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A Sponsorship Honcho Moves On

by John Hopkins - December 04, 2017

The sundering of the relationship between Giles Morgan, one of the most important men in golf because of the amount of sponsorship money he allocated to the game, and the bank that provided him with that pot of gold undoubtedly set tongues wagging. But it had been coming.

Morgan, 46, recently left his post as global head of sponsorship at HSBC. He felt that a 45-minute, televised interview he had conducted with Jack Nicklaus last year represented his peak. “That was my Everest,” he said. Morgan, an 18-handicap hacker and a businessman not a journalist, asking the world’s greatest golfer unusual questions such as “What do you sing in the shower?” and getting a standing ovation from the audience when it was over. “That was a moment in my life when I thought it cannot possibly be better than this.”

He loved his job, though after 12 years he had had a bellyful of travelling. Twenty long-haul trips annually as well as a deep vein thrombosis and a pulmonary embolism will do that to you.

Working hard at being the interface between HSBC and worldclass sportsmen on golf courses and rugby fields (and in a few other sports) was taking more time than he wanted to give. He had been divorced twice and he had two children he wasn’t seeing as much as he would like. Noticing Keith Pelley arrive at the European Tour with a whoosh of Canadian energy, Mike Whan performing miracles with the LPGA and being enthusiastic about the appointment of Jay Monahan as commissioner of the PGA Tour caused Morgan to say to himself: “It’s time to reassess.”

“I think the trademark attributes he brought to his role with HSBC were his creativity, his passion and his electrifying personality,” Pelley said. “He understood what a partnership meant which was a win-win for both sides. We both had the same objectives and the same passion, namely that creativity was at the forefront of all our discussions, so our meetings in general were quite enlightening and enjoyable. Whichever sport Giles was involved with, he brought a tremendous commitment in getting the best for HSBC. Was he demanding? Yes. But all good marketing and sponsorship people are.”

One estimate is that in Morgan’s 12 years at HSBC the bank gave out a half billion US dollars in sponsorship. That is in golf alone. Never mind rugby, tennis at Wimbledon and in Mexico, equestrianism in Argentina, and British cycling. Morgan was a most approachable sponsor shouldering the weight of the bank’s gravitas with easygoing affability. “We think highly of Giles,” Tim Finchem, the former PGA Tour commissioner, said via e-mail. ”He had vision, seeing the potential for golf in China. He is a good strategist with a direct yet appealing manner. Also, he delivered great value for HSBC by positioning our event in Shanghai as world class.”

Currently, Morgan is decompressing, re-engaging with his children, trying to improve his golf and looking forward to skiing in the new year. At that time he will start his own consultancy.

“When I got the job in 2005 with a very small sponsorship portfolio and quite a threadbare knowledge from a very big company of how international sponsorship could work for the good of the bank, it took four or five years to build the portfolio. It started with demonstrating that the properties we had worked. China, the (WGC-HSBC Champions tournament), was probably the bedrock of everything I did at HSBC.

“I always knew because I was a sponsorship guy and a sports guy I was never going to climb in the bank. I don’t do marketing. I am not interested in flogging mortgages to people. I was given one of the greatest jobs in sponsorship in the world working for a truly global company with wonderful values, wonderful tradition, wonderful history but also didn’t do (sponsorship) very well. I think I knew two or three years ago I had done (all I could). I was taught that if you can take something in life and advance it during your tenureship, then you’ve done the best you can. At times like that, you have to move on.”

It helped that Morgan played sport himself. At rugby he was a second-row forward at Newcastle University and at cricket he took eight wickets for Radley against Winchester in one finnings. “I had deceptive pace,” he said. “I was slower than they thought.”

His mother played at junior Wimbledon. So he knows that golf encourages good manners, that rugby teaches self-control, that whatever sport you played, you were only a representative of that game for so long and in that time never, ever, bigger than the sport itself.

Testimony to Morgan’s sponsorship expertise came from Monahan, who said: “The quality and presentation of the HSBC Champions is impressive, not only between the ropes, but in all the various activities that take place during the week and throughout the year – and that is a tribute to Giles’ influence.”

As a consultant, Morgan hopes to be involved in helping golf grow. “It had all the history and heritage and all the building bricks but golf isn’t done yet. They haven’t sorted the future. All the potential is there but the script needs to continue to be written.

“You have this huge playing participation. There is huge TV money in the game. Golf is in the Olympics. Golf has all the right notes but not in the right order, to misquote Eric Morecambe.

“Environmentally the world is in a bad place. We need smaller golf courses, shorter, and more varied tournaments. The ball has to change. We need men and women playing together because these days the world operates in a different way and one day there will be one professional tour for both men and women. We should use the Olympics to showcase different formats and relish seeing men and women playing together for their country. Tiger Woods should be a global ambassador for golf. While the tours run their businesses for their players, golf has to make sure it is more targeted at the fan. The sponsors pay money for a product to engage the fan. If fans are switching off, there is an issue. We have to learn the language of the young, not insist they learn the language of the old.

“I have a collection of very strong women in my life so the R&A thing and the change in the vote (admitting women to membership) was quite something. I found (former R&A Chief Executive) Peter Dawson brilliant to work with but we, the bank, did agitate and it did happen and as we now look at what happened in society, in the UK at any rate, quite rightly we are seeing more and more women’s sports getting billing in media reports. That I am very proud of.”

As he is of starting the China Golf Association junior programme. “His efforts will produce very positive results for years to come and we hope Giles remains involved in his grow-the-game efforts,” said Monahan, who lauded Morgan’s commitment to growth in China and Asia.

Morgan said: “If one day the WGC-HSBC Champions event is won by a local boy that’ll be the proudest day because it came from nothing and proved that sponsors can have a responsibility to do the right thing for the sports they support rather than just being a badge. People are saying that HSBC is regarded as one of the great sponsors in sport round the world because we are not a badge. We are an engaged partner.”

When Morgan began at HSBC he didn’t have much experience so he sought out people, sometimes even journalists. “A circus is not just a performing seal, the high-wire artist or the clown,” Morgan said. “It’s also the people who sell the tickets, put the big top up and drive the lorries.”

Why is the HSBC Caddie of the Year trophy presented during the WGC-HSBC Champions event in China named the Harry Pithouse Trophy? Because one night during Morgan’s first foray into that country, he, a caddie and a man named Harry Pithouse, who had set up the ropes at tournaments for 30 years, spent time in the corner of a bar. They were talking, Morgan was listening. “They opened my eyes,” he said. “They sat with me, drinking beer and told me how it all worked. They were so kind to me. That’s why the trophy is known as the Harry Pithouse Trophy. If people are kind enough to say I have made a difference in golf it is because I listened to people who knew about it.”

Reproduced with kind permission of Global Golf Post - Subscribe now for free


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