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Q&A with Graham Wallace: 'We will not go into administration again'

Did you realise the scale of the politics you would face as a chief executive of Rangers?

Graham Wallace has assured Ally McCoist, the Rangers manager, that his job is safe. Picture: Rob Casey/SNS
Graham Wallace has assured Ally McCoist, the Rangers manager, that his job is safe. Picture: Rob Casey/SNS

I had a very good idea of what this club means, the environment in which it operates and some of the challenges that are there. I have been south of the border for quite a few years but I was born and raised north of the border so I understand what this club is, what it should be and what we should try to take it back to. I had a good understanding of what I was getting myself into.

What are the prospects of any kind of unity after Thursday's annual general meeting?

We need to start by taking a step back and actually looking at the landscape and the environment in which the requisitioners initially launched their platform with Jim McColl at the head. What were they trying to do? They were trying to petition for better governance, better management, a degree of openness and transparency in the club.

You can understand why people who have the club's best interests at heart would feel that way. The landscape has changed to a degree, with the appointment of myself and a couple of other colleagues to the board bringing professional expertise and experience of working in leading organisations.

Everyone I have spoken to has the best interests of the club at heart. My hope is that we will have a positive agm in so far as establishing a fresh start, a mandate to move forward. I would very much hope that whoever is not appointed to the board - and we live in a democratic society and if shareholders want to appoint one or more requisitioners to the board I have no issue with that, providing the focus is doing the best for the club - can focus on supporting whatever we need to do to take the club back to top. What we want to be reading about is Rangers on the sports pages, the performance of the team, not about boardroom bust-ups.

How confident are you that the members of the current board will remain in situ?

It is too premature to make any comment on that. What I would say is that over the last few weeks we have met with a wide cross section of institutional and private shareholders and we have explained our view on what we are trying to do. If the positive feedback from those conversations is represented in shareholder votes, then I would think we would be in a reasonably strong position.

The red card protest was not the act of a minority, though. Would you accept there is a distrust in the board and how do you address that?

If you look at what has happened to the club over the past two or three years - and particularly if you look at the management of the club - it is quite understandable regarding fans is that a) they have a voice and b) that you have to earn trust. It does not happen overnight. Quite clearly the red card protest was, as you rightly say, significant and that demonstrates that there is an element that the club has not got quite working to in terms of engagement.

Absolutely as part of our strategy going forward we need to look at how we are engaging with fans. We need to understand what the issues are. We need to think about how the club can recognise those and, probably more importantly, how we can work together to address them.

Some of the institutions have indicated they might vote against incumbents. How do you address that and why would they be worried about incumbents?

Each institution, in the way as each individual shareholder, will take a view based on what is set out in front of them in terms of the calibre of the individuals - have they got prior experience of working with them? Is there a track record? Is there an element of trust? And they will form their view on that. We have done a fairly extensive series of meetings with shareholders and at the end of the day what the shareholders have to decide is what they think is the best make-up of the board of the club.

They are investors, they are in it for a variety of reasons but they all share a common view that they want the club run in a professional way and they want it run with proper governance. The degree of the transparency that we can have - and we have to recognise that we are a public limited company and there are some things that are market sensitive and we have to be very, very careful of - we must be ready to do that.

Non-executive director Norman Crighton is addressing the matter of fundraising. How confident are you that money can be found?

There are a couple of elements worth touching on. In the short-to-medium term there is sufficient cash within the club in order for it to continue trading on a normal basis. There has been speculation externally that we are teetering on the verge of another administration and I can tell you categorically it is not. That's important. On potential, future investment, I think this hinges on is the view we are taking on what this business is going to look like over the coming five years.

Before we go to any investor to talk about specific sums of money we would potentially want, we have to have a very clear idea of what it is we are going to do, what it is that we are using that money for . . . in a way that an investor would look at it and say that there is a solid commercial plan behind this.

It is part of my philosophy that we should develop this short-to-medium vison of what we should be like over the next five years. We are potentially 18 months way from the top division. We want to be competitive in the top division quickly and competitive in European competition. So how do we get from where we are now to there?

We need to do it in a structured way. We need to look at the cost base, the football operational cost base and at our youth development programme and how quickly we can bring that talent through. We have to work with the manager in terms of the squad evolution in terms of where we have gaps, where we have opportunities.

On the income side, the ability for us to attract and retain blue-chip investors who want to be associated with Rangers is a major challenge for us but also a major opportunity. Going out and having conversations with blue-chip [organisations] from a commercial perspective is quite challenging when all they are reading in the business pages is Ibrox turmoil, boardroom battle . . . we want the focus to be on the football and that will give us the platform to grow the commercial side of the business.

You would not rule out talking to Dave King?

I have never met Dave King so I can't make any personal comment on him and what his intentions are. We will develop a solid business plan for the club and from that will flow levels of investment that we may need in the future, and the board will take the view as to where the appropriate places would be to have these investment conversations. What I would say is that, in terms of the shareholder conversations we have had in recent weeks, the general climate and support has been very positive. It is incumbent on us to lay out for future investors and shareholders what the path of the club is. From that, they can make their determinations.

