business pretty much stopped overnight with no income stream as there were no games. Surviving was our first priority. I learned some of the harshest and quickest business lessons of my career.”

With the Covid-19 years behind the club, she sees a positive future. “One of the learnings all businesses can take from the pandemic is not to sit still. You’ve got to keep pushing forward, finding new and innovative ways to work.”

Broadening income streams

This approach is crucial with rugby-related revenue being only one element in Andrea’s financial equation. For example, the Tigers’ 26,000-seat Mattioli Woods Welford Road stadium hosts a limited number of games each season.

A significant source of additional income is via the neighbouring hotel and open plaza. The club owns the land and was instrumental in its development. “The hotel’s conference facilities attract multinational companies to hold events here,” she says.

As well as networking with other rugby CEOs to help strengthen the Tigers’ future prospects, Andrea also taps into Leicester’s strong sporting ecosystem.

The football club is a stone’s throw away and the city benefits from a strong cricket, basketball and speedway presence. For example, the rugby and football clubs share catering resources to help manage costs.

“We all work really well together and support each other. There are also the universities nearby,” she says. “So, we’re really blessed with a community that we can each help develop, and that works for us.”

Looking to youth

As with all top-level sports clubs, nurturing homegrown talent ensures effective succession planning. Youth and academy activities are important at Leicester Tigers.

“Putting it bluntly, there’s a financial impetus as well,” says Andrea. “There are salary caps on what we can spend per player, so having youth players breaking into the first team helps us manage this. We can buy in some superstars as well as develop our own.”