On the 14th of September, 2023, it was announced that longstanding Arsenal employee and current Chief Executive, Vinai Venkatesham, was going to be leaving the club in the summer of 2024. Venkatesham is reportedly set to pursue a new challenge but is keen to ensure there is a clear plan in place for his succession.
Venkatesham may not be someone that many beyond the Gunners hardcore are familiar with and in truth that is the way it should be. Chief Executives and others running a football club should stay in the background. The limelight should fall on the players and, to a lesser extent, the manager. And, that is the way it tends to be at most clubs, with owners and the board and the like only tending to attract much attention when things are going badly (yes, Everton and Man United, we’re looking at you!).
So, if relatively few fans are familiar with Venkatesham we can probably assume he is doing a decent job. But who is he, what has been his role with the Gunners and what is next –both for him and the club?
Who Is Vinai Venkatesham?
There isn’t a huge amount of information out there about the Arsenal employee. That said, he was born in the UK but is of Indian descent and has an MA in economics and management from the University of Oxford. Little is known about his private life but he has been with Arsenal since March 2010.
He initially joined as the Head of Global Partnerships but has steadily worked his way up. In June 2013, he was named as Director of Global Partnerships and Business Strategy, becoming Sales and Marketing Director later that same year. In August 2014 he was appointed Chief Commercial Officer, staying in that position for over four years before taking on more responsibility as Managing Director in 2018.
That move came following the departure of long-term Arsenal employee Ivan Gazidis, who moved to AC Milan. In turn, Gazidis had taken over a lot of the jobs previously carried out by David Dein – a name that will be familiar to more Arsenal fans. Alongside Venkatesham’s “promotion” to MD, Spaniard Raul Sanllehi was made Head of Football. Venkatesham was then made Chief Executive Officer, his current position, in September 2020.
He also has wider sporting involvement beyond Arsenal and has had a part-time role with UEFA since 2021. Additionally, he has been a Non Executive Director with the British Olympic Association since 2017, having played a part in the London 2012 Games, and is also on the board of the European Club Association. Busy and hardworking chap that he is, he has also sat as a trustee for the Arsenal Foundation since 2019. Where does he find the time?
Why Is Venkatesham Leaving the Gunners?
With the announcement of his departure so recent, and the fact he is generally a private individual, it is currently unclear exactly why he has decided to move on. Obviously, he has been carrying out so many different roles over recent years that there is a chance he simply wants to take things slightly easier. Arsenal is his biggest commitment and his principal job so he may simply want a bit more time to focus on himself, family and his other business and charitable activities.
Officially, he has simply said, in a statement released via the official Arsenal website, that “This was a tough decision, but it is time to pursue another challenge.” Committed and dedicated to the last, however, he added that “Now is not the time for goodbyes as I remain focused until my last day and supporting a seamless transition.”
Who Is Next for Arsenal?
Arsenal’s co-chair, Josh Kroenke, son of the club’s other chair and essentially owner, Stan Kroenke, said that “The Board is fully supportive of Vinai’s desire to pursue his next challenge.” He went on to state “Whilst it is business as usual with everyone focused on the season ahead, we’d like to take this moment to thank him for his contribution and long service.” Kroenke also added that “Vinai will always be part of the Arsenal family and always welcome back at Emirates Stadium.”
At the danger of sounding rather like a stuck record, at this stage little is known about what exactly will happen at the end of the 2023/24 season. With around nine months until Venkatesham is set to leave Arsenal, the club has plenty of time to consider their management structure and, if needed, a replacement. Kroenke perhaps implied that the announcement was perhaps not a total surprise when he said:
Change and succession is something the club is well prepared for. The Board remains committed to our strategy and will address leadership change as we continue to drive the club forward.
However, Venkatesham was a popular character who helped the difficult transition from the Arèsne Wenger years to the current situation, which is starting to look rather rosy again. His vast experience and knowledge will not be easy to replace, although it certainly sounds like all involved will seek to make the process as smooth and successful as possible.
For now, however, Venkatesham can feel confident that he has helped play his part in getting the club back into the Champions League and on a very strong financial footing. Let’s hope that Mikel Arteta and the players can really make his final season with Arsenal one to remember by landing some silverware!