After my first interview with then ‘Together Leeds’, I was given the opportunity of a second interview with Leeds Fans LLP. Last time I was interviewing Dylan Thwaites, who was running the first stage of this initiative. This time round I conducted an interview with a new member of the Leeds Fans LLP executive team, Brendan Meehan.
Here is the interview in its entirety.
Rhys: Hi, thanks for agreeing to hold this interview with me. Firstly, could you give us a quick overview of your background and the role that you will be taking up as part of the Leeds Fans LLP team?
Brendan: Hello, I’m Brendan Meehan, financial and legal executive at Leeds Fans LLP. I’m an accountant by trade, and spent my career in the life assurance business in roles such as CFO, COO and as a partner at KPMG. My last role was as a partner at resolution, a business that bought and integrated life assurance businesses.
Rhys: What attracted you to take up the role? It’s obvious that you have the attributes to be part of a vast number of companies, so why did you choose to become part of the LLP?
Brendan: I’m retired now and a lifelong Leeds supporter. I spoke with Dylan about the work he and the rest of the exec board are doing and of course I wanted to get involved. What Leeds fan wouldn’t?
Rhys: Fair point. Since I last spoke to Dylan Thwaites, Together Leeds has now become Leeds Fans LLP. Can you briefly describe the reasoning for this ‘rebranding’ and what an LLP is, precisely?
Brendan: An LLP is a partnership limited by liability. It wasn’t consciously a ‘rebranding’ just a change in our legal status.
Rhys: So, why was an LLP chosen over models such as, for example, a Community Benefit Society (CBS)?
Brendan: We felt that an LLP was the most flexible structure to use for this early stage in our development. That doesn’t rule out us setting up a CBA or a limited company in the future. We are still exploring and comparing all options and will decide on the best option for Leeds fans.
Rhys: As mentioned in the last interview, a new, smaller executive team is being created to lead the next stage of Leeds Fans LLP. Up until now, who has been elected to this team and what are their roles within it?
Brendan: In addition to Dylan and myself there’s Sharon Reid, who heads up marketing and brings her experience as COO for Edelman, the world’s largest PR agency. Steve Hanson, local Leeds businessman and MD of Callidus is driving the fundraising with his contacts across the full range of Leeds fans. Petter- Andre Johansson brings international perspective, extensive contacts and superb project skills to the role of infrastructure executive.
Rhys: There seems to be a lot of experience that have already pledged their services to Leeds Fans LLP. They will be working pro bono, but of course the partnership itself incurred some start-up costs. How were these costs funded?
Brendan: As yet very few costs have been incurred – less than £300 – which was to cover web hosting and some partnership start-up costs. All those involved have given their time freely and we have as yet we had no need to incur significant external costs. We have over a hundred people working with the executive team in what we are calling our ‘shadow network’ and these are all incredibly skilled and talented people also giving their time for free.
Rhys: With so few start-up costs incurred, do you have any projected fixed and variable costs? If so, were these taken into account when setting the target of £10m or will additional funds be needed for this?
Brendan: We will continue to operate as an organisation of volunteers. Any costs will be limited to those necessarily incurred in pursuing our objective of raising funds from fans and acquiring a stake in Leeds united for them. It isn’t possible to be specific about those cost until we know the exact circumstances of the acquisition.
Rhys: A lot of trust is being placed with those volunteering their time for this initiative. How can those that have already invested, or are planning to invest, be sure that their money will be dealt with the greatest of care?
Brendan: The management will have a legal duty of care to fans who invest, while legally-imposed, external auditing of our systems of control will ensure that all funds are accounted for. As with any other company, annual accounts must be produced and published.
Rhys: Like any other investment, can those willing to purchase stakes expect any kind of profit from their investment? In addition, what risks are associated that may result in a loss of an individual’s investment?
Brendan: Yes they can potentially expect a return although such profits are difficult to quantify in advance. Football is an unpredictable business. Clearly investment in any football club carries a risk. Insolvency or administration of the club could result in fans losing some or all of their investment. Obviously the management will do all they can to avoid or mitigate those risks. Fans should remember that this is a scheme designed to give Leeds fans a stake in their football club rather than purely targeted at making profits.
Rhys: Okay, so say, for example, a member of the partnership was to leave, either by choice or unforeseen circumstances, how would this be dealt with and would they receive their investment back?
