County news October 29, 2012

Bransgrove leaves Ashes dream alive

Ivo Tennant

Rod Bransgrove is to stand down as chief executive of Hampshire as well as the plc and events operations at West End, from December 1.

Although he intends to spend more time out of the country in winter, he will continue as chairman of the Rose Bowl group and is looking to fulfil his final ambition at the ground in 2019, the staging of an Ashes Test match. He has slain the financial obstacles. Now for the ECB.

As Bransgrove points out, West End is the one Test ground in the country yet to be awarded an Ashes Test. Lobbying has already begun. By 2019, this resilient and articulate businessman will be almost 70 - but not as old, he is quick to add, as the members of the Rolling Stones, whom he would like to see perform on the ground he has financed heavily ever since Hampshire's move from run-down Northlands Road in 2001.

Last year, when the inaugural Test was staged at West End, Bransgrove's personal investment was thought to be £6.5m. Now, this sum is "well in excess of £10m". He does not anticipate a return in the near future and has not drawn a salary in his 12 years as chief executive. "It has been said that I am in this for the money," he said. "Maybe that has now been retracted.

"The business has been very much a part of me and it will be very difficult to wrestle me away from it entirely. I'll always have an opinion, which I hope my successor, David Mann, will listen to, but I don't expect to have to work as hard as I have done over the past 12 years. I am not an old 62, but it is an ambition of mine not to have to work full-time.

"My energy levels have not deteriorated and I am hungry for more success, but it has never been a secret that the company needed more funding and we can move forward with confidence now that Eastleigh Borough Council has provided that. It is great to look out of the window and see the hotel being constructed on the ground." The Council's investment is £45m.

Fund-raising, as opposed to the staging of international cricket, has been Bransgrove's biggest achievement, he reckons. He could have added that - but for his own personal investment, drawn from the capital he acquired through the flotation of Shire Pharmaceuticals which specialised in hormone replacement therapy - Hampshire would never have moved grounds. The spin-off for him, other than the development of a significant and attractive international venue, has been the friendships of cricketers such as Sir Ian Botham, Shane Warne, Robin Smith and the journeymen. Even, he might add in his sardonic way, the journalists.

The downside has been differences of opinion with the ECB. "I have felt once or twice we have been overlooked in the international arena, but then there have been the trophies we have won. Our policy of mixing talented young players with experienced old ones definitely works well and what I want to do now is to watch them perform throughout the day without my having other concerns."

A typical day, he revealed, starts off "when I am at my grumpiest" with personal correspondence at home (he is a non-executive director of other companies) followed by the 16-mile drive to the ground from his home on the edge of the Test Valley. He will remain there until 7p.m. and will often be involved in a business function in the evening, drinking, by preference, Montrachet rather than Chablis. "Probably my life has been dedicated to my business interests."

As he prepares to build a house for himself and his family in the Caribbean - "not Mustique" - he will hand over to Mann, who is no relation to the former England captain, George Mann, or indeed his buccaneering son Simon, but a 48 year-old village cricketer and finance director who lives in Southampton. The idea now is that West End will become a hub for the local community as well as a venue for cricket, concerts and other sports.

Whatever is taking place, you can bet that Bransgrove, even in his dotage, will be keeping a paternal eye on events. "Combining the roles of chairman and chief executive is not great governance, but the company is now on a reasonably stable footing. I don't want to take on any other position in the game. This has been a massive passion - but a bit of a pain at times."