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John Stephenson steps down as Essex chief executive in cost-cutting move

Cost of response to racism scandal takes toll on finances at non-Test-hosting venue

John Stephenson has resigned with immediate effect as Essex CEO, July 8, 2024

John Stephenson has resigned with immediate effect as Essex CEO  •  Essex CCC

John Stephenson, Essex's chief executive, has announced his resignation after only three years in the role, in what is understood to be a cost-cutting measure that reflects the deepening financial crisis among non-Test-hosting counties.
Stephenson, who scored more than 10,000 first-class runs for Essex between 1985 and 2004, returned to the club as chief executive in 2021, having spent the intervening 17 years at MCC.
However, he has now stepped down to "pursue other projects", with the day-to-day running of the club passing to Dan Feist, Essex's former operations manager who has been appointed as general manager in a restructuring of the club hierarchy.
Stephenson's time at Chelmsford proved to be turbulent, with the club embroiled in a series of racism scandals, including an alleged racist comment from the then-chairman, John Faragher, at a board meeting in 2017 - a charge that Faragher denies but for which the club was fined £50,000 by the Cricket Discipline Commission.
Last month, the club was again charged by the Cricket Regulator - the sport's new independent disciplinary body - after a series of historical allegations of racist abuse were last year upheld by an independent report, conducted by Katherine Newton KC.
In leading the club's response to the scandals, Stephenson is understood to have impressed the ECB - and earlier this year, Essex were rewarded with a successful bid to host one of eight initial Tier 1 women's teams from 2025 onwards, a prospect that Stephenson hoped would "future-proof" the club, including through a redevelopment of their home ground at Chelmsford.
However, the financial toll of the racism scandal, including the commissioning of the Newton Report and a review of the club's finances, has led to the conclusion that the club may not be able to afford a traditional CEO going forward. Stephenson has stepped down with immediate effect, but will remain on the board until the end of the season.
"This has been a difficult decision to make as Essex has been in my bloodstream since the day I walked through the doors at Chelmsford in 1984," Stephenson said.
"I am proud of what I achieved here. I have loved my time as chief executive and particularly enjoyed working with our diverse and talented board and our close-knit team of professional and dedicated staff.
"We have enjoyed success on the field and I am certain there is more to come."
Responding to Stephenson's departure, Anu Mohindru, Essex's chairman, said: "He has shown outstanding leadership in guiding Essex through the last three years, and we are extremely sad to see him step down, but we respect his reasons.
"These have been difficult times for the club in facing historical allegations of racism, but we were extremely fortunate to have John as CEO. He was prepared to tackle the allegations head on, and in doing so demonstrated resolve, wisdom, fairness and integrity.
"During his tenure, we have been successful in securing a women's tier one team and developing a clear vision and master plan for a new ground. He leaves this county in a stronger position and much better equipped to build for the future."
Essex have been one of the standout teams in the County Championship in recent years, with two Division One titles in 2017 and 2019, as well as the Bob Willis Trophy in the Covid-impacted season of 2020. This season, they are third in Division One, but suffered a costly defeat to leaders Surrey in their most recent match at the Kia Oval.