Harlequins CEO Laurie Dalrymple relishing baptism of fire following move from Premier League Wolves

For Premiership chief executives during the coronavirus pandemic it is not so much that the management text-book has been thrown out the window.

It is more that it has been shredded into a million pieces, leaving businessmen to pick over the remains to try and work out how to save clubs from oblivion now that no money is coming in.

‘I’d be lying if I said these weren’t worrying times,’ says, Laurie Dalrymple the former Wolves managing director who became CEO of 154-year-old Harlequins in November.

Laurie Dalrymple became CEO of Gallagher Premiership side Harlequins in November

Quite the baptism for Premiership’s newest money-man, then.

‘Whether in football, rugby or any business there is no text-book for this, no chapter in a management text-book to say “right, here we go, here’s where we don’t turnover any money for three months”,’ he continues.

‘It’s difficult. There are serious threats and risks to people’s welfare, safety and security, and there is a risk to the business.’

So amid losing thousands of pounds a week, pay-cuts, the furloughing of most staff and players, no income for the foreseeable future and in the midst of a sport staring down the barrel, how is a Premiership chief executive managing all this from his home office?

The 44-year-old was managing director at Premier League Wolves before moving to Quins

The 44-year-old was managing director at Premier League Wolves before moving to Quins

‘I’m busy as I am when at The Stoop normally,’ Dalrymple, 44, says understating the situation.

‘I plan a structure to the week so I can try and keep every day fairly regimented.

‘I have a dog, and I go out early so he can stretch his legs – there’s not many people out and about at 7am so that allows me a bit of head-space.

‘I’m lucky to have an office, so that is my base for the day. But is it difficult because I have kids that are nine, seven and six so my wife is home-schooling them, which adds more stress and complexity.

‘I start the day with a shower, then a cup of tea to keep that familiarity.

Most staff and players at the London club have been placed on furlough during the crisis

Most staff and players at the London club have been placed on furlough during the crisis

‘I wear Quins-branded clothing too to – I’m sat here in a Quins t-shirt! – it’s small things like that to maintain that connection to who you are.

‘I am on a WhatsApp chat group with 30 or 40 people. There are CEOs from football, athletics, sailing, Olympic sports, other leagues in Europe, there’s a strong mix on this chat group.

‘A lot of the challenges, frustrations and risks are similar. It’s reassuring that we are not alone with this.’

Dalrymple spends most of the day on video calls. On Mondays he checks in with the senior executive team at Quins to make sure business priorities are right.

He speaks to club chairman David Morgan at least once a day and must engage with other CEOs from Premiership teams as they work out ways to finish the season, and what the sport’s life will be like post-coronavirus.

He is on with the board three times a week too, and on Wednesday ‘senior heads’ meet virtually – combining the operations at The Stoop ground and Surrey Sports Park training facility, neither of which can be used at present.

Dalrymple wants Harlequins to be at the forefront of the rugby revolution post-coronavirus

Dalrymple wants Harlequins to be at the forefront of the rugby revolution post-coronavirus

There are also virtual fitness sessions, Friday Zoom socials with beers at home, and coach Paul Gustard has hosted games for staff who turn up on video calls in Quins shirts.

The club’s charity foundation has teamed up with the Chelsea and Westminster hospital to help raise funds in the fight against COVID-19, and Quins have to keep their various sponsors happy too.

So whether it is mindfulness sessions in partnership with Charles Stanley, work-outs with Maximuscle, ringing up fans for the league-wide #MakeThatCall campaign, or the social media team arranging to re-run old matches on Facebook Dalrymple and his staff have many plates to keep spinning while hoping financial stress does not bring the whole thing crashing down.

Dalrymple knows rugby will – and must – change after this but is determined Quins are at the forefront of the coming revolution.

‘When you’ve had such a threat to your existence it makes you value it more,’ he concludes.

‘This has massively magnified my desire for us to be more successful, a more visible club with a broader fan-base, to compete harder and to be better people.

‘We want to win this league as fast as possible – and share that aspiration with 11 other clubs.

‘I firmly believe we’ve got the capability to do that quickly. With some down-time now we can hopefully come through this as a stronger business.

‘If we don’t utilise the opportunity you’ve got while sport is paused to reflect on areas of change then we’ve missed an opportunity.

‘I am coming into Quins with a fresh pair of eyes. Rugby is going through an evolution, which is only a positive thing.

‘The failing would be to resort to type.

‘There’s every likelihood there will be some changes to our sport that will benefit the sport as a whole.

‘A chance to re-evaluate will allow us to be better in the future. Quins have got a huge opportunity to do things differently and to succeed on the field.

‘How we come together now is important.’