Todd Boehly has responded to allegations of a toxic environment within Chelsea’s marketing team by promising all employees that there will be sweeping changes to the club’s culture.
The Chelsea co-owner has sent a letter to staff saying there will be a zero tolerance approach to bullying after it emerged Richard Bignell, a former club TV chief, 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 had worked at Chelsea since 2009, was sacked last September a day after returning to work after a period of medical leave. The newspaper said the club’s former owner hired an outside firm to carry out a cultural study of his marketing department in March, but claimed he had to be jointly supervised by an executive accused of being responsible for the worst of his problems.
The New York Times said it spoke to a dozen people who had worked at Chelsea with Bignell, a number of whom said he had struggled to cope with the executive’s aggressive management style. Other staff have reportedly been placed on sick leave and at least 10 staff have quit.
An employee is said to have left fears about his mental health behind and wrote to then-Chelsea chairman Bruce Buck to that effect. Other staff are said to have expressed similar concerns to club leaders or in exit interviews with human resources staff.
The allegations shocked the club’s owners, who completed their takeover at the end of May, and Boehly assured staff that the matter was being treated with the utmost seriousness. Boehly, who led a consortium with US investment firm Clearlake Capital, said in his letter that the reports showed that “although we have a winning team on the ground…we need to review and analyze how we can improve the club culture.
Boehly promised a full investigation – Chelsea confirmed a new ‘external review team’ had been appointed – and the American said he wanted more transparency, accountability, inclusiveness, diversity and diversity. opportunities in the workplace.
“The physical and mental health and well-being of all of our people is paramount,” Boehly wrote. “Our mission is to create a work environment that empowers everyone to be safe, included, valued and trusted. We will work tirelessly to set and achieve the highest standards.
Boehly, who succeeded Buck as chairman, added that Chelsea must “be a beacon of hope, positive and good leadership for the fans, the employees and the communities we serve”. He wrote that he had contacted Bignell’s family and hoped to meet with them next week.
Chelsea are going through a period of rapid change following the end of the Roman Abramovich era. The ambition of the new hierarchy is that harmony off the pitch is seen as as important as winning trophies.
Chelsea said: “The club’s new board strongly believes in a working environment and company culture that empowers its employees and ensures that they feel safe, included, valued and trusted. First steps have been taken by the new owners to create an environment in line with our values.
“Our hearts go out to all of Richard’s family. His passing was deeply felt by his colleagues at the club and throughout the football community. The club have appointed an external review team to investigate the allegations which were made under the previous owner. After learning of the circumstances, the new owner proactively contacted Richard’s family through their advice.
Chelsea are set to appoint Tom Glick, a former executive at Manchester City’s parent company, to manage their day-to-day operations. It is unclear whether Glick, the former commercial director of City Football Group, will take on the role of chief executive recently vacated by Guy Laurence.