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Thursday, January 17, 2008

QPR's New De Facto CEO Ali Russell Profiled and Praised

The Scotsman/Barry Anderson - Anderton tips Russell to prosper with QPR

AFTER Vladimir Romanov and his Russian comrades, Ali Russell is now at the mercy of Bernie Ecclestone, Flavio Briatore and their Italian friends. Some might say out of the frying pan into the fire, but Phil Anderton is backing his former colleague to drive Queens Park Rangers' rejuvenation just as the club's Formula One-obsessed owners demand.

Russell left his position as Hearts' commercial director last week to head to London and become QPR's deputy managing director, for which read de facto chief executive. The title is temporary until previous CEO Mark Devlin concludes his lawsuit against the club. It is no small step for Russell, who shadowed Anderton's moves by following a strictly commercial path from Coca-Cola to Hearts via the Scottish Rugby Union.

Devlin was ousted from Loftus Road during an impromptu board meeting last year at which none other than Carlos Dunga, the Brazilian national coach, had the decisive vote. It is understood Dunga's agent had invested money in QPR and asked the former World Cup winner to represent him at the meeting, and Devlin was left privately seething by his removal. Russell has been recruited to work alongside new chairman Gianni Paladini, a former agent entrusted with the task of fronting Ecclestone and Briatore's joint £20million investment. Life at Hearts ensures Russell is well prepared for any turbulence in London, although a new career in a Formula One-style fast lane may take some getting used to.

"QPR is a great opportunity for him. I'm actually a little bit jealous," said Anderton, who was sacked as Hearts chief executive by Romanov in 2005 and now works in London as chief marketing officer with the Association of Tennis Professionals. "QPR have Ecclestone and Co, they're buying players and it's an exciting time to be working for a club like that. Ali has done extremely well to get that position.

"The difference between being a marketing executive and being a CEO is you can't do it all yourself. You're responsible for financial issues, marketing, commercial. Suddenly there are loads of areas you never had responsibility for before. That's when you need to get the right people in and delegate well, let others get on with it. That's a skill Ali will work on.

"He has a sound, down-to-earth commercial reality about him. He knows what's going to work and what isn't, but he's also willing to try things and I liked that about him. Coming into sport from a consumer goods background he had a lot of initiative, he was never the typical old-school administrator who sits back and waits for things to happen. He wants to make them happen.

"I made the transition from marketing to CEO and a lot of the principles are the same. He'll need a thorough understanding of what the club is about, what the guys investing the money want to achieve, what the club's strengths and weaknesses are. Then he can come up with a plan."

While chief executive at Murrayfield, Anderton hired Russell and then repeated the appointment when he moved to Hearts. Both know the stringent demands of Romanov well but Anderton predicts a slightly more straightforward existence for his former colleague at Loftus Road.

"Hopefully at QPR he'll actually be told what the plans are. I'm a bit dubious about whether he's actually ever been told what the expectations are at Hearts," he continued. "When I brought Ali to the club he was fully aware of the situation and there was always an element of risk. But the upside was clear because getting yourself into football makes you contacts that can take you onto the next level. I think that's what has happened with Ali." The eventual rise to such a prominent position as chief executive won't be without difficulties for Russell, however. Anderton recalled his own transition period at Tynecastle to offer valuable advice.

"I hadn't been involved in football when I became CEO at Hearts," he explained. "I didn't know agents or players and we weren't only operating in a Scottish market. We were looking in England and eastern Europe and no doubt they'll be doing the same at QPR. I brought on board a few agents, people like John Colquhoun, George Wright and John Calderwood. I told them what I was trying to achieve, the monies and parameters I had and asked them to help me by finding player resources and offering us opportunities.

"That then means you aren't the one floundering around on your own. I found that approach extremely helpful. I remember the whole recruitment of George Burley, that involved working with George Wright an
d John Calderwood. We had a couple of strategies, a list of world-class managers and then a separate list of other candidates.

"They then made contacts, finding out what people's positions were and whether there was any interest. I learned from those guys the best ways to approach and handle certain people. You learned what skills a candidate had, whether their career was on the ascendancy and if they would fit in with the culture of Romanov. That approach might be something Ali chooses to do."

Meanwhile, how do Hearts attempt to replace Russell, the man who negotiated the biggest commercial deal in club history when Umbro agreed to pay £2million for kit manufacturing rights? Anderton is coy.

"Who knows how things operate at Hearts now. I can't really answer that. Predicting what goes on at Tynecastle these days isn't something I'd make a lot of money on if I was a betting man." The Scotsman

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