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My first boss: Mike Harris, The New Saints FC chairman

The people who helped shape business leaders

Mike Harris has had entrepreneurial adventures since he was at school. Photo: Brian Jones
Mike Harris has had entrepreneurial adventures since he was at school. Photo: Brian Jones (Brian Jones)

The New Saints FC (TNS) started life as a local village team, Llansantffraid FC, before being taken over in 1997 by chairman Mike Harris. The Welshman made TNS named after his telecommunications business Total Network Solutions the first club in history to be named after the owner’s business as a means of advertising.

Under the entrepreneur, TNS have won 15 Welsh league titles and played in Uefa competition for 23 consecutive seasons. They play Swedish side Häcken in Champions League first round qualifying on 12 July.

When I was apprentice at British Telecom (BT-A.L) my first boss inspired me to leave but moving into my first adult year into the company I came across a very well respected man called Martin Codd. He inspired, trained and coached me to do the work I was intended to do — exchange maintenance.

Martin was five or so years older and took me under his wing. I knew I had work ethic but working with Martin helped me reinforce the beliefs that if you work hard you will get somewhere.

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There were around 18 engineers in the exchange with varying degrees of skill but didn’t do much to train the next generation. As a senior engineer, Martin was respected for his ultimate knowledge and his technical capability was second to none.

He would roll up his sleeves and lead the resolution to any problem as the special faults engineer, be it 999 call tracing or getting involved and identifying where faults may lie. Through all this, it led me to understand the complications of a large telecoms exchange.

Cardiff, UK. 05th Aug, 2021. The New Saints owner Mike Harris celebrates his sides fourth goal. The New Saints v FC Viktoria Plzeň in the UEFA Europa Conference League 3rd qualifying round at the Cardiff City Stdaium on the 5th August 2021. Credit: Lewis Mitchell/Alamy Live News
The New Saints owner Mike Harris celebrates against FC Viktoria Plzeň in the Uefa Europa Conference League 3rd qualifying round in 2021. Photo: Lewis Mitchell/Alamy Live News (Lewis Mitchell)

As a junior technician, I ended up being regarded better than some of the guys who had been there for a decade. Perhaps that was because I wanted the challenge or that Martin took satisfaction in passing his knowledge down.

From inspiring and helping me he then delivered for me. Some years after he left BT he had moved on to Nortel and I had ended up employing him. When I set up Total Network Solutions, as it was then, this industry was completely empty of readymade resources. It was very important that you trained people. Apprenticeship was something we introduced to our business, knowing what was out there were glossed up CVs.

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We took on 10 people and as they grew in their ability we would reward them with better pay and conditions. Along the way, people would drop out of the programme, but it was also about putting themselves available at the time when the company needed them.

That's the trouble with engineering; you can’t plan when you have a failure and as an organisation you are expected to respond. In interviews, anyone who wanted a work-balanced life never got the job. It sounds harsh but it created a great working atmosphere and everyone carried the can.

TNS have played in Uefa competition for over 20 years as they bid for Champions League group stage qualification success (Pic By John Smith/FAW)
TNS have played in Uefa competition for over 20 years as they bid for Champions League group stage qualification success. Photo: John Smith/FAW (Football Association of Wales)

Today, I like to think I’ve put in place at The New Saints, with the unseen team off the field, processes and procedures that inspire winners. Business or sport is exactly the same thing; you have to get people of a like-minded nature to be able to achieve beyond what other people would think they are capable of doing.

To gain trust and respect, I have hired lads out of prison or those who have needed help paying their phone bills.

You do it in a measured way and hope to rebuild their careers and recognise you can help them. Taking people from last chance saloons to just overlooked players, that’s what TNS has been able to do very successfully over 20-odd years.

As a club we break even most years. The club won the league on £40,000 back in 1999/2000. Today we turnover around £2m with the different revenue streams, a combination of sponsorship, winnings and all the other facets a football club does to help pay the wages.

The New Saints (TNS) have one of the best academy set ups in Wales. Photo: TNS
The New Saints (TNS) have one of the best academy set ups in Wales. Photo: TNS

For us to get where we are, we have invested anything we’ve made back into the club, stadium or into the training programmes where we have been recognised as the highest level of academy in Wales, one regularly producing players capable of playing in our first team.

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The Champions League, or any of the European competitions, is such a great adventure. It’s a challenge. Back in 2000 we were journeymen and we took part. In the later years, we’ve gone to virtually the point of qualifying for the main group stages.

We take it very seriously, have fun but we’re not in it to just make up the numbers. We are there to compete and slowly but surely we're knocking on that door.

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