08 Nov Switch the Play meets Craig Donaldson…
As a businessman and a leader, Craig Donaldson is a pioneer in his field, founding Metro Bank from scratch less than a decade ago and watching it grow into a successful, innovative and people-focused business.
As a brother, a father, a husband and long-suffering Sunderland supporter, sport has always played a major role in his life.
As he joins Switch the Play, we find out what makes him tick and what made him bring his passion and wealth of expertise on board…
STP: Tell us a bit about you and how you came to be involved with Switch the Play…
CD: So, I’m a 45-year-old Northern boy from Sunderland. I’m a village boy and was fortunate to go to university. I fell into banking 20 years ago and set up Metro Bank nine years ago. There were four of us then and today there are over 3,000 of us. We’ve gone from raising £15m to being worth about £3.2 billion. I work really hard.
I’ve played sport all my life, never to any real level, but I have a nephew, who has been picked up by a Premiership rugby team at Under 18 level. I got talking to Chris Brindley, Switch the Play Non-Executive Director, and asked him for advice to pass onto my sister about how my nephew could get the most out of his opportunity.
I care about mental health, young people, social mobility and we’ve been involved at Metro Bank in transitioning some athletes into the workplace at the end of their careers. I got talking to Rob Young and Leon Lloyd, both Switch The Play Directors, and they mentioned that they were looking for a Chairman. They said I should help if I was up for it and I joined.
STP: You’ve got lots of passion for people but what gets you out of bed in the morning?
CD: I want to make things happen, I want to do good things. I worked in banking when I genuinely wasn’t proud of what was happening in the industry. Where I grew up, the community built ships or dug coal and at the end of the week you could see the pile of coal or the ship you’d built. I’m still very much like that. I like to add value and be proud. I wanted to be proud of being in banking again. Building Metro Bank, creating jobs and doing things in the right way is something I’m very proud of.
STP: Switch the Play has a very similar ethos. Is that what attracted you?
CD: It’s about making sure people get support through all levels of sport. My involvement with Switch the Play was as a result of what was happening in my nephew’s life and better understanding how he can make the most of this opportunity whether he makes it as a professional player or not That’s why I got interested the whole area of athlete transition.
Through my job running Metro Bank, I get to know sportspeople, singers and people whose livelihood and passion may run its course way before a traditional retirement age. I want to be involved in helping people prepare for a successful life outside of their first passion.
STP: How have you helped people get on and enhance their careers so far?
CD: It’s becoming more professional. We employed a man at 28 who had played a good level of rugby but suffered a knee injury. He joined us and, through a structured training pathway, we have developed his skills. He’s become a very successful private banker. What skills did he have? He was a good leader, a good networker and he had a big strong personality – all great attributes in business.
We also had a chap who achieved a couple of caps for England and was retiring from playing for his Premiership rugby club where he was captain. He worked with us a couple of days a week, working around his training. This individual was bright enough to think about preparing for life after his premier rugby career came to an end. What scared me was the number of people who don’t prepare. That’s where Switch the Play is powerful. It engages at all levels, whether at entry or elite level.
Everyone entering professional sport is going to transition out at some point but at what point should people start thinking about their exit strategy? The sooner the better. It makes managing the process so much easier. Elite athletes need support, but there’s a big pyramid underneath that also needs support. What impresses me is that Switch the Play is about supporting the whole pyramid, not just the elite.
STP: You’re a father – do you think parents need educating too?
The parents need a lot of support too. My sister genuinely doesn’t know how to support her son in the best way. She is trying to find out information but she doesn’t know where to go. There are lots of parents who care and want to channel their support but most do not have personal experience of professional sport so struggle to understand where and how to access help. There is a need to support the support network surrounding athletes. If this can happen, individuals will become much better equipped for a successful life outside of sport.
STP: Do you need ambition and a career plan?
CD: Sportspeople throw everything into their training to deliver their very best performance on the field. Out of any entire academy, few will make a professional living from it. Because the athletes put so much passion into this aspect of their life it becomes consuming and it is difficult to see beyond the current state of play. Few make time for transition preparation but, yes, a career plan is vital.
If, for example, you’re a hooker wanting to play rugby, you’re a hooker. You’re a hooker for the rest of your career. What you don’t think about, unless you get good advice, is how to broaden that out for the long term. In other walks of life, transition happens naturally and few need to think consciously about it.
STP: But the whole point is that you’re not just a hooker. There’s a famous All Black motto: ‘better people make better players.’ Where and how is that best delivered?
CD: It’s about creating environments where you can get to the right people at the right times.
There are different interventions needed at academy level. The solution lies in working with clubs and professional bodies to ensure the right level of training and interaction is made available.
Some of the mental health statistics are shocking. When everyone is talking about heads together and supporting people, it’s amazing how many people we churn out who don’t make it to the level they expected who suffer with their mental health issues and are lost from the sport for which they have given their life and passion.
STP: Flipping the subject on its head, are businesses aware of how resourceful and skilful athletes can be?
CD: We are. It’s about creating transition pathways. There’s more that business needs to do to understand the opportunity though. It’s the same with the military. A number of people exit the military with unbelievable project management skills and the ability to perform under pressure. These would be excellent attributes in business. It’s about working with the corporate community to raise awareness of the skills pool available. We need to find ways to better link business with sport for the mutual good of both sectors.
STP: Over the next couple of years, what will you hope to bring to Switch the Play and how do you see Switch the Play developing in that time?
CD: Leon, Rob and the team at Switch The Play genuinely care. I am doing it because I think they are right. This needs to be done.
Switch the Play is one of the players who can help make this happen.
I will bring support, guidance and challenge. They know what needs to be done. I’m reasonably good at making things happen. I can help them structure their plans in the long term.
We’d like to build something that puts in place the pathways and support for people to switch their play into whatever they do next. We need to get that in place over the next 18 months.
Greatest sporting achievement?
Hahaha. I have none! I enjoyed playing but nothing of any great importance. My proudest moments are watching my son these days.
Favourite sporting memory?
Sunderland winning at home is nice. A rarity too. The best game I’ve ever been to is the Gabba in 2001 watching the Lions beat Australia.
Describe yourself in a sentence…
I like to make things happen
What advice would you give to your 18 year old self?
Be happy and love yourself
Would you change anything over your career?
I wish I’d had more confidence in myself. Everybody needs people who believe in them, I wish I’d believed in myself more. I think we need to help people to have the belief.