Is your short-term plan an attempt to deal with the realities of the situation?

Yeah, we have to try to step back and set out what we need to do. We have to have a successful club because the fans demand it and everyone in the business expects it. But you need to partner that success with sustainability.

The business needs to be able to function within the financial environment in which it operates. We announced last year's figures of a £14m loss. The club as it is today still has a cost base that is ahead of our ability to generate income. One of my immediate tasks is focusing on the finance structure of the business internally, focusing on what we are spending and generating as part of developing that plan.

That will give us the comfort of building a successful club with one eye very, very firmly on ensuring it is a sustainable club. If you listen to what some of the fans are saying they want reassurance that their club is here for the long-term. They do not want to be sitting facing another administration or worse. I absolutely share that sentiment.

Tough decisions will have to made on salaries, jobs and disposing of players?

What we need to do first is assess what we have got, assess the organisation, the cost base and what we are bringing in and what we need to have in the medium term. I am in the process of having discussions with the manager to look at the short-to-medium term view over the football department and the first-team playing squad.

We are not looking at the upcoming window but we are looking to summer and beyond that. We are looking at the existing first-team squad, the players we have, the contracts we have, we are looking at the youth development set- up and the players we have coming through. We are mapping out a strategy that the manager can look at the talent he has has and we can work out where the gaps are.

My relationship with Alistair is that initially we have established a good rapport and we speak every day, sometimes multiple times, and we are starting to work on some of these critical football structural issues. It is too premature to be saying anything about acquisitions or divestiture. What we will look at is what we need to build and maintain a successful team.

Do you see the youth development as a key way forward?

It is very close to my heart. First we must ensure that what we are building will develop success on the field. That's what is all about. It starts and finishes with the football performance. We also need to be realistic and look at how we can achieve that success in the most financially sensible manner.

Murray Park is a terrific facility, that has the track record of producing significant numbers of players good enough to play in our first team and full international level. The infrastructure is there and the manager and I share a philosophy that youth development is important to the future of the club. That needs to be balanced with the right blend of experience as well as we go up the divisions, but if you look at the football we are playing now and some of the young talent that is getting an opportunity to play every week, it is great development for them as individuals.

What is your reaction to your manager's decision to give his share proxy to those who are likely to vote against the incumbents on the board?

You need to look at Ally as an individual and what is important to him. He has been at the club for 15 years as a player and seven years as a coach and manager and throughout that what has been consistent for him is the support of the fans.

They have been behind him as a player, behind him as a manager. He feels a strong obligation that those with the best interests of the club at heart are those who have supported him as a player and a a manager. His decision to give his proxy to his local supporters' group I completely understand. He told me that was what he was going to do and that is a matter for his personal choice.

You have no problem with it?

It is his choice as to what he believes is the best interest of the club. His view, giving that voice to the supporters who have stuck behind him over the years, is one that I can understand.

There has been speculation about his job?

What I would say is the manager has the full support of the board, the unanimous support of the board. I have told him that personally. There is no reason for him to be looking at his tenure as being under question from any of the existing directors.

What about the ghosts of the past, the Greens and Whytes?

In respect of Messrs Green and Whyte I have never met either gentleman. I can say categorically as we look at how the board is functioning and how we operate that there is no outside influence in terms of the decisions that are being made. I can understand why there may be a dose of healthy scepticism externally about whether certain individuals may still be involved after what has happened to the club in these past few years. I can categorically assure there is no outside influence being brought to bear.

How far down the line are you with approaches to the potential blue-chip investors?

The first piece of work we are engaged in is reviewing the existing business: cost base, structure, organisation. We have to assess what the base line should be to give us the platform to move forward. We are running in parallel, developing that plan. But our focus today is to go through the agm, to get the mandate we desire.

What is your ethos as a chief executive?

I would like to restore the traditional values that have been eroded in the recent past. I am talking about professionalism, integrity and honour and people having respect for the organisation. These are values that existed at the club for more than a century. It is important we have these at our core.

We need to be sure we are engaging with the key constituency of the club and by that I mean the fanbase and the communities in which we work. Everyone wants on-field success and that is a given but we must have a degree of sustainability so that the club can stand and operate on its own two feet.

What is your message as a leader?

I have a very clear idea of what we need to do to get ourselves back on track. It is not an overnight project and anybody who thinks it is not looking at the facts and looking at the situation we are in. We need to be managing our cost base across the business in a better way than we are but we also need the climate and the environment to grow our commercial base.

We need to bring our young talent though. First and foremost, we need to win the trust of the fans, that they have a level of management in the club that genuinely has the best interest of the club at heart working in a professional, considered manner. I would ask for their support and engagement with us.

What do you want for Christmas?

What the club needs is stability, professional management and leadership. It needs the time and the opportunity to put in place a lot of things we know that need to be done.

A clear vote from the shareholders in terms of supporting the vision is what we need.

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