Todd Boehly has responded to allegations of a toxic environment in Chelsea’s marketing team by promising all employees there will be sweeping changes to the club’s culture.
Chelsea’s co-owner has sent a letter to staff saying there will be a zero-tolerance approach to bullying after it emerged that Richard Bignell, a former head of the club’s television channel, had taken his own life in January and that a coroner’s report found he had been “deeply troubled by anxiety, depression and despair following the loss of his job”.
The New York Times reported that Bignell, who worked at Chelsea since 2009, was sacked last September a day after returning to work following a period of medical leave. The paper said the club’s previous ownership hired an outside firm to conduct a cultural review of their marketing department in March, but claimed it was to be jointly overseen by an executive accused of being to blame for the worst of its problems.
The New York Times said it had spoken to about a dozen people who had worked at Chelsea with Bignell, a number of whom said he had struggled to deal with the executive’s aggressive management style. Other staff were said to have been signed off on medical leave and at least 10 employees resigned.
One employee was said to have left over fears over their mental health and wrote to Chelsea’s then chairman, Bruce Buck, to that effect. Other staff were reported to have expressed similar concerns to club executives or in exit interviews with human resources staff.
The allegations have shocked the club’s owners, who completed their takeover at the end of May, and Boehly has moved to assure staff that the matter is being treated with the utmost seriousness. Boehly, who fronted a consortium with the US investment firm Clearlake Capital, said in his letter that the reporting showed that “while we have a winning team on the pitch … we need to review and analyse how we can improve the club’s culture”.
Boehly promised a full investigation – Chelsea have confirmed that a new “external review team” has been appointed – and the American said he wanted more transparency, accountability, inclusivity, diversity and opportunity in the workplace.
“The physical and mental health and wellbeing of all of our people is paramount,” Boehly wrote. “Our mission is to create a workplace environment that empowers everyone to be safe, included, valued and trusted. We will work tirelessly to set and achieve the highest standards.”
Boehly, who has taken over from Buck as chairman, added that Chelsea must “be a beacon of hope, positive and good leadership for fans, employees and communities we serve”. He wrote that he had contacted Bignell’s family and that he hoped to meet them within the next week.
Chelsea are going through a period of rapid change after the end of the Roman Abramovich era. The new hierarchy’s ambition is for harmony off the pitch to be seen as important as winning trophies.
Chelsea said: “The club’s new board believes strongly in a workplace environment and corporate culture that empowers its employees and ensures they feel safe, included, valued and trusted. Initial steps have been taken by the new owners to instil an environment consistent with our values.
“Our heart goes out to Richard’s entire family. His passing has been deeply felt by his colleagues at the club and across the football community. The club has appointed an external review team to investigate the allegations that have been made under previous ownership. Upon learning about the circumstances, new ownership has proactively reached out to Richard’s family through their counsel.”
Chelsea are close to appointing Tom Glick, a former executive at Manchester City’s parent company, to run their day-day-to operation. It is unclear whether Glick, the former chief commercial officer at City Football Group, will take on the chief executive role recently vacated by Guy Laurence.