Recently-appointed Ipswich Jets CEO Richard Hughes has settled exceptionally well into his new surroundings.
Recently-appointed Ipswich Jets CEO Richard Hughes has settled exceptionally well into his new surroundings. Rob Williams

Hughes' views on boosting club, nurturing Ipswich pathways

RUGBY LEAGUE: Three months into his challenging new role, Jets CEO Richard Hughes already has plans to build stronger partnerships, improve Ipswich's player pathway and unveil a future strategic policy.

And he's "loving it'' after initially feeling some anxiety coming from outside Ipswich.

"There was always a bit of apprehension about how football, sports, this industry would run parallel to me and what I do,'' he said.

However, he said his warm welcome at the Jets quickly allayed any fears working for the first time in the sports industry even with his strong corporate world background.

"It's very easy to fall in love with this club . . . and that's driven by the players, it's driven by the leadership team, it's driven by the staff, it's driven by the board,'' he said.

"Not once do I ever come to work and it's a struggle.

"It's fun. It's lived up to its expectations.

"No two days are the same.''

Born and bred in London, Ipswich newcomer Hughes has fulfilled various business and corporate management roles over the past 20 years.

That includes working in London, around the world and in Sydney before heading north.

In his latest role, he oversees the Jets Football Club, working closely with the Jets Leagues Club.

"It's a lot different. However, the same business rules and business principles are relevant,'' Hughes, 47, said.

"I'm used to working in a not-for-profit area where budgets were always very tight and being responsible for every dollar you spend.''

So when recruited by Jets chairman Steve Johnson and the board, Hughes saw the appeal after doing his research.

"Everybody had a story about Ipswich and Ipswich Jets, and who we are and what we stand for and what we've done,'' Hughes said. "And just that community drive.

"Some of those boys that we've got this year that come over from different places and have made reference to the way we play football but it's also the way we look after the players as people, not as machines, to get to the result that's appropriate.''

A major focus of Hughes in Ipswich is pursuing new income streams to bolster the Jets' financial position.

That includes securing sponsorships, accessing grants and being "that conduit to the QRL (Queensland Rugby League) and our club, and making sure that we are able to grow the club,'' he said.

He's also keen to explore future alignment opportunities with the Jets Leagues Club, where he is based.

"That's an important association; there's a lot we can do in that space,'' he said.

"The Jets football club brand and the league club brand are the same so it's important to be seen as one.''

Ipswich Jets CEO Richard Hughes.
Ipswich Jets CEO Richard Hughes. Rob Williams

Hughes works with a small office team, the Jets board and Johnson as well as Jets head coaches Ben and Shane Walker, club stalwart Jim Landy and other coaches.

"The Walker boys do what they do extremely well and I'm not there to interfere,'' Hughes said, joking Ipswich wouldn't win any premierships under his coaching tenure. "And they leave me to do my thing.

"But what's really strong this year is the bond that we have, the communication we have between Ben and Shane and the other head coaches and me.

"They know what is good for the club and we can work together.''

While such priorities are important, Hughes is also mindful of building crucial relationships in Ipswich.

That includes the Jets forming a new representative netball team launching its season in June and ongoing support for a Touch Rugby League team.

However, since starting in December, Hughes has also been eager to strengthen ties with the Rugby League Ipswich local competition.

Hughes said the recent appointment of Jets development officer Steve Brown will play a significant role in progressing players in the region.

"He's working with Rugby League Ipswich doing junior clinics and he's into schools,'' Hughes said.

"It's about showing juniors a pathway of how they can aspire to be an Ipswich Jet.

"And it's about us feeding our players back into the local clubs and it's for our local clubs to understand that pathway.

"That relationship hasn't always been at its best . . . and we have the right person in Steve to really push that.''

Hughes worked in contract hotels travelling around the world in his twenties and was a stockbroker in London for four years before moving to Australia about 18 years ago.

He also ran his own events business for seven years, winning a number of awards while based in Sydney.

Before being recruited by the Jets board, Hughes worked most recently for 18 months in Brisbane. He built a strong association with league through working with people with a disability for Redcliffe, the QRL, NRL and the Men of League Foundation.

He said the biggest challenge coming to Ipswich was dealing with "lots of moving parts'' with only a handful of staff "where other clubs have 10 or 12''. However, he's tried to spread the workload more efficiently building on the amazing work done so far.

As for what is most satisfying about his CEO work, Hughes said it was seeing how the players remained calm and proud of the Jets when talking to club sponsors after their two early losses in this year's Intrust Super Cup competition.

"There was nothing other than love for the team and what we do here,'' Hughes noted.

"The results are fantastic but what's quite obvious here is everything we do is way beyond just that. It's about sense of community, it's about how we feel about each other.

"That sense of community we have, in everything we do and the interaction that we have, is a fantastic one.''

Hughes hopes to continue developing the strong bond he's discovered in the city as he sets about devising the next 3-5 year strategic plan.

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