In the midst of a cultural review following the Newlands ball-tampering fiasco, Cricket Australia has made the biggest structural change of its recent history, with the senior executive Kevin Roberts becoming the chief executive James Sutherland‘s formal second-in-command and heir apparent.
Roberts, a former CA Board director, joined the executive management team in 2015 and was a key player in the contentious MoU negotiations with the Australian Cricketers’ Association, which saw the players left out of contract for more than a month last year and the cancellation of an Australia A tour to South Africa.
He was ultimately sidelined from talks as Sutherland dealt directly with his opposite number Alistair Nicholson in the retaining of a fixed revenue percentage at the heart of the deal, but has otherwise played an increasingly prominent role in the organisation, something now recognised by his promotion to chief operating officer. The decision was relayed by Sutherland to CA staff this week.
While this role is not uncommon in corporate circles, Sutherland is known to have previously baulked at formally appointing someone as such. Various senior executives, including the former heads of operations Michael Brown and Mike McKenna, have performed as “acting CEO” at times when Sutherland has been on leave.
Like the appointment of Justin Langer as senior coach of the national team for the next four years, the Roberts decision has arrived despite ongoing cultural reviews of CA in general and the men’s teams in particular. A survey circulated by The Ethics Centre, commissioned to conduct the broader review, and reported by News Corporation, included questions such as:
“What are the top three factors that may have led to the recent events in South Africa involving some members of the Australian Cricket Team? These factors can be in relation to any aspect of the game or its governance and administration.”
“What are early warning signs of possible unethical behaviour in Australian Cricket? The signs you can identify can be ‘on field’, involve players, coaching and support staff, governance or administration.”
Several questions have been raised about the reviews, not least the fact that a CA director, Michelle Tredenick, also sits on the board of The Ethics Centre. Peter Collins, the facilitator of the teams’ review to be chaired by the former opening batsman Rick McCosker, has been revealed to be a longtime paid consultant of CA, advising Sutherland and the former captain Ricky Ponting among others. The director Bob Every recently quit the Board after a series of disagreements with its chairman, David Peever.
“Before his entry into the corporate world, Roberts was a first-class batsman for New South Wales, and subsequently worked closely with CA as a senior executive for Adidas before becoming one of the organisation’s first batch of independent directors in late 2012.”
The structural change, which also sees the chief financial officer Todd Shand shifted to report directly to the chief operating officer, strengthens the prospect of Roberts being chosen as chief executive whenever the time comes for Sutherland to end his lengthy tenure. Having joined CA in 1998, he has been the chief executive since 2001 and has overseen a period of great change and plenty of dramas.
It remains to be seen how the players respond to the news of Roberts’ promotion, after he became dimly viewed during the MoU dispute. Most notably he was criticised for appearing in a pair of videos purporting to explain why CA wanted to “modify” the model on which the collective agreement was based, namely replacing revenue sharing with wages set by CA and a capped bonus system. Roberts was also received somewhat skeptically when he travelled around the country to directly address state squads about the proposed changes.
His relationship with Nicholson became particularly icy, to the point that the ACA requested direct dealings with Sutherland instead. This preference was initially ignored by CA, before finally being acceded to as it became clear the players were in no mood to budge on their demands for retention of revenue sharing – as underlined by the cancelled Australia A tour. Nevertheless, an internal review of the process is believed to have concluded that CA followed the correct strategy to reach the final outcome.
Enmity between the players and CA continued to simmer over last summer, before the explosion that took place at Newlands to have Steven Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft all suspended for ball tampering and its subsequent reputation damage to CA. Weeks later, the signing of a AUD 1.18 billion broadcast rights deal with Fox Sports and Channel Seven shored up the governing body’s future revenues, albeit at the cost of placing two of three men’s international formats behind the Fox paywall.
Before his entry into the corporate world, Roberts was a first-class batsman for New South Wales, and subsequently worked closely with CA as a senior executive for Adidas before becoming one of the organisation’s first batch of independent directors in late 2012. When he moved across from the Board to the management team in 2015, replacing Alex Wyatt as the head of strategy and people, Sutherland described Roberts’ attributes.
“Kevin is an experienced business leader,” Sutherland said, “with an outstanding track record in achieving alignment, managing change and building values-based work forces with a sharp focus on growth and high performance, which aligns with Cricket Australia’s vision to be Australia’s Favourite Sport – A Sport For All Australians. In addition to his most recent role at 2XU, Kevin spent a number of years with the Adidas Group in Germany, rising to the role of Global Senior Vice President. Either side of his tenure at Adidas, Kevin led business transformations at Colorado Group/Fusion Retail Brands and Canterbury International.
“Kevin brings with him a strong cricket pedigree and deep relationships within the game at club, state and national level. Kevin played youth cricket for Australia and first-class cricket for NSW, in addition to managing a former commercial partner of CA and being a CA Director over the last three years.”