Deloitte's Robert Elstone: The boy done good

by James Bennett

30 Nov 2004

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Link: Deloitte's John Connolly

And those photos are significant.

While Elstone admires the duo for their achievements, the triumphant action shots also symbolise what Deloitte's director of sports business consulting has accomplished in his 10 years in the industry.

From humble and much maligned beginnings as a financial controller at a Barnsley-based lead-processing plant, he has just returned to Deloitte (his first stint started in 1998 as the industry's first ever sports business consultant) to become the director of one of the leading global sports consulting businesses.

'This is the glamorous side to consulting because sport is exciting and can be glamorous,' he says. 'Graduates always ask me how I got into sport and I always say it was sheer dogged persistence, letters and phone calls followed by more letters and phone calls saying: "Can I come and see you"'

The persistence paid off. After qualifying as an accountant with Touche Ross in 1988 and two years in Australia, Elstone secured his dream job ð working for the Rugby Football League. He's still passionate about it and follows from the touchline as a non-executive director of Castleford Tigers.

'In the end I got a response from the chief executive of the RFL, Morris Lindsey, who invited me for an interview. I was in there for two and a half hours and I remember sitting at the end of a big table, smiling politely, nodding to everything he said.'

The dream conclusion to his meeting with Lindsey secured his first step into sports consulting.

'Morris said to me, "I don't care where you work, just go round the departments, find where you can make a contribution and get stuck in." To this day I really want it to succeed as a sport. I was also fantastically lucky because it was six months before the huge influx of money from News Corporation. It went from £500,000 to an £18m TV deal.'

After a three-year spell at the RFL, Elstone got his next break when Gerry Boon, partner and founder of Deloitte?s sports business consulting group, hired him as his first recruit.

Elstone then worked on and secured his first big project with the Football League and then with Norwich City. But after three years with Deloitte, Sky Sports came knocking with an offer that he just couldn?t refuse.

'I got a call out of the blue from a recruitment agency to run BSkyB's commercial interests in football clubs. The opportunity at Sky was because of the brand. It's hard to find a bigger brand than Sky Sports.'

At the time Sky acquired between 5 and 10% of four leading football clubs including Chelsea, Leeds United, Manchester City and Sunderland and advanced significant amounts of money to become their exclusive commercial agent.

Elstone and his team brought in £20m of sponsorship and were at the heart of one of the biggest sporting changes in the modern era ð something he thrived on.

'It was very exciting and I was learning new skills. I was much closer to the clubs themselves and gathered a huge amount of commercial knowledge.'The fortunes of those clubs over the last few years have been amazing. It's a fantastic lesson in what can happen in football.'

Sky has been Elstone's longest job-run to date, but a familiar carrot was recently dangled in front of him ð to return and head up Deloitte's sports consultancy division in Manchester.

'Deloitte has the variety of work, the brand in the industry and the challenges. I can make a difference here by developing new revenue streams and clients, and with the skills and knowledge in the team I know we can grow the business.'

So after taking up fresh challenges on a three-yearly basis, is he here to stay?

'I made a commitment to work in the sports sector and for a while I thought if this doesn't work out what am I going to do? I really didn't want to go back to being an accountant. Sport is fantastically exciting. It's volatile and political -ð they're the things that make it exciting.'

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