Brendan: If their money has been invested in the club it is unlikely that they will be able to withdraw it immediately. It is our intention to hold a long term investment in the club.
Rhys: Currently, the partnership limits a single person to a maximum of 1% of the initial £10million target. If Leeds Fans LLP were to struggle in reaching this target, will there be any leniency in this restriction so that those who have already bought their 1% stake could then invest more, or will these restrictions remain in place through all circumstances?
Brendan: These are aspects of the offer that are still under consideration.
Rhys: That’s understandable during these early stages. If successful, it has been said that any full member of Leeds Fans LLP can stand for election to the Leeds Board. How often will these elections take place?
Brendan: It is common for directors to retire and stand for re-election every three years. However we can vary this and we are considering the pros and cons of different timescales, such as each season. An announcement will be made later.
Rhys: Are votes won by majority rule? How would the difference of opinion in a very split vote (for example 51%/49%) be dealt with?
Brendan: This process is still being designed.
Rhys: Say, for instance, a director has been elected to the board and they then pursue to implement their own agenda. How would Leeds Fans LLP deal with a situation like that?
Brendan: The directors will be contracted representatives of Leeds Fans LLP and the exec board in position at that time can decide to withdraw them should they “go rogue” and not act in the best interests of Leeds fans.
Rhys: It is known that £10million is the target, but of course discussions can take place before this target is reached. Is there an estimated figure at which these discussions can begin and if so, will this be the stage at which a full due diligence will be performed?
Brendan: Since meeting 2 at the end of January, we have had contact with senior management at the club. However, we envisage all negotiations being conducted in private with full confidentiality observed.
Rhys: Until a full due diligence has taken place, it is difficult to know exactly how much Leeds United is worth, however, have there been any estimations on what percentage level £10million could purchase?
Brendan: Our best estimation is that a £10m investment is sufficient to secure 25% of the club but this will be very dependent on due diligence and the clubs financial position at the time.
Rhys: The initial £10million will only buy a minority percentage of Leeds United, so in order to look to acquire the rest of the shares that are not currently held by Eleonora Sport Ltd, if they are wanted, are there other wealthier groups Leeds Fans LLP may look to work in conjunction with to acquire this greater stake in Leeds United?
Brendan: Our focus is on the 25% minority stake, not the shares held by Eleonora sport.
Rhys: Some fans are unsure about the direction that the LLP would take if a stake in the club was secured. Hypothetically speaking, if you were to secure a minority or even majority stake in the football club, would you be looking for a honeymoon period of consolidation and familiarisation to boost stability first, or would you be looking to swiftly invest in the club to propel its fortunes? If the latter, what would be the funding strategy for such an action?
Brendan: We are a single issue organisation created to buy 25% of the club so fans can elect directors to the board. Our focus right now is on creating a structure where people can safely put their money in. The elected directors will be involved in running the club. Any future funding strategy will be determined by the exec at that later date.
Rhys: One of the bigger questions people have is in regards to future funding. How will Leeds Fans LLP assist with the future finances of our club?
Brendan: Leeds Fans LLP will be no different to any other shareholder; it can choose to participate by raising funds or spending from its reserves, or it can agree to a dilution in share percentage of Leeds United to allow others to invest. The decision will be made by the elected exec at the time.
Rhys: When it comes to further investment from the LLP’s members, will it be an entirely voluntary system, or will additional payments be requested from all?
Brendan: Any future investment will be entirely voluntary.
Rhys: It’s been said that the LLP are interested in contributions of a non-financial nature. Obviously this would appeal to fans with less disposable income but who still wish to help the cause – could you clarify some examples of what these roles may be, and subsequently how interested individuals can put themselves forward?
Brendan: Each member of the exec has a shadow network that they are working with to deliver on their area. We are always looking for new people to join from all backgrounds – contact details of all the execs are on the site http://www.leedsfansllp.com/executive/
Rhys: Finally, the aim of this partnership, as we all know, is to gain fan representation on the board at Leeds. If, for example, an initial bid was rejected, do Leeds Fans LLP have a time-frame in which they will continue to attempt to achieve their aims, or will it be a continuous battle until these aims are achieved?
Brendan: We plan to continue until we achieve our aims. There is an option that the exec at some later time decides it is in the best interests of the members to propose that the company is wound-up.
End of Interview