Having worked his way through the commercial department at Norwich City to become chief operating officer at Carrow Road, new Hibs chief executive Ben Kensell isn’t shy about taking on a challenge.
That’s why he has decided to take a leap of faith and move to the Scottish Premiership. Kensell was appointed as Leeann Dempster’s successor last week, Hibs executive chairman Ron Gordon carefully selecting who he wanted to take on the role of chief executive. Dempster left her post in late 2020.
Kensell’s been in the job for a week but his to-do list is already running off the page. Talks with The City of Edinburgh Council over fans returning in larger numbers will likely be near the top of that while transfers in and out the club will take up his time, working alongside sporting director Graeme Mathie and head coach Jack Ross in the latter task.
Growing the club long-term is also an objective he holds highly. Kensell could have operated at English Premier League level with Norwich City this season, but the new Hibs chief executive tells NTOF it was time for a fresh start: “I feel honoured to have earned this role at Hibs.
“It is a new challenge for me, having spent seven very successful years at Norwich City. It is a great club to be part of but I felt I had achieved everything I possibly could at Norwich City. When I heard about the opportunity here, and when Ron Gordon got in touch, I was pretty much sold straight away.
“I know about the history, the tradition and things from a footballing perspective. Ron is a very aspirational and inspirational person to work on behalf of. Once we had a few conversations, it became clear that I wanted to take up the challenge here.
“I think there is a nice balance between the football side of things and the off-the-pitch side. I am well-versed in the business side and I have worked with a sporting director before. I feel I can bring a fresh energy.”
Kensell’s key strengths are in the business sector and he knows Scottish football has room to grow. The new Hibs chef executive has taken a seven-day scan of the game in Scotland and can already see things to work on. He wants Hibs fans to help him.
Kensell explained: “I think Scottish football has room to grow. That’s a view after one week. I think there is opportunity to grow in broadcasting and in partnerships. It has to grow. We want to take the hospitality and retails sections of our club to the next level. But we have to get the foundations right.
“That’s why I’m so keen to speak to supporters as they will tell me honestly what we are and aren’t doing right. I am looking to organise face-to-face meetings with the fans. It has to be genuine as I don’t believe in hierarchy too much. I want to learn from those who are so passionate about this club.”
Keeping the core playing group that finished third in the league last season together will be tricky. Left-back Josh Doig is likely to leave the club this summer amid mounting English suitors while Kevin Nisbet, Ryan Porteous and Martin Boyle are attracting interest. Youngsters Ethan Laidlaw and Murray Johnson have been in-demand too.
Kensell says it’s a ‘team effort’ to get the likes of Doig to this stage: “It’s about getting marketing value for players. We are a playing club so we have to think about the player first and foremost. We then look to get the appropriate value for our players.
“It’s a team effort when talking about an individual player. I look at all the people that have helped them on that journey. It encompasses what we want to be at this club. We want to be a collaborative club which gets the best out of all our staff.”
Kensell is currently drawing up his long-term plans for Hibs. Whatever they turn out to be, they will be made to take the Easter Road club to ‘the next level.’ In the short-term though, there’s plenty of work to do.
He added: “I hope to have a voice and I want to be transparent. Hopefully that is the basis of a good foundation. That is how we take the club to the next level on and off the park. We want to bring fans on a journey with us. Short-term, our goal has to be bringing supporters back into the ground.
“I need to ensure I have a good relationship with the staff here and understand what the board objectives are. I want to grow the club strategically. We are doing work at Easter Road too, like putting in new big screens and kiosks. There are a few short-term logistical operational considerations we need to work through, which is to be expected.
“Medium-term I am taking my time. I need to build a plan to make sure I take this club to the next level. Jack Ross and Graeme Mathie have already achieved really good things in the last year. We need to retain high performance across the business and we move forward with that in our minds.”
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