Strategy & Operations » Governance » Curb your enthusiasm: John Moulson, head of finance, Rugby Football Union

There is no doubt that John Moulson, head of finance at the Rugby Football Union (RFU) has an almost machine-like understanding of the financial minutiae needed to make the governing body of English rugby tick.

With 14 years in the can at the RFU – initially as a management accountant before becoming head of finance and the sole person responsible for reporting into the finance director – Moulson’s knowledge of the nuts and bolts of the £120m turnover organisation is second to none.

However, simply understanding the finances and effectively managing the company accounts is no longer enough for the top job. At Financial Director magazine the chorus of voices singing the tune that the FD and CFO role has become increasingly operational gets ever louder, and this has been borne out by recent changes at the RFU. In January, it announced a major organisational restructure following the arrival last September of John Steele as chief executive that culled several departments and merged key roles: it dropped its CFO position and merged the work into a newly-created chief operating officer role – adding to that HR, legal and governance, planning and reporting, people development and marketing and communications.

Just days before Financial Director meets Moulson at the RFU’s Twickenham headquarters, the business announced the appointment of healthcare company Abbot’s FD Stephen Brown to the COO job. Moulson hasn’t moved up from head of finance.

After such long, loyal service at the RFU, coming from eight years in finance at Rentokil Initial, it is surprising that Moulson didn’t feature in Steele’s CCO-CFO merger plan. Moulson says he was not involved in sketching out the plan for restructuring, but his finance team has spent time explaining it to the rest of the business in fine detail. Is he living on borrowed time now?

“I wait to see with interest how it’s going to work here. Now we have a COO and not a CFO, it will be interesting to see what that means for finance,” Moulson tells Financial Director.

Moulson points out that the restructure was about much more than saving on a the salary of its CFO (a role previously held by Nick Eastwood, who Financial Director interviewed in February 2007). The aim was to return the RFU’s focus to what was happening on the pitch. “There was the perception things were drifting on the pitch and that the RFU was too concentrated on commercial things,” Moulson says. “The whole emphasis of the review is that the centre of the RFU is rugby, full-stop. And now everything else is supporting that. The idea is the end to silo mentality. Rugby is now the centre of everything.”

The changes include the creation of a single rugby department – tasked with developing the performance of the English rugby side – supported by a commercial department run by a chief commercial officer, while Brown will oversee the revenue generating aspects of the business and the CFO portion which encompasses all the corporate support services. Moulson reports to Brown.

Though Moulson is not the sort of finance bod that spends most of his time building and articulating an overarching strategic vision for the RFU – he is happy to leave that to the CEO, CCO and COO – that does not diminish the importance the finance function. Since he took charge of it in 2007, he has made significant changes in its running, and Moulson has some efficiency savings to his name.

“We used to have three guys reporting into the FD and it didn’t really work. When I stepped up to the head of the department I thought, ‘here is a chance to improve things’,” he says. “I brought in web-based expense systems so people could start to do expenses online, saving time and money. We brought in a web-based procurement system with Compleat Software and I know we can save money on that. I am very keen to change the way we are doing the management accounts distribution to save time and paper and free up people’s time to do more value-added stuff,” he adds.

That contrasts starkly to the message Financial Director from Eastwood in 2007. The RFU had announced a 2006 pre-tax loss of £1.7m against revenues of £82.7m. Revenues were down £3.9m on 2005; pre-tax earnings down a massive £8.1m. Eastwood was all about diversifying revenue streams away from reliance on the performance of the national side and set about creating a health club, hotel and conference space within the refurbished north stand of the Twickenham rugby stadium.

According to Moulson, these were important revenue streams contributing to £1.9m profit for 2009-2010, but refocusing on the on field fortunes of the national team doesn’t mean the importance of the new revenues will be overlooked.

“Those revenues have grown form nil. Now they probably make up 10 percent. They are going to grow quicker than the rate of overall revenue increase. But there is only so much you can grow: we are still fundamentally about rugby,” he says.

CV: John Moulson

1997 – present
Head of finance, Rugby Football Union
1989 – 1997
Financial controller, Rentokil Initial
1983 – 1988
Auditor, Ernst & Whinney