In January, accountancy and business advisory firm BDO and specialist recruitment consultancy CMA Recruitment Group named Mike Lashmar, director of finance at RB Sports & Leisure Holdings, the company behind Hampshire’s Ageas Bowl, as the Central South Mid Market FD of the Year for 2020. Tim Wickham talked to him about his role and the challenges of the past 12 months.
At the start of 2020, the Ageas Bowl was delivering a strong financial performance after many years steadily building up the business and its profile. As well as being home to Hampshire County Cricket Club, the site near the M27 at Hedge End includes a Hilton hotel, spa, wellbeing centre, golf course and several sports clubs.
The way Lashmar led his team as they handled a year of Covid-19 disruption helped earn him this award. “2020 was tough and 2021 will be, too,” he said. “Winning the award was a lovely shock, especially as the other finalists demonstrated that there are a lot of talented FDs in the region.”
Before Covid-19 struck, everything was falling into place. “We were slowly, but surely, breaking records across the board. For example, we had sold all tickets for our 2021 international matches before the end of 2020, which was an amazing achievement,” he said.
Lashmar and his team focused on three key areas to safeguard the business: technology innovation, corporate restructuring and refinancing.
“We were the first cricket ground to introduce an app that transforms the matchday user experience,” he said. “We aim to use the best cutting-edge technology.”
The company recently completed a planned corporate restructuring that, in hindsight, proved to be timely. “We looked at how to make business decisions more quickly and how to organise ourselves for the better,” he explained. “We also worked closely with key stakeholders to extend lending, re-structure our finances and put in place a cost-control programme.”
The judges were impressed with Lashmar’s leadership and his close working with CEO David Mann. “This last year would stress-test any working partnership,” Lashmar observed. “We know we always have to find a way forward. Even in the event we don’t agree what that might be, we present a united front which is key.”
He added: “I see the FD’s role as giving an unvarnished and unbiased view of the cold, hard facts. These hard times have brought our management team closer together and we have learned a lot about each other, which has strengthened the relationship.”
After taking a degree in management sciences and accounting at the University of Southampton, Lashmar spent 10 years in accountancy practice, where he learned a range of business management skills and also spent time on secondment at a bank.
After financial positions with numerous companies in the Solent region, he was headhunted by The Ageas Bowl in 2016.
Assessing the changing nature of the role, he said: “The immediate and short-term future for FDs is going to be tough, especially as the role becomes more complex.”
For example, his multi-purpose approach involves HR, legal and other sides of the business. “The FD’s role is also a lot more hands-on as things happen more quickly now. You are constantly under pressure to respond with the right solutions in rapidly changing situations.”
The Ageas Bowl is a Covid-secure ‘bubble’ which hosted an on-site mass testing facility last summer. This helped in its successful bid to host the UK’s first international sporting event post Covid-19, with a test match against the West Indies.
Lashmar believes the company will be ready when lockdowns and furloughs end, whatever uncertainties remain. “We are all looking forward to the day when we can get together at work again,” he said.
He sees opportunities for businesses that are prepared to take them. “We are looking at ways of de-risking the company and are currently developing a new, long-term strategic plan,” he said. “We are in better shape than we were but we still have a lot to do. I’m looking ahead with confidence.”