Todd Boely has responded to accusations of a toxic environment within Chelsea’s marketing team by promising all staff that there will be a drastic change in the club’s culture.
The Chelsea co-owner sent a letter to staff saying a zero-tolerance approach to bullying would be applied following the revelation that Richard Bignell, the club’s former head of television, took his own life in January and that the coroner’s report found he was “deeply troubled by anxiety, depression and despair after losing his job.”
The New York Times reported that Bignell, who worked at Chelsea for 18 years, was fired last September the day after returning to work after more than a year of sick leave. The newspaper reported that the club’s former owner hired an outside firm to conduct a cultural audit of their marketing department in March, but said it should be jointly overseen by an executive who is accused of being responsible for the club’s biggest problems.
The New York Times said it spoke to a dozen people who worked at Chelsea with Bignell, some of whom said he had a hard time dealing with the boss’s aggressive management style. Other employees were reported to have been placed on sick leave and at least 10 employees have left.
One staff member is said to have left concerns about his mental health and wrote to then Chelsea chairman Bruce Buck about it. Other employees were reported to have expressed similar concerns to club executives or in exit interviews with human resources staff.
The accusations shocked the club’s owners, who completed their takeover at the end of May, and Boeli assured staff that the matter was being taken seriously. Boli, who led a consortium with U.S. investment firm Clearlake Capital, said in a letter that the reporting showed that “while we have a winning team on the field… we need to consider and analyze how we can improve the club’s culture.”
Boli promised a full investigation – Chelsea confirmed a new “external review team” had been appointed – and the American said he wanted more transparency, accountability, inclusion, diversity and opportunity in the workplace.
“The physical and mental health and well-being of all of our people is paramount,” Boly wrote. “Our mission is to create a work environment that allows everyone to be safe, engaged, valued and trusted. We will work tirelessly to set and achieve the highest standards.”
Boli, who succeeded Buck as chairman, added that Chelsea should “be a beacon of hope, positive and good leadership for fans, employees and the communities we serve.” He wrote that he had contacted the Bignell family and hoped to meet with them within the next week.
Chelsea are going through a period of rapid change since the end of the Roman Abramovich era. The ambition of the new hierarchy is for off-pitch harmony to be seen as as important as winning trophies.
Chelsea said: “The club’s new board of directors strongly believes in a work environment and corporate culture that empowers its employees and ensures they feel safe, engaged, valued and trustworthy. The first steps have been taken by the new owners to create an environment in line with our values.
“Our heart is with the entire Richard family. His passing was deeply felt by his fellow club members and the football community. The club has appointed an external review team to investigate allegations made by previous owners. Upon learning of the circumstances, the new owner actively contacted Richard’s family through their lawyer.”