The Future of British Cycling – CEO Julie Harrington
Kit Taylor, Head of psd’s Sport Practice, helped British Cycling find their new CEO – Julie Harrington. Since starting her role in May 2017, Julie has forged strategies and created successes, as well as facing a number of challenges. Kit caught up with her to find out more about her accomplishments so far, the success British Cycling has experienced recently and the future plans for Tokyo 2020.
What attracted you to the role of CEO for British Cycling?
There were many things that attracted me this role. The opportunity to work at an organisation that has achieved so much success, not just at an elite level, but also at grassroots, was something that I couldn’t refuse.I’m incredibly passionate about sport and the impact it can make on people’s lives and society. We’re a nation that is gripped by problems with obesity, pollution and congestion. Cycling can be the answer to all those problems, and that excites me hugely and was something I wanted to be a part of.
What were the key challenges of the first 6 months?
There is no hiding from the fact that there were some big issues that needed addressing when I walked through the door on my first day. However, what I’ve found is that this has been largely a very positive process. The publication of the Cycling Independent Review and our 39 point action plan allowed us to draw a line in the sand, learn from some of the mistakes of the past, but also reflect on what we do well and how we build on that, so we can continue to be successful at Olympics and Paralympics, while continuing to inspire more people to get on bikes.
Driving participation and getting more women on bikes is a big focus – what programmes are in place to achieve this?
British Cycling launched our strategy to get one million more women riding bikes by 2020 and we were delighted to report in 2017 that we are ahead of target in our goal, having directly influenced 723,000 women to get on a bike since 2013. This has been through initiatives such as our HSBC UK Breeze programme, led by our network of Breeze champions, which offers fun, free bike rides for riders of all abilities across the UK. While we have been successful, we also recognise that there are still challenges to overcome. For example, we know that women have more safety concerns about riding on the road than men, and that’s why we continue to lobby and work with the government to get the appropriate infrastructure in place so that everyone can feel safe while riding a bike.
Following the publication of the Cycling Independent Review, what key progress has been made with the resulting 39 point Action Plan?
We have made excellent progress with the 39 point action plan. A really big win for us, relatively early in the process, was ensuring the changes required by the new Code for Sports Governance were voted through by our regional boards, while some really positive processes have been put in place in terms of how we work with the riders on our various programmes. This extends to things like no longer charging riders who lodge an appeal against a selection decision, as well as regularly reviewing a rider’s performance so they know how they are tracking against their individual objectives.
We also carried out a culture survey of British Cycling staff, which also included Great Britain Cycling Team riders, to understand how they were feeling and what direction they wanted the organisation to travel in over the next few years. Ultimately any organisation is only as good as its people and we wanted to ensure that we fully engaged with our workforce, and incorporated their thoughts and feedback into our new strategy.
From an elite performance perspective, what are the major targets for 2018?
The year after an Olympic and Paralympic Games is always one of transition – some riders choose to retire, others take some time away from the sport and generally everyone just recoups and takes a breather after an intense four year cycle. However we’ve still seen significant success in the last 12 months, with 14 British world champions crowned across the various cycling disciplines.
Next year our attention really shifts to Tokyo 2020 and ensuring our riders are in the best possible shape to win medals.
The qualification process also begins next year, which is vitally important in terms of securing the qualifying spots we need, and therefore ensuring that every potential medallist gets a seat on that plane.
And finally, what has been your most memorable moment so far in the role?
My work with the staff at British Cycling has been incredibly rewarding. Given the headlines that had been written about British Cycling before I started at the organisation, I wasn’t sure what I would expect when I walked through the door on my first day – but I was very pleasantly surprised.
I’m also incredibly excited about our work with HSBC UK. I’ve attended a number of our mass participation HSBC UK City Rides this year, and to see thousands of people out riding their bikes and enjoying themselves has been lovely to see.
CEO, British Cycling
Julie has over 15 years’ experience in senior leadership roles in a sports environment previously as the Football Association’s Group Operations Director, responsible for running both Wembley Stadium and St George’s Park, having been tasked with the final stage of construction, launch and management of a £100m elite training centre, home to the 24 England teams.
She has also held senior roles with Northern Racing, British Airways and Whitbread and is also a non-executive director of the British Horseracing Authority.