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Bransgrove: Hotel is my biggest achievement with Hampshire
AS Rod Bransgrove reflects on his 12 years as chairman and chief executive, work continues apace on the jewel in his Hampshire crown.
Looking out on his field of dreams, Bransgrove can see workmen busy on the foundations of what will become the luxurious Hilton Hotel.
This is the biggest achievement of Bransgrove’s Hampshire career being made manifest.
Bransgrove has no intention of standing down as chairman anytime soon but will hand the chief executive’s role to finance director David Mann next month, having turned the county’s fortunes around since taking over at the turn of the century.
Amidst all his achievements – not least overseeing Hampshire’s relocation from Northlands Road in 2000 – Bransgrove’s finest hour came less than two months ago.
It was at the beginning of September that Eastleigh Borough Council, having already agreed to fund the £32m hotel, bought the site’s lease for £6.5m to effectively become Hampshire’s landlord and ensure the stadium will not become the white elephant it might have been.
Work on the four-star, 175- bedroom hotel began last month.
“More than anything, this major reinvestment programme which has enabled us to start work on the Hilton hotel is probably the biggest single achievement I’ve made here,” says Bransgrove.
“It’s been a massive passion and a bit of a pain from time to time, taking five years or so to get started.
“But it’s always been the absolute critical part of our business plan moving forward and it’s just great to look out of the window and see the completion of this vital piece of the Ageas Bowl jigsaw.
“It’s the springboard to the future of this amazing stadium."
So passionate is Bransgrove about the project that over the last 12 years he has spent “well in excess of £10m” of his own fortune - which was made in the pharmaceutical industry - ensuring its viability.
Bransgrove credits Mann for playing a significant role in the success of the transaction, but it is clear the blows he received in securing the Ageas Bowl’s future, including the opposition from rival hoteliers, have taken their toll.
“We had about 18 months of 12-hour days, probably David more than I - and that was seven days a week,” he says. “That’s taken it out of me and over the last year or two I’ve been thinking I’d like to try and back off the day-to-day management responsibility.”
Bransgrove will continue to have a significant input as chairman but Mann, at 48, has the energy levels, as well as the expertise, to drive the company forward.
“David’s a youngster,” he smiles. “His performance in concluding the major investment transaction with Eastleigh Borough Council and others was absolutely critical in the completion.
“Had he not been here I doubt we’d have got it completed. It was at that stage we thought it was time for me to take a step back and leave someone else to run the operations of the business.
“It’s not great governance having the chairman and the chief executive as the same person. I’ve never really had the opportunity till now to step back in full confidence that someone else can run the business at least as well as I can and hopefully better.
“It’s hard work managing, organising and maintaining full attention to the strategic direction [of the company] and it’s been an ambition of mine to make sure I don’t have to work full-time as a manager for some time. In fact, probably always.
“I didn’t expect to have to do quite as much as I have done over the last dozen years or so.”
Bransgrove bristles when I check his age, before countering: “I would like to think I’m not an old 62 and that I’ve got a bit to give!
“I don’t think my energy levels have diminished although I do feel a little tired. It’s been a tough year or two. The transaction took it out of us.
“It was very, very hard work but I’m still hungry for more success and it’s going to be very difficult to wrest me away from the business entirely.
“I don’t see myself walking away at all. I’ve got a lot of personal interest wrapped up in it. It’s become very much a part of me and I’m sure I’ll have an opinion that people might listen to.”
Bransgrove’s achievements at Hampshire are numerous but he appreciates them more thanks to the setbacks. None have been greater than being overlooked for an Ashes Test in 2013 and 2015.
“Every business I’ve run, and there have been a few, have had highs and lows and it’s only by experiencing the lows that you appreciate the highs,” he says “In that respect, any disappointment we have had has always been offset by an achievement not long afterwards.
“And if someone said to me in the year 2000 that I’d be stepping back from being chief executive in 2012, by which time we’d have had our first Test match, staged a dozen or so internationals, raised £40m-odd to complete the ground and build the Hilton hotel... I’d have probably taken that.
“On balance, it’s been a successful time.”
The on-field highlights of Bransgrove’s chairmanship are the 50-over Trophy wins of 2005 and 2009, the Twenty20 triumph on home soil in 2010 and this year’s limited-overs cup double.
An Ashes Test in 2019 is the next goal, the Ageas Bowl having been ignored in the ECB’s controversial allocation of September 2011.
“Having achieved what we’ve achieved, it’s appropriate we set our stall to stage an Ashes Test match in 2019, which is the next available slot,” Bransgrove said.
“I’d like to think as the only English Test match ground which has never been awarded an Ashes Test hitherto (Durham’s Riverside will stage its first Ashes Test next year) that we’ll provide a very strong case.
“We’re subject to a Major Match Group inspection next September, when they’ll be looking at the media facilities in the new hotel building.
“And then of course we’re staging our first major Test match against India in 2014. That will be a massive step but all the time it’s important for us also to make sure that the ECB and the MMG in particular are fully aware of the legacy we’re creating here. There’s an awful lot of community work coming out of this centre that we know is important.”
Maximising the Ageas Bowl’s 167 acres will continue to motivate Bransgrove. The nine-hole golf course is being doubled in size and other major sporting events may one day be staged at West End.
Bransgrove barely pauses for breath, as he continues to visualise the future at Botley Rd.
“We’re trying to turn the Ageas Bowl into not only the finest international cricket ground in the country but also the best and most effective in terms of trading, which is why it’s always been important for us to maximise the various aspects of the land that can be profitable.
“The hotel, the conference and banqueting business, shows, events...all these things figure prominently in the future of this site.
“And it’s our intention to bring more activities into it to ensure it’s not just cricket and golf and concerts and shows. There could be other sporting events here. It’s a fantastic location and it’s here for the benefit of the entire community.”
Clearly, Bransgrove - a father of three who lives in the Test Valley with wife Mandy - will never be one for a pipe and slippers. But he is also looking forward to more downtime.
“My life is dedicated to my various business interests, which is probably not for everybody and is maybe what I’m trying to move away from a little bit so I have more of a life back,” he says.
“I also have a couple of non-executive roles, which I like, but I’ll have more family time and I’m hoping to build a home in the Caribbean, which will be my escape.
“I’ll start preparing for a bit of free time in the winters and be able to watch cricket for a day without having to worry!”