Since moving from Synectics to Port Vale with Carol and Kevin Shanahan in May 2019, Claire has played an integral role in the day-to-day running of the football club. Carol describes her as somebody that ‘lights up the room that she enters’ and ‘the one in the background that runs the place’. But who is she? And what does she do?
Q) So, where did your working relationship with Carol begin?
A) I used to help recruit for Synectics many years ago, and that’s how I got to know Carol on a personal level. We had a really good relationship because I understood the types of people that she wanted to employ. I would search specifically for people that matched her company values, and we just got on really well.
Then I was on holiday one year and I received a phone call from Carol and Kate [Carol’s daughter] saying that they were looking for somebody to handle the recruitment side of things at Synectics. So I told them that I’d go away and find a Recruitment Manager for them. They paused and laughed. They said ‘no Claire, this is us offering you the job!’
So that was around nine years ago now. Initially, I accepted a recruitment based role, but because of the sort of person that I am, I ended up taking on more and more until I ended up looking after the nurturing side of things, the back office and administration, the purchasing.
I think the real turning point for us all was moving the site from Newcastle-Under-Lyme to Burslem. If we didn’t do that then Carol would never have fell in love with the football club in the way that she did. It was only because of that that we started planning to buy the club, and for around three years we were putting things in place so that when the day arrived we were all prepared to move over.
So when Carol did buy it, I almost came with the club.
Q) What does the C.O.O role entail?
A) Well, from doing everything from the facilities to the hospitality at Synectics, it lead nicely into my role as Chief Operating Officer at Port Vale.
At the moment, I predominantly look after the safety and security side of things, as well as the club shop, the commercials, the hospitality and operations.
If I’m honest, the commercial aspect is something that is new to me and has been the biggest challenge: working with the lottery and dealing with sponsorships. I’ve never done it before so I’ve had to learn the ins and outs really quickly.
Every day I have to make a lot of decisions - all of which I make based on the Synectics values which are: Caring: we always ask ourselves, ‘is it the right thing to do?’ Commitment: not stopping until the job is done. Community: helping others. Learning: something that we’ve had to do an awful lot of over the last twelve months to enhance our understanding of the football industry. Enthusiasm: something that comes very natural to me.
Q) What do you enjoy most about working within a football club?
A) I absolutely love match-days. It’s very difficult to explain a match-day the feeling that you get - it’s unique. There is a buzz around the place; almost like Christmas when all the family get together.
Prior to me working at Port Vale I wouldn’t have said we were supporters but now we are hooked. My daughters’ come with me to the games, and my husband does when he isn’t working so for us it’s become a family thing too. I’ve really grown to love the football club and the players.
What I find really interesting is the mood on a Monday morning when we’ve lost at the weekend. You don’t get that anywhere else. The manager will say ‘don’t talk to me’ and Colin will be down as well, so I always make it my mission to be the opposite of that. Win, lose or draw I am very conscious that the players should get the same love and attention no matter what. Providing them with that consistency I think helps them to stay balanced.
At the end of the day, the players’ success is what will keep us all in a job, so from my perspective, I think it’s really important that we look after them as much as we possibly can.
Q) What sort of work have you been doing during lockdown?
A) For the first couple of months our entire focus was on the charity stuff, making sure that we were doing the right thing by the community and looking after all of our fans. Once we realised that League Two was going to come to an end, we then began to look towards next season.
This past month we’ve been working really hard on getting the stadium ready for when the safety advisory group inspect it. We are also waiting to hear back from Robbie Williams and his team on a rearranged date for next year. As well as all that, we’re looking at what needs to be put in place for the players before they are able to return to training.
As a whole, we’ve made some really good strides on some of the health and safety elements. One thing we’ve had to be really aware of though is the expenditure, as we just don’t know when the next lot of money is going to come in. Although we’ve had fantastic support from season tickets, box holders and sponsorship deals- all of which will help enormously- we still have to be really careful with our spending.
It’s interesting because at the very beginning of the pandemic, Carol said to us all- ‘When all of this blows over and we look back, how do we want to be remembered?’, and the answer from the team was that we wanted to be remembered positively and give the supporters a club to be proud of.
I think the mentality of the group is that we don’t congratulate ourselves on what we have achieved within the community because we all just get on with our jobs. People often say to us, ‘oh my god you must be so proud – 75,000 meals delivered’, but because we never sit back, we almost forget how much we’ve actually done. We always push for more; if we reach 80,000 then we will want 100,000. That’s just who we are, and I think that’s one of the reasons why we will be successful.
When we are doing anything around the club, Carol wants us to ask the question: ‘what would a championship or premiership club do in this situation?’ because that’s the type of club that we want to be.
Q) What do you love most about working for Carol and Kevin Shanahan?
A) What I love about working with them is that they allow me to be me. In other places that I’ve worked I’ve had my wings clipped a little bit; there has always been an expectation to behave in a certain way, but with Carol she encourages me to express myself and my enthusiasm around the place. Enthusiasm is something that I have in abundance and she loves that. I like to bring some light-heartedness to the work place and Carol has always said that I’m very serious about having fun.
When we moved in last May I was fully confident that they would do a fantastic job because I know that doing the right thing is what really drives them on as people.
The reason that I get so much autonomy from Carol is that she puts a lot of trust in my judgement- which occasionally I get wrong, who doesn’t? The important thing is that you learn from those misjudgements and that’s something that Carol has always told us.
The truth is, I could go on forever about why I love working with them, but the main attraction for me is that they really help you to be the best version of you.
With them, it’s ok to be me.