Man Utd FD: Tough to tackle

Nick Humby is the latest in a long line of accountants and other businessmen and women to face threats of direct-action protests.

Only a couple of years ago John Coombe, chief financial officer of pharmaceutical giant GSK, was a victim of a campaign to close down Huntingdon Life Sciences – a campaign that reached Deloitte’s staff and offices and persuaded the firm to resign its audit.

The Manchester United FD’s protagonists are different. Styling themselves as the Manchester Education Committee, they are a secretive and committed group that has already proved itself willing to take direct action in its efforts to thwart an expected £800m takeover bid by US businessman Malcolm Glazer.

Militant fans have already invaded the pitch at a reserve team game and vandalised the car of one director who sold a million shares to Glazer. And according to The Guardian, they are planning to target other directors, including Humby and commercial director Andy Anson – both of whom the MEC believes are not averse to the idea of Glazer taking control.

In the world of football, passions run high, though there is no justification for the sort of action that the MEC advocates. And Humby makes an unlikely target. Yes, he may control the purse strings, but he is by his own admission naturally introverted.

He is cagey, too, and does not share the ego of many of his fellow Manchester United employees. ‘I doubt the players would know who I am,’ he once told Accountancy Age. Though that might have changed when, earlier this year, he ushered in an open-book policy on fees paid to players’ agents.

After qualifying with the then Price Waterhouse, Humby joined Franco-American engineering company Schlumberger. He then moved to WH Smith television and began working behind the scenes in the world of entertainment. After five years, he went to work for Thames Television during the period when it was bidding for a broadcast licence.

Humby left the television sector and picked up the Manchester United job in 2002 in a rather unusual way for top executives – by replying to an ad in a newspaper.

The 46-year-old Humby is well rewarded for holding down the biggest finance job in football – bonuses and other payments took his basic salary to nearly ¶£300,000 last year.

All the same, he will be hoping that any further protests about a potential sale of United will be lawful.

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