Leyton Orient fans feeling positive after meeting with club’s new owners, reports Graham Millington
When Nigel Travis told a packed meeting of Leyton Orient supporters that “I am not a saviour” an awful lot of them begged to differ and at least one muttered: “Oh yes you are.”
The meeting, held at the Orient Supporters’ Club last month, gave fans an opportunity to meet the man who formed the consortium that had purchased the club from previous owner Francesco Becchetti.
Becchetti’s tenure had been a nightmare both on and off the pitch and the club became very close to being wound up just four months ago.
However Nigel, a lifelong supporter, was not prepared to let the second oldest club in London flounder. He also just happened to be a very successful American-based businessman, running a fast-food chain called Dunkin’ Donuts. This combination prompted his efforts to buy the club and guarantee its future. But who is Nigel Travis?
Nigel was born in East London to an entrepreneurial family. He recalls: “My dad had several businesses including rope wholesaling and toy distribution.”
His parents were great fans of Leyton Orient and Nigel attended his first game at the age of nine. While he did not excel at playing football himself, he compensated by passing the Football Association’s preliminary coaching course at 18. Later, he attended the course for his full coaching badge and was thrilled when he shared a room with Ian Storey Moore – a famous player of the time. Surprisingly, Nigel even still coaches boys and girls in the United States and calls one of his teams ‘Wellesley Orient’.
He also became a popular disc jockey and Nigel explained that these activities taught him about the importance of direct communication and “helped nurture my people skills”. As such, football and music helped underpin his future success in business.
His career started after the results of a vocational test at school indicated that he would be good at social work. But Nigel wanted to go into industry like his father, so ended up combining the two by completing a degree in human resources and entering the world of personnel management. He did well and at age 39 his company, Grand Metropolitan, bought Burger King and sent Nigel to America as head of its human resources. After two years he returned to the UK to run Burger King in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. This was a big responsibility and Nigel admits: “The company took a hell of a risk on me.”
But it paid off, and Nigel’s next career moves were to the retail giants Blockbuster Video and then Papa John’s – both at very senior positions – before joining Dunkin’ Donuts as chief executive in 2009. The company has grown significantly under Nigel’s leadership and he has been well remunerated for this success.
At last month’s meeting with fans Nigel was joined by his vice chairman and principle investor Kent Teague – himself a successful Texan businessman – and both answered questions with honesty and confidence.
Orient supporters learned that they had to be patient and although it might be three years before the club was stabilised, they were told: “Leyton Orient is now a safe and well-funded football club.” This statement prompted spontaneous applause.
Nigel indicated his confidence in the new management team and was delighted with the appointments of Martin Ling as director of football and Steve Davis as head coach. He said he thought the budget for players was sufficient to make the team competitive but promotion from the National League, back to the Football League from where they were relegated last season, could not be guaranteed.
There was also an urgent need to transform the commercial side of the club, and Kent said of the many problems inherited from the Becchetti regime: “We cannot get everything right at once. We need to get back to basics.”
But season ticket sales soared upon news of the takeover and Kent and Nigel both expressed delight with the numbers sold, with the former describing it as “quite humbling”.
Nigel said he was determined to imbue the club with the values which have underpinned his business success: “It’s about creating a ‘people culture’. We need to treat people decently, be they players, fans, directors, or whoever. Football clubs are people clubs. To be successful we need to help everyone become as good as they can become.”
With such ideas paramount it would seem that the decline of Leyton Orient is over and the future starts now.
After the meeting Barry Burke, a supporter since 1957, represented the views of many when he said of Orient’s new management team: “They were honest, realistic, and the club is in good hands. I feel more confident about the future.”