'I just don't operate that way' - Town owner Steed tells it straight on first visit

American backer Mark Steed talks to fans at Needham Market

Ipswich Town's American backer Mark Steed talks to supporters at Needham Market. - Credit: Pagepix

It's fair to say that Mark Steed doesn't look or talk like your average football club owner.

The hipster beard and handlebar moustache is often accompanied by shorts, hoodie and baseball cap.

Using analytics and algorithms - "my brother calls it fortune telling" - he decides where to invest the 17 billion dollar pension pot of Arizona's public safety personnel.

Ipswich Town Football Club is a horse he has decided to back.

“One of the things I said to the EFL during the vetting process is that I think we’re a very good choice of owner for a football team," said Steed.

"Because think about all the potential types of owners you have – wealthy individuals, wealthy families, private equity funds... They all have various idiosyncrasies, but you don’t know where they get their money, frankly. You sort of know how they make their money, but you don’t know where else it’s coming from.

“When you have a recession or economic hard times a lot of them usually have to redirect their resources to the activities which made their wealth.  

“They’re not always very liquid, right? They’ve maybe got the balance sheet, but they don’t always have money coming in. A pension scheme does. People are constantly paying into the system. 

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“So when there’s tough economic times we’ve still got constant cash flow coming in. That allows us to fund opportunities that are usually at pretty good prices because things are stressed." 

Mark Steed with Kieran McKenna before the game at Needham Market

Mark Steed with Kieran McKenna before the game at Needham Market - Credit: Page pix

Last week was the first time Steed had visited Suffolk since the US takeover was completed almost 15 months ago.

He spoke to supporters and corporate sponsors at Portman Road before attending the 7-0 pre-season victory at Needham Market.

"I’ve tried to come five times before, but various things - mainly Covid – has stopped it happening until now," he explained.

“I’ve got an analyst on my team who is based in Cambridge. She comes to a lot of the matches as a fan just to report back to me about the experience. 

“I have a portfolio manager who is tasked with managing the day-to-day and he’s been here several times and chews up a lot of Mark Ashton’s time! 

“We’ve had Ed Schwartz (CEO of ORG, the investment firm which manages funds on behalf of the Arizona PSPRS) come over as well, as you all know. 

“So me being here is mostly ceremonial. 

“Mark has a job to do. When I was trying to come out in December we’d just hired Kieran (McKenna) and I didn’t want to be a distraction.

"I would be walking around saying; ‘What does this do? What does this do?’ It would be like when my son is in my car pressing all the buttons! 

“I’ve been on holiday in Ireland with my family and we didn’t decide to come to Ipswich until halfway through. 

“So I apologise for my dress. We’re living out of a suitcase. In my defence this is South West business compliant. Though back in Arizona I’d be wearing my cowboy boots. To be fair I am wearing pants when normally it would be shorts! 

“Oh, by the way, 'pants', ‘jersey’, ‘franchise’, ‘soccer’ - I’m just going to get those out of the way now!"  

Ipswich Town CEO Mark Ashton (centre right) is in Phoenix with Ipswich Town's owners

Ipswich Town CEO Mark Ashton (centre right) is in Phoenix with Ipswich Town's owners, including Mark Steed (centre left) from the Arizona pension fund which funds Town, Ed Schwartz from ORG Portfolio Management (second right) and co-owner Mark Detmer (second left) - Credit: ITFC

Steed's first introduction to Ipswich Town fans had been via a Twitter post just days after the takeover.

“I remember when they were trying to figure out if we had enough money to pay for the team," he says with a smile.

“I was flippant about it. I said ‘you can just Google our financials, it’s not hard, we’re at 17 billion (dollars) now and there’s 1.2 billion in cash so, yeah, we’ve got money!’ 

“Then everyone said to me ‘we’re in a transfer window, it’s probably not a great idea to say that publicly’."

Straight-talking is not something Steed shys away from. There's no room for hyperbole, bluff or panic in his black and white world of charts and graphs.

“I've told Mark (Ashton) that I’ll be impressed when we stop losing money and start winning games! Frankly, that’s how it works!" he declared, with Ashton sat to his right. 

“We’ve got other opportunities to fund away from Ipswich, so when Mark comes to us he’s got to make a case.

“I have lots of emails from people who want to spend my money and very few want to come and talk about what they’ve done with the money we’ve already given them. 

“To be up front about it, we have a saying in Arizona which says ‘don’t piss on my boot and tell me it’s raining’. We work with a lot of CEOs and they all have various ways of trying to hide things. We know all the tricks. 

“Sometimes people see me and think ‘he should have more decorum, he’s a man of repute, he should behave himself’. I just don’t operate that way.  

“We’re very clear about performance and accountability.

“One of the fundamental attributes you can have is being able to determine likely outcomes based on the facts.  

“It’s in our DNA to just accept good things without critiquing how you came to that outcome. It’s only when bad things happen we tend to go looking for the reasons why.

"Sometimes you have to be really patient and let good decisions compound out over time. 

"You always have to ask yourself ‘was that skill or were we lucky?’ That’s what we’re trying to build from an accountability stand point across all aspects of the business."

Mind you, Steed's been on the end of some straight-talking himself. 

“I went to a Phoenix Rising game and I wore my Ipswich shirt," he recalls. "A fan walks by and he’s from Ipswich. He says ‘hey, are you an Ipswich fan?’ and I said ‘yeah, I’m part of the ownership group’. He says ‘where’d you finish?’ I said ‘middle of the table’ and he goes ‘not good enough!’ and walks off! 

"I'm well aware the fans of this club have stood behind this team though some very, very difficult years. It’s time for the team to give them something back now." 

Mark Steed (right) pictured with a US-based Ipswich Town fan at a recent Phoenix Rising match. Photo: @marksteed09/Twitter

Mark Steed (right) pictured with a US-based Ipswich Town fan at a recent Phoenix Rising match. Photo: @marksteed09/Twitter - Credit: @marksteed09/Twitter

Ipswich Town players staff understanding where the money comes from is very important to Steed. Arizona police and firefighters die in the line of duty on a regular basis. That's why he hammers home the ‘running towards adversity’ message at every opportunity.

“I’ve just been on holiday with my kids in Ireland, we were out on bikes, there were a lot of hills and they got tired," he says. 

“I told my son ‘you can ride down a hill a lot faster than you can ride up a hill’. There’s a correlation there with business. You can ruin a business very fast, but it takes a long time to rebuild it. 

“We want to create an environment here across all the departments – commercial, corporate, the playing side – where you feel good about what we’re doing. 

Chief Exec Mark Ashton talks to fans at Needham Market

Ipswich Town chief executive Mark Ashton. - Credit: Pagepix

“Another analogy I’d use is this... Summer in Phoenix it’s 45 degrees, you feel tired, you don’t want to go anywhere, you want to sleep, you want to sit in the pool and then sleep some more. You don’t feel energised. 

“A good sunny day in Ipswich, like today, you want to wake up, you want to go for a run, you can smell the air and you have energy.  

“From a business and investment stand point you can't create a culture where it feels like summer in Phoenix. You’ve got to make it feel like summer in Ipswich. I’ll be trying to set that tone culturally."

He added: "I feel like people view owners of football clubs as other worldly or these mythical creatures. There's a risk when you reach out to the fans that it makes you appear ordinary and less sophisticated. But it's important for me to make sure we are aligned on values and philosophies.

"I definitely feel, having spoken to the players, that they believe and understand it."

Hat-trick man Conor Chaplin celebrates at Needham Market

Conor Chaplin celebrates scoring a hat-trick in Ipswich Town's 7-0 friendly win at Needham Market. - Credit: Pagepix