Preparations for the 2014 Commonwealth Games are just the beginning for John Sharkey CA, CEO of Glasgow’s SECC.
The approach to the Scottish Exhibition Conference Centre
(SECC), along the north bank of Glasgow’s Clyde River, gives a fine perspective
on the past present, and future of the city.
The Finnieston crane looms on your left, a reminder of
Glasgow’s industrial and engineering heritage; straight ahead, the
other-worldly ‘Armadillo’ that is the Clyde Auditorium juts out, ridge by ridge;
and to the right, a building site reveals the shell of what will be the ‘Hydro’
arena, the newest addition to the SECC campus.
It’s an impressive, confident vista, a city sure of its own
progress, and a campus comfortable in its contribution to that city.
“Once the site is established for our needs, we will then
have probably the biggest single footprint across Europe that’s a multi-purpose
venue,” says John Sharkey, Chief Executive of Scottish Exhibition Centre Ltd, the
company which runs the Scottish Exhibition & Conference Centre.
“There’s nowhere else in Europe that hosts a 12,000-seat
capacity arena, a 3,000-seat conference auditorium that’s used in entertainment
mode as well, and 22,000 square metres of exhibition space with break-out
“That’s the base plate we start off with before we get into
When the Games take place in Glasgow in just over two years’
time, the SECC will be a central location for athletes and media, with a host
of events being staged on campus, and the broadcast centre and media village
also being hosted.
“What we really see the Commonwealth Games being able to do
in terms of legacy is allow us to do some things in order to be ready for the
Games that we wouldn’t otherwise do,” Sharkey says.
Sharkey, with Glasgow 2014 Chief Executive David Grevemberg,
will be talking about the venue’s ‘journey’ towards and legacy from the 2014 Games
at an ICAS event on 7 June.
The development of the Hydro Arena - Sharkey refers to it as the “Albert Hall
meets the Coliseum” - is a major component of the £460m QD2 master plan, and
turns one of the SECC’s main weaknesses into a strength, according to Sharkey.
“Everything that we do [at present] in our concert and
entertainment business is done on a temporary basis,” he says.
“We decided to build a new
purpose-built entertainment and leisure arena for concert and other event
“Very early on we took the decision that we weren’t going to
compromise the design by having an anchor sports tenant in it. We’re still
going to be able to use the building for high-entertainment sports events, but
in the main, the building’s going to be used for concerts and entertainment.
Sharkey says the project is going well, with progress
continuing on a 1,600-vehicle capacity car park and newly located heliport. The
arena still expected to meet its June 2013 completion date, after which it will
be have several ‘soft tests’ before launching “in anger” in September 2013.
The new arena has the added benefit of freeing up the
“What we also wanted to do was create more space to allow us
to be able to fill the existing halls and the Clyde Auditorium with conference
and exhibition business,” Sharkey says.
“As a result of transferring out our concert business, we
transfer out the days that we would have needed to construct the seating, the
dark days whenever there isn’t a performance when the seating’s up, and also
the performance days.”
Such a development is rarely without significant challenges.
Funding was the major obstacle to be overcome in the case of the QD2 development.
“We knew that we were going to go and secure funding from a
number of different sources,” Sharkey says.
“So that was commercial development on site; it was also
securing some public investment, because an awful lot of the economic impact
benefit that comes from this project is going to be shared by the rest of
Glasgow and further afield.
“But also, as a company, we would be looking to put our own
cash resource into the project, and also we would be looking to borrow. So
there was a fairly eclectic mix of funding that had to come to make the project
“Under normal circumstances, that would have been probably
the single biggest challenge. [But on top of that,] we’ve just gone through, in
the last six years, a collapse of a property market, the crisis in the banking
industry, an economic recession, a fragile economy; and all of those areas had
their distinctive impacts on the process for securing the various sources of
Sensitivity to changing market conditions, and a readiness
to adapt tactics and expectations are central to Sharkey’s thinking about the
“It’s probably been [about] staying absolutely at the ragged
edge of making sure the project is sensitive to what’s happening out there.
“One of the big things through this project has been making
sure that we create not just an impression of confidence but deliver
confidence in the delivery of the project.”
“From a finance director role, that’s been a key, important
part of the project.”
Sharkey knows well what’s involved in being SEC Finance
Director; he held the position for several years before taking up his current
role in 2008.
He says a key part of the FD’s role in such a large project
is an ability to combine micro and macro elements.
“In each of the components they need some FD support, but at
the same time, the FD’s role is needing to take a helicopter view of making
sure that, holistically, we’re spending the right amounts that we think we’re
spending for this kind of project, and that the funding sources are coming
through to make sure our cash management stays on track.”
So what’s it like moving from the FD role to CEO? Sharkey
says he is sensitive not only to the new approach the Chief Executive role
demands, but also the necessity to allow his successor as FD space to make the
role his own.
“One of the things I’ve tried to focus on is making sure
that I don’t take the same discipline and the same approach from one role into
the other,” Sharkey says.
“Because to some extent, the FD has to be the guy who’s got
his feet firmly on the ground, and the Chief Executive has to be flying the
“It’s making sure the FD coming in behind me has also got
the space to operate and my confidence to be able to operate. Because it would
be particularly difficult, given that I’ve done the old role, also being on
“One of the key things in terms of the Chief Executive’s
role, as far as the project has been concerned, is being focused not so much
upon the project, because we’ve got a great team that’s helping to deliver
that, and we’ve got a good governance structure and good project management
team in place, but more importantly to be getting ready to receive the arena
into our campus once the construction project is finished.”
SECC CEO John Sharkey
CA and Glasgow 2014 CEO David Grevemberg will speak to ICAS members about the
Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games at an event at the SECC on 7 June. To book your
place, click here.