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Man for his time: Why Ikin should be next Broncos CEO

Broncos premiership winner Ben Ikin's skill set and rugby league nous has him well positioned as the ideal candidate to be the next Broncos CEO and a man for his time.

With the commercial side of the business in sound shape but the performance of the team in freefall, the Broncos have come to a juncture in their history where the next CEO to replace the outgoing Paul White must have the football knowledge to right what is a sinking ship.

They also need a person with the courage of their convictions to be a change agent and fix the problems that exist with the club’s coaching, high performance department, recruitment and culture.

Ikin said recently on the NRL 360 program he co-hosts that he would come in to the role with an "appetite for change", fully cognisant of the fact that unless things do change the Broncos will only get worse.

He spent five seasons at the Broncos and won the 2000 premiership at the club during a 150-game first grade career.

Ikin understands what makes the Broncos tick and the winning culture that was in place when the club was in its ascendancy.  

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He is a QRL board member and was also on the North Queensland board which appointed premiership-winning coach Paul Green.

Ikin knows what a premiership-winning operation looks like.

He would concede the reporting and compliance that goes with heading up an ASX-listed company is not a skill set he possesses, but he does have considerable commercial experience inside and outside the game as a former GM of commercial at the Titans and in the construction industry.

Ikin and football smarts

The area that needs fixing at Brisbane is the football department, which in essence is their core business and the reason for its very existence.

Ikin has drawn up his own "game plan" for what he would do in that space if he were to get the job.

The Broncos' performances over the past 12 rounds, where they have won just one game, reveal a side that does not have the physical or mental capacity to perform to an acceptable level in the modern NRL.

That is a reflection of the team’s coaching and conditioning. The players are not listening to coach Anthony Seibold and have not been able to implement his game model.

Seibold’s future is up for review at the end of the season and the next CEO will have a big call to make on the Brisbane coach's position, if it is not already made by the time the new boss is installed.

Ikin has spoken of "assembling a group of people that can make the top four", which is the club's long-held aspiration at the start of each season.

Every try from round 14

If he was to get the job, the make-up of the coaching and performance team would no doubt be informed by that goal and a holistic view of the football department.

He is of the view that football programs win premierships and does not subscribe to the "silver bullet" theory where it is all down to one coach fixing what is broken.

It will be the football manager, list manager, head of performance and assistant coaches who must be made of the right stuff. The challenge for the next CEO is to figure out what components of the Broncos systems aren’t firing, whether that be the people or the process.

Ikin would want to keep what is working and phase out what is not but it is only an assessment he can make when he is inside the four walls.

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He has been highly critical of Brisbane’s list management.

The decision to extend Tevita Pangai jnr's contract and subsequently miss out on re-signing David Fifita has left him perplexed as has the call to let Andrew McCullough go to Newcastle.

Building a club around Matthew Lodge as a senior leader is another decision that rankles.

Then there was the decision to sign Brodie Croft as a so-called game-managing half when he had no proven success in such as role. Even one of Croft’s biggest supporters, Matthew Johns, conceded his strengths were elsewhere.

"I want to know and understand what is at fault. The list, you have heard me say, is in bad shape and I want to know how it got that way," Ikin told NRL 360.

"I want to know the separation of duties between the general manager of football [Peter Nolan] and the coach.”

Ikin is aware the player market is fluid and has studied who is available and when. His stated desire for Brisbane to try and secure Cameron Smith is a sign he would want to bring proven performers and cultural leaders to the club.

The Eels and Panthers have shown performance can be turned around quickly when the right building blocks in the football department, including the roster, are in place. 

NRL.com has spoken to those who Ikin has worked with at board level and what comes through loud and clear is he is valued for his intelligence, wisdom and attention to detail. Another trait is while prepared to take advice, he is also prepared to make decisions and own them.

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The CEO of the Broncos needs to be able to perform in the media with aplomb and Ikin has a polished history in that area.

Crucially, he also understands how the media works and comprehends the "theatre" that is the rugby league news cycle. He will know what to let wash over him and when to step in and engage the media.

As a Broncos premiership winner, he will be embraced by the club's influential old boys' network. While he is well aware that support goes hand in glove with results there is a lot of goodwill towards him from the considerable list of high-profile Brisbane premiership-winning players.

Try of the Week: Round 14

Broncos' great strength

The commercial side of the business is in good shape, in spite of the significant hit the COVID-19 situation has delivered to all professional sporting organisations.

The next CEO will inherit a financial situation where $14 million is in the bank, there are 27,000 members lined up for next year, a full sponsorship book for another five years is locked away and a raft of government-funded community programs, such as Beyond the Broncos, is in full swing.

Brisbane have just partnered with their 42nd school and have a Broncos staff member in all of those schools full-time. They also have links with Deadly Choices and 10 other charity partners.

To get through the unprecedented COVID-19 period the tough but necessary decision to make redundant more than 20 staff members has been made so the club is now mean and lean as far as its business operation is concerned.

When White came to the role in 2010 the commercial side of the business needed to be enhanced. He diversified commercial interests, introduced the membership model, expanded the community programs with an eye to government funding and helped secure the best training facility and headquarters in the league.

That solid business foundation cannot be taken for granted, however, and the future fallout from the current poor on-field performances cannot be known.

Outward manifestations, such as the fan who threw his jersey on the club’s front doorstep in disgust last week, are a sign of discontent in the supporter base.

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The prospect of a second Brisbane team being installed in the near future should also keep any complacency at bay.

The Broncos have advertised for the CEO's position and will go through the process of paring the candidates back to a short list with the intention of making a decision by the end of September.

NewsCorp Australia, the majority owners of the Broncos through subsidiary Nationwide News, will also need to approve of any appointment.

NRL.com understands Ikin has not been "anointed" as such but he is highly regarded by NewsCorp head honchos and his work for Fox Sports has only enhanced his reputation.

 

The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARL Commission, NRL clubs or state associations.

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