On track for gold: Commonwealth Games FD

For the 38-year-old blonde-haired FD’s role at this summer’s showpiece event – the third biggest sporting tournament in the world – has been very much that of a sprinter: years of preparation, organisation and planning followed by a short operational dash – just 11 days – ending with the wind-down to the end of the year.

Speaking from the plush executive lounge overlooking the running track, as last-minute preparations are made to the 38,000-seater stadium around him, Leather speaks nostalgically of his five-year involvement with the games. It began when he was seconded from a senior managerial role at KPMG in 1997 to ‘do some financial planning for the games’.

Five months later, the ICAEW-trained accountant was offered the position of FD and later deputy chief executive taking in roles that included finance, risk management, procurement and broadcasting.

A unique experience
From the beginning the job has been unique. ‘There is no business I can think of where you plan something for five years, run it for eleven days, build up a work force from five to 550 people and then wind it down very quickly,’ Leather says energetically.After 13 years with KPMG, taking on the role was certainly challenging. From the start there were no benchmarks against which to measure success, the only models he had to work against were the 1991 Sheffield World Student Games.

They were a lot smaller in terms of finance and international profile, though they more than made up for that in terms of financial controversy. A decade on, council tax payers are still footing the bill.

The only other recent comparable event in the UK has been the 1986 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh. But again they were also on a much smaller scale.

This national lack of experience has not made it easier for Leather. ‘You have the challenge of the workforce, the challenge of not knowing how it should be done, raising the money and working out how to spend it,’ he says.

Much of the financing has come from the public sector with £43.5m coming from Manchester city council, £119.4m from Sport England and £7.9m from various other sources.

This has gone into developing the new stadium, which cost £110m, building the cycling velodrome, aquatics centre, bowling green, hockey pitches and the national shooting centre.

Glowing with pride Leather calls the velodrome ‘the best stadium of its kind in England, if not Europe’, with a capacity of 20,000 and state-of-the-art facilities.

Under public scrutiny
Naturally, the use of public funds has put Leather and his team under incredible scrutiny following high-profile disasters such as the Millennium Dome and the continually stalled Wembley Project – not to mention the corporate accounting scandals at Enron and WorldCom.

As a result, the financial books of the games are under close watch from a range of sources. The finance committee has independent representatives: with three non-executive directors and a chairman appointed by Manchester city council it meets monthly and produces an ‘enormous financial packet which includes all results’.

External auditors are Ernst & Young, in addition to Leather’s own internal audit team, which scrutinises all the results.

Furthermore, PricewaterhouseCoopers is ‘permanently engaged’ by the government as independent auditors and they attend all audit committee and finance meetings.To top it all off, the Commonwealth Games Federation does its own audits, as do auditors from the National Audit Office.

As Leather says: ‘We are almost inundated with independent auditors. One of the differences between this and other jobs is the level of political involvement and the fact that everyone has an interest in the success of the games.’

And Leather does see the games in their far wider context, beyond the 11 days of competition.

No white elephants
All venues have been built with permanent use in mind. Soon after the 5,000 international athletes and thousands of spectators depart the games, 10,000 additional seats will be added to the City of Manchester Stadium and the athletics pitch will be pulled up in favour of a football ground. The stadium will then become the homeground for recently-promoted premiership team Manchester City.

According to Leather, none of the other venues have provided any revenue problems for the council. The velodrome is already in use, while the aquatic centre is a huge success as both a training and leisure facility for the public.

Leather says: ‘Manchester has been particularly focused on ensuring we do not have any white elephants. There is no question of that happening.’

On an even wider scale, the games have helped regenerate some of the most neglected areas of Manchester and created 6,000 new jobs.

On the subject of success, off the pitch, Leather says the games are not about making a profit, since any public funding that is not used will be returned.

‘Financial success is making sure all the commercial revenue we target we achieve. I expect to do that from our sponsorships, licensing, merchandising and hospitality contracts.’

One of the challenges for Leather has been managing the 500 contracts that have been set up – another unique aspect of the event.

This presents its own problems because there is no ability to sort things out next year. As he puts it: ‘There is no rollover.’

Overall he believes the games are financially sound – what will really put Manchester on the map, he feels, will be a successful tournament, and that depends on how well Britain’s athletes do and how smoothly the event runs.

Things are looking good, venues are filling up and Leather says the athletics stadium is expected to be full every evening of competition, while the rugby sevens and swimming has already sold out.

Says Leather: ‘Normally an athletics event will sell 12,000 tickets on a good day. We have sold three times as many as that for all five days of competition.’

Who’s coming?
Big names to watch out for on the British side include the sprinters Chambers and Lewis-Francis, triple jumper Jonathan Edwards and long-distance runner Paula Radcliffe. The international list is headed by Aussie swimming sensation and Olympic champion Ian ‘Torpedo’ Thorpe, Mozambique’s 800m queen Maria Mutola and Namibian dasher Frankie Fredericks.

When competition ceases on 4 August, the wind-down is expected to be plain sailing. According to Leather, he wants to leave ‘a straight edge’ under the games when all is done and dusted.

To make things easier, most of the contracts are fixed price, but where this is not the case mechanisms have been put into place to control costs.

‘My contract and that of my team is extended to the end of the year.’

There will be some work required from a finance point of view, this all depends how long it takes to pay off contractors.

Then there will be the writing of debriefs and reports in September, the sale of all assets, and vacating the more than 20 venues the Games’ personnel occupy.

And when he finally shuts his office door on 31 December, what then for Leather, a self-confessed sports lover and someone who swims at least four times a week?

He says his next challenge will be finding something to do that is equally unique. ‘I have enjoyed being involved in a sport event, it is a very exciting job and has taken me a long way from the financial world. Finding something that is as challenging as this will be very interesting.’

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