Meet new chairman Rob Butcher Simon Rimmer
Newly elected WRU Chairman Robert Butcher at his local rugby club Bargoed RFC. New chairman Robert Butcher has reflected on his journey from Bargoed to the boardroom as he assumes the chair of the Welsh Rugby Union.
In an interview with WRU TV, he talks about the ‘humbling’ moment he won the chairmanship and explains why his tenure will initially only span a one-year term. After 21-years as secretary to Bargoed Rugby Club, and being awarded lifetime membership, Butcher joined the WRU Board in 2015. He promptly joined both the community rugby committee and performance sub-committee as vice-chair in each case, as well as taking on a variety of other roles including a place on the World Rugby council. When the WRU modernised its governance structure in 2019 he was selected to chair the Community Rugby Board and regularly attends Professional Rugby Board (PRB) sessions as a result. Although his public profile outside of the corridors of power at the WRU has been limited to date, he quickly emerged as one of the front runners to succeed Gareth Davies after the chairman’s position became vacant. He puts this down to the time he has invested in establishing strong relationships throughout the game. “It had never been an ambition of mine to reach for the Chairmanship, but this is the way the cards fell and so many people encouraged me and showed faith in me along the way that the sheer weight of evidence out there, that people had confidence in me, led me to make my bid,” said Butcher, who has also served a distinguished and decorated career in education alongside dedicating his spare time to his beloved Bargoed. “My appointment on Sunday (8th Nov) came at the end of a nerve-wracking day. My approach (when addressing the Board) was that I genuinely wanted the Chairmanship, that I would do everything in my power to be successful in the role and I believed I was the best person to take the Union forward at this time. “When the result came, I don’t mind admitting I had to pinch myself and my emotions were a mixture of excited, pleased and really humbled by the faith shown in me. “I’m delighted to be here, but I know there are huge challenges ahead. These are challenges that would be there for anyone who takes on the role.” Butcher’s credentials in the community game and experience of the professional game on PRB are expected to be a unifying force for Welsh rugby.
That’s why the distinguished WRU Board, made up of the likes of Aviva plc CEO Amanda Blanc, former Mars executive Vice-President Aileen Richards and WRU CEO Steve Phillips – to name just a few – appointed Butcher as their new leader. “We have a Board of 12 and a further eleven elected Council members who provide us with a wealth of experience,” says Butcher, as he describes the kind of chairman he intends to become – one that gets the very best out of those around him. “We have a current CEO of a FTSE 100 company (Blanc), alongside another former CEO of a huge multinational company and another business executive still involved in the upper echelons of the business world in our appointed Non-Executive Directors (Tim Griffin and Aileen Richards respectively). “We also have a huge amount of financial experience and, in CEO Steve Phillips, we have the person best placed to lead us through the current economic climate. “I’ve been in positions all my life where I’ve been able to observe leadership in action and I am someone who is constantly learning from others. “I learn something new every day and I intend to take on the best characteristics of those around me and those who have gone before me. My style is not dictatorial, I’m a great listener and I genuinely care about people. “I have a collaborative approach and I believe the best decisions are reached only after a variety of views have been aired and listened to. “Of course I have my own opinions and viewpoints, but whenever a decision is to be made, when I’ve been involved, it is the consensus that wins out. That may even mean that my first opinion is overturned, but the excellent leaders are the ones that bring people together.” Keen to talk about the team around him, colleagues on the WRU Board, President Gerald Davies and the executive team and staff at the Union, Butcher does not court the limelight, but neither does he intend to hide in the shadows. He is hugely passionate about Welsh rugby in general. It all starts for him in Bargoed and he may have travelled far from humble beginnings but it is impossible to disguise the empathy he has for the current challenges facing the game at all levels and the determination which emanates from him to put everything right, everywhere. “I want to be in a situation where 99-per-cent of things are right with Welsh rugby, but even then there will always be one-per-cent to be improved and this will be where we will direct all of our energies,” he continues. “We will solve the problems that are put in front of us, not to do so is unimaginable and no one else is going to do it for us. “My mantra is that we all have the responsibility to do the right thing for both for rugby and for the Welsh communities in which we operate. We know what we can do, but we should also always ask ourselves what should we do? “I am proud of the comments we made as the WRU at the start of this journey through the pandemic. “We addressed our 300-plus clubs and told them that we would do everything we could to get everybody through to the other side of this situation intact. Rob Butcher says he is a great listener and I genuinely care about people “This is a difficult task, but I genuinely believe we have the right skills at our disposal to achieve it. “Our clubs, who are the heartbeat of our game, are striving for survival themselves, but they also know that the professional game needs to be a success in order for us to improve the chances of long term sustainability for all. We are all in this together and, most importantly, this self-awareness is there.” So how does he intend to achieve success and sustainability for all – what is the Rob Butcher vision? He is happy to describe it, but he does so in the most humble of terms, for Rob it’s most definitely not all about him. “I don’t regard myself as a visionary, but I am someone who has a really good understanding of how to build on all the positive elements of Welsh rugby,” he said. “Welsh rugby is part of our lives and it is a huge strength that when the autumn internationals are to be played or when the Six Nations comes around, that we suddenly have a nation of three million people with a vested interest in all that we do. “A successful Welsh team gives us capacity grounds and commercial revenue through sponsorships and partnerships that is invested in the game at all levels. It is our responsibility to both facilitate this and manage improvement and progress along the way. “Welsh rugby is a living and breathing entity, there are elements that will be a constant work in progress. “But I’ve been lucky enough to travel all over world during my time and when I say where I’m from the conversation always turns to rugby. It’s such a huge part of Wales’ profile around the globe and that is a strength, but we are also a multi-faceted entity. “We are 300-plus clubs, four professional regions and a national game, but in there you also have the male game, the female game, the disability provision and an opportunity for people of all shapes, sizes, backgrounds, abilities and aptitudes to interact both on and off the field. The community game is the heartbeat of what we are about, but that heartbeat needs a blood supply and that is where the professional game comes in. “We must manage the revenue potential of the game to maximum effect in order to sustain it and I’m confident that we have the skills and expertise at the highest level of the Union to do that.” So, finally, if the right skills and expertise are now in place, why the one-year term? “I think when you’re successful, that’s the right time to look at change,” he adds. “Ever since I joined the Board five years ago there has been a desire to modernise our governance. “It has not been easy, but we have made progress on this front, with significant changes coming in. “But we know that more progress must be made. We live in an ever-changing world and our governance model must evolve alongside. We need to be fit and agile as a Board and able to move as conditions change. “For me change is a continuum and one good example of this is the recent decision the Board made on the tenure of its chairman. Before I was voted in, we discussed the prospect of the successful candidate sitting for three, two or a one-year term. “The Board concluded that, at a time of great change in the game, a one-year term would be most appropriate on this occasion, with a view to revisiting the decision in 12-months’ time. “I think this is a great example of the Board adapting to the circumstances it is presented with. “It’s a decision taken that I fully support, something that is not about me, but about what is the best decision for the union.”