The shortlist of possible WRU CEO replacements

Outgoing WRU CEO Steve Phillips may have left the governing body in a disgraced position, but the shortlist of possible replacements is a high quality one, full of business acumen and sporting awareness. 

Last Word takes you through the 10 best candidates for the top role as the next WRU CEO.

New WRU CEO can make quick gains

With a commanding salary of £359,000 and the eyes of a nation cast upon them, such a role could be seen as a poisoned chalice. However, with many achievable goals within grasp the job may be more attractive than first seems.

The right person should have a large business portfolio, to support WRU’s financial arm, which turns over nearly £100m. They would also ideally have some sporting wisdom, to appreciate the nuance provided within the complicated system of rugby in Wales, but that can be balanced up by a commanding board of directors.

Here are the 10 most prominent figures that could be in the race for the hot seat.

Sir Nigel Wilson

Let’s get the most unlikely name out of the way first. Leader of FTSE giant’s Legal & General, Sir Nigel Wilson (see main image) has overseen the company as CEO for 11 years before announcing his retirement this week.

The WRU role would be a smaller scale than he is used to and, it would provide a slightly steadier pace, with Wilson stating he wants to spend more time with his family; especially his grandkids. However, commanding a salary of nearly £5m means he’d see a significant drop in his wages, combined with a move from Coleman Street in London.

He’s very unlikely to make the trip up the M4, but with a strong standing in the business world and an eye for retaining staff happiness and inclusion, he could definitely get the WRU’s reputation back on track.

Mark Robinson

The current CEO of New Zealand Rugby, Robinson brings a distinguished playing and administration career with him to the table. Having played nine Tests for the All Blacks between 2000-2022, he has a taste for the game, before becoming the CEO of Taranaki Rugby in 2007.

He left in 2012 where he joined the NZRU board and headed up the rugby committee and is also a member of the World Rugby Executive Council.

Malcolm Wall

The current Professional Rugby Board (PRB) Chair, Wall has seen it all when it comes to recent discussions between the WRU and the four professional clubs. The former Harlequins Chair was appointed into the role just under 12 months ago but has the perfect blend of business acumen and calibre having served in many executive roles within the media over the past three decades.

In the late ’90s he became Deputy CEO of Meridian Broadcasting before running Virgin Media’s business content for three years.

Amanda Blanc

The former WRU board member and current CEO of Aviva, Blanc stood down from the board in November 2021 saying she wasn’t being listened to amid the conversation surrounding governance reform.

Born in Treherbert, the former Chair of the PRB, has since been recognised as the Sunday Times’ Businessperson of the Year 2022 and was ranked 21st in Forbes’ list of most influential women on the planet.

She’s also been voted as the UK insurer CEO’s ‘CEO of the Year twice, last lifting the award in 2015. The only area holding a move back, like Nigel Wilson, is the salary – Over £3,000,000 in 2021.

Hayley Parsons

Parsons will be very recognisable to Welsh fans for her recent letter penned to Chairman Ieuan Evans backed by the four professional clubs.

The founder of GoCompare, Parsons sold her stake in the company several years ago for just shy of £44m and comes with vast business innovation experience. The letter to Evans asked for “immediate and decisive action to address the issues raised in the [BBC investigative] programme.”

She currently sits as a non-executive director on the board of Cardiff Rugby, appointed back in 2019.

Cardiff Rugby non-executive director, Hayley Parsons. Credit BBC Sport.

Julie Patterson

Patterson currently holds the Director of Rugby position with Six Nations rugby after a stint over 32 years with the WRU. The former Operations Director has seen it all within Welsh rugby and started off as a trainee accountant aged 19.

Having a deep understanding of how the match day operations, insurance, medical and especially safeguarding processes run will have given her a massive opportunity to lead from the top and re-join the executive board that she first burst into in 2005.

David Buttress

The founder and former Chief Executive of JustEat, and current Chairman of the Dragons, Buttress is never one to shy away from giving his forward-thinking opinions on social media. A transparent leader and one who converses with stakeholders is never a bad option to lead a major operation that requires rescuing.

He’s been at the forefront of pushing for a long-term professional rugby agreement (PRA) and was the Cost of Living Business Tsar to the UK government in 2022. The former business graduate was recognised as one of the UK’s 500 most influential people by Debretts.

Mark Evans

The former CEO of Harlequins and current Chief Executive of Fijian Drua, Evans brings a quarter of a century’s worth of executive experience with him. He signed a three-year deal from October 2022, so would be a reasonably costly appointment in terms of buyout clauses, but has a perfect blend of business and rugby acumen.

He has applied to be the Chief Executive of Wales before, but never got shortlisted, until now?

Sarah Powell

The ex-Sport Wales chief executive moved on to British Gymnastics back in 2021 after 8 years as CEO. Having strong links to a Welsh government department and a proven track record of delivering in tough gigs, Powell would be an ideal candidate to cast a fresh eye over Welsh rugby.

The Swansea University alumni, and capped 70 times for Wales in hockey, Powell transitioned through the Sport Wales ranks from Performance Director in 2008, to becoming the first female CEO of Sport Wales within five years.

Henry Engelhardt

The founder and former Chief Executive of Admiral for 25 years, worth over a billion pounds, is an American businessperson and entrepreneur who currently sits on the WRU board.

The American entrepreneur and businessman is now semi-retired but still sits on one of Admiral’s subsidiary company boards in the US and was a NED (non executive director) for Wales Millennium Centre for a recent seven-year period.

Originally from Chicago, with a journalistic degree from the University of Michigan, Engelhardt is a philanthropist who has lived in the Welsh capital for over 30 years and now describes himself as ‘dreaming in rugby’. He is also a minority shareholder of the Chicago Cubs baseball team.


The role of the new WRU CEO candidacy engagement process has begun. The Welsh regions, clubs, and stakeholders will be fully involved in all steps leading to a planned EGM (Emergency General Meeting) scheduled for March.

The new candidate must be primed to help change Welsh rugby for the better and that change is already underway.


“Main photo credit”