Magazine article Management Today

Odds Look Good for the Jockey Club

Magazine article Management Today

Odds Look Good for the Jockey Club

Article excerpt

Founded in the 18th century, the Jockey Club has joined the 20th and is successfully negotiating the commercial hurdles.

The one-time England rugby captain Will Carling did all athletic bodies a great disservice with his slur on those aged - and allegedly flatulent 57. Indeed, such was Mr Carling's endorsement of the phrase that one suspects future dictionaries may define his bons mots as 'any sporting association esp. one comprised of tweedy old buffers'. Yet, for all the flak they attract, here in the UK, it seems we rather like these unelected, slightly unaccountable bodies which control various aspects of our lives. Often they are deeply rooted in history and retain a whiff of the 18th century gentlemen's club about them. They are usually disliked by egalitarians- because they are not- and those on the left, largely because against the odds they actually seem to work better than many of their more accountable counterparts. Probably the best known example is the House of Lords; another is the Jockey Club. The latter regulates an industry which employs around 100,000 people and - all in - is reckoned to be the sixth largest in the UK.

In one guise or another, the Jockey Club has been overseeing British horse racing since the 18th century. Founded originally to do nothing more than 'promote good fellowship among racing and horse breeding gentlemen', the club's authority and regulatory powers grew and grew over the years until it had become the governing body of British horse racing. During the 20th century, particularly after the war, the club assumed a host of ancillary administrative duties, largely because there was nobody else around to do them. Its remit had grown to cover every aspect of racing, from the design of jumps to dealing with the government of the day.

The more professional drive towards greater focus in the Club's activities began in the late 1960s and early '70s. That was when it hived off two operations, Race Course Holdings (which, it will astonish no one to learn, is the owner of a number of race courses) and Jockey Club Estates (4,500 acres of training grounds at Newmarket), as discrete operating companies.

But the major changes resulting in a modern regulatory body were introduced in 1993. Consensus had been building for some time that the Club was becoming unwieldy and unaccountable so in '93 the British Horseracing Board (BHB) was formed, on whose board the Jockey Club holds four out of 11 seats. To the BHB fell the old Jockey Club's function of strategic planning, finance, politics and marketing. Since the move effectively divorced organisational and regulatory activities, the Club could then, in the words of long-standing executive director, Christopher Foster 'go back to what it's always done best: the setting and maintaining of standards for racing'. This emphasis on core competences allowed the Club to concentrate on certain areas - such as the training of stewards - where, within the industry there had been rumblings of discontent.

Post-split, what is left is a rather curious cross between a traditional club (members are proposed and seconded), a judicial body (in racing, it is the law) and a business. The Club proper comprises 120 full members and a handful of honorary members, all of whom, in the words of Foster 'are generally people of some stature'. They hail from a variety of backgrounds: business and the City, farming, landowners and, of course, racing. A quick glance at the roll call confirms that Foster's comment about stature has considerable substance - there are a smattering of royals (both domestic and foreign), highly-ranked members of the military and, from the business world, Lord Weinstock and Peter Greenall among others (in all 50% of the Club's members sit on company boards). None of the members receives any financial consideration and a typical member, who might sit on a committee or two, would devote 20 clays a year to the Club. …

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