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The Interview - Juncal Garrido Merino, Managing Partner at Board & Leaders

We want to thank Juncal Garrido for participating in SPSG Consulting's Monthly Newsletter. Juncal has an extraordinary background in headhunting with a very significant experience in the sports industry.

You have a vast experience in recruiting C-Suite level professionals, having been part of prestigious headhunting firms such as Russell Reynolds Associates and Heidrick & Struggles and, since September 2020, you are the Founder of your own boutique HeadHunter firm, Board and Leaders. At what extend the sport and entertainment industry understands the value that a headhunter can add to the C-Suite and Board of Directors recruiting processes?

We need to differentiate between the sport and entertainment industry. The latter, entertainment, has historically outsourced its executive recruitment needs more often and the level of sophistication of its governance was higher. However, in the last years, we have seen a trend in sports, led by very important organisations, to open up and use professional assistance in their recruiting needs both for CSuite and NEDs (non Executive Directors). This trend has accelerated with the entrance of new investors such as Private Equity Firms, who are firm believers of the value added by professional recruiters in bringing the best talent onboard.

Additionally, the current tech breakthrough has created a strong demand for new profiles that were not present in the sports industry in the past and are very sought after. This scarcity and the need to better understand this talent niche, has also opened up an opportunity for some specialised headhunting companies to start collaborating with entities that, otherwise, would not have externalised search processes.

You have a very interesting and valuable experience in the sports industry, having been able to provide headhunting services to prestigious sport entities such as PSG, Volvo Ocean Race or Paris 2024.. What are the main needs in terms of talent in the sport and entertainment industry as we speak? What are the main professional competencies required to be successful in the industry?

There are certain aspects in common with any other industry, the most important being the ability to understand and adapt to the corporate/entity culture. Most of the top recruitment hires that fail are not because the incumbent did not have the right set of skills and experience but because the person "did not land well" in the new organisation. This is the reason why it is so crucial for an executive recruiter to understand the corporate culture of its clients. In our case, in Board & Leaders, we have developed a neuroscientific tool based on Virtual Reality that measures the intrinsic cultural behaviour of the final candidate and gives us the right information to help him/her adapt to the new company/entity acting upon those potential issues right from the start.

Another important topic, which is now shaping the sports industry talent pool, is the entrance of international PE firms as investors. PE firms require a very specific set of competencies in their top executives which can be summarised in two: ability to transform and ability to report. The first is quite obvious, a transformation agent who can increase the value for shareholders in the coming future. The second is not that obvious, but it is as important as the first one. The PE investor needs to build trust in the executive team and the way to interact with these highly professional investors is quite distinctive. This is why, in general, having worked for a PE in the past is highly valued by PEs when recruiting for their new assets. And I do not only refer to CFO positions, this is a trend for most of the CSuite.

The sports industry is a very attractive sector for the majority of professionals. What would be your main recommendations for professionals that would like to enter into the sports industry to work? And for professionals that are already in the sport and entertainment industry and would like to evolve in their way up the ladder of the industry?

To your first question, in the past, being persistent and having the right connections could help you get in, but nowadays the competition is fierce. I usually compare the sports industry with the luxury industry in the sense that both are extremely attractive, and most of us would love to work in any of those highly desired organisations. So with such a competitive environment,I would say that either you need to be an expert in a field that makes you a target for the sports industry or, if you are a generalist (support functions) then you need to work very hard in building the right network. How can you position yourself in a sector where you have never worked? It is definitely not an easy task, but there are certain game changers, such as completing a specific program in sports management by one of the top universities or entities. Also, doing some pro bono work for Sports NGOs can help get you into the circuit.

And how to go up the ladder? From a junior position to middle managerial roles it is very clear, deliver, deliver, deliver. Once you are at a more senior position, new ingredients are required as well, being an inspirational leader is not an easy one, as well as learning on how to manage stakeholders. This is why, my piece of advice for the ones who aspire to become future leaders, would be to learn more about themselves and look for external support to improve. Most of top leaders I have met, openly share that they had mentors/coaches in their career that helped them grew as a leader.

The sports and entertainment industry is one of the main targets of investments funds and private equity, which means, at the end of the day, more professionalism, not only at C-Suite level but, also, at Board of Directors and Advisory Board level. How do you foresee the future of the sport and entertainment entities (clubs, leagues, events, competitions, even federations, etc.) when it comes to the composition and professional competences that are required at Board of Directors and Advisory Boards?

What we are seeing so far is that most of the proprietary NEDs have a strong financial background, which makes sense. The independent NEDs help complete the matrix of skills and knowledge required to support the CEO and build the future strategy. This is why, being strategic and having the vision is a must. Additionally, there are other independent qualities that can bring you to a board in sports and entertainment, such as understanding a subscription based business, being an expert in the new tech trends, or having a specific knowledge about a market.

Today, we see a lot of interest from senior executives to become Non Execs, however, this is not an easy path. The step from being a highly accomplished executive to a board member is not easy and in this case, having the right network is the differentiating factor. The network needs to be nourished for years, and this has not to be seen as a waste of time, but as an important investment both for my employer and for myself in the future. We need to highlight that most of the Board of Directors and Advisory positions are not recruited through headhunters, only listed companies use to do it through us in order to follow the best practices set by the regulators.

The Sports Industry generates around 1,5-2% of the global GDP, and also evolves rapidly. As per your deep knowledge and understanding of the industry), what the main challenges the sector is facing and has to tackle within the next years -vision 2030-? How the sports sector will look like by 2030?

The sports industry is in the middle of a change turmoil, we have clearly seen some areas shaping the present of the sports industry, among them, the surge of a new female market, the influx of new sources of money, the emerging technologies and the growing importance of ESG principles.

One of the challenges will be around new tech adoption. Tech that can not only help managing the fan base or increasing alternative revenue models, but also managing performance of athletes and players, even extending their professional careers.

Another challenge will be in the outburst of data and analytics, according to Grand View Research, the global sports analytics market size is expected to reach 6.34 Bn USD by 2030. This means a CAGR of 27.1% and also means the need of profiles with a great level of expertise in this field. Sport entities will be fiercely competing for talent in Business Intelligence and Data & Analitics, talent which is already highly sough after and whose remuneration and expectations do not follow the patterns of other functions in the company.

And of course, the sophistication of processes and governance, which will be a challenge but will also represent an enormous opportunity for senior executives who want to continue adding value in such a demanding and attractive sector.

Sport entities are now fully aware that integrating ESG policies into their operations and decision-making processes is likely to become increasingly important in the coming years, showing their commitment to sustainability, and ethical practices will enhance their reputation and appeal to consumers and investors.

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