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Alex Horne, acting CEO, Football Association

Alex Horne is a man on who, it seems, timing and luck gaze kindly. The announcement of his promotion in late March to acting chief executive officer of the Football Association (FA), from the chief operating officer spot, comes in time for the 2010 World Cup and the launch of the UK’s 2018 bid.

It also comes on the heels of one of the most murky periods of the beautiful game’s business side – from the staggering mount of debt owed by a chunk of Premier League clubs (more than all the other clubs in Europe put together, according to the Union of European Football Associations, or UEFA) to smaller clubs joining the ranks of the insolvent in alarming numbers.

Horne’s promotion is not atypical for the FD world in the last year. Many high-profile finance chiefs have been elevated to the job in the middle of the recession.

“In various sectors of the economy over the course of the recession, FDs have shown the value of moving somebody into the top job who has a strong command of all aspects of running a successful business,” says Simon Walters, managing director at headhunter FD Solutions. “Football is a business and at last the FA has placed its faith in someone familiar with all aspects of its affairs, not just someone with a previous public profile that the media will recognise.”

Own goal
What is perhaps most intriguing about this appointment is that Horne has done the acting CEO job twice before for the FA, first for a very brief stint before Brian Barwick joined in 2006 and again when Barwick left in late 2008. While neither the FA nor Horne will comment, many think his promotion is a correction of an earlier hiring mistake.
“Horne was the man who should have got the job in the first place,” says Accountancy Age editor Gavin Hinks.

FD Solutions’s Walters concurs. “The association needs someone with the strength of character and self-confidence to be the CEO of an organisation whose members include plenty of people who consider themselves better able to do the job,” he says.

Hinks points to Horne’s swift ascension from turnaround work at Coopers & Lybrand to FD of the Association in 2003 (from where he was handed responsibility for getting the disastrous rebuild of Wembley Stadium back on its feet as the stadium’s managing director). He pulled the stadium rebuild project back from the brink. “But when the FA board sought a new CEO, they shopped around, went to the markets and frankly ignored Horne, who was ready and waiting in the wings,” he adds.

Horne has become an indispensable member of what many observers say has been an otherwise unstable, fractious management spread beset by internal political fiefdoms: he steps in as the FA boots out its fifth CEO in a decade, Ian Watmore, after just one year in the post. That level of churn underlines the poisoned chalice from which Horne has decided to drink. He has the credentials and the board trust to tackle the job, but it remains to be seen if luck will see him through to the other side.

The FA has said it will not appoint a permanent CEO until after the World Cup – which sounds like one way of hinting that Horne is undertaking a dry run before being made that permanent fixture.

“It’s imperative we focus fully on the challenges we face, particularly as we approach the final preparations for the World Cup in South Africa and the latter stages of the World Cup bidding process”, the FA says. “Success in these endeavours is the first priority.”

More than capable

Horne was originally brought in to the FA by then-CEO Mark Palios to sort out a financial fire raging in its accounts. Staff had been made redundant, its National Football Centre project was on hold due to a lack of funding and the chairman was demanding a full audit of the FA’s finances. His handling of the challenge won him plaudits, but he was overlooked for the top position when Palios was forced to resign following an affair with an FA secretary in 2004. Horne described the period at the time as the “most frustrating and most exciting four weeks” of his professional life. Perhaps his third shot at the CEO job will outdo it.

Playing the field: Alex Horne’s CV
Horne is no stranger at the FA, having risen up through the ranks at the organisation.
His first big role with the FA was the three years he spent as FD, between 2003 and 2006.

He made much of a two-year stint as managing director of Wembley Stadium, to which he was appointed in 2006 taking on its day-to-day operation, after leading the handover from stadium constructor Multiplex.

He was made chief operating officer in summer 2008, looking after delivery of all corporate services, including finance. He was executive lead on the FA’s St George’s Park development, formerly the National Football Centre.

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