Alumni Q&A with Serena Gosling

Serena Gosling (1996, PPE) is the Director of Retail and Licensing for City Football Group, the group which includes Manchester City and various other clubs. Prior to this, she worked for the London 2012 Organising Committee. CatzEye caught up with Serena to hear about her career since leaving St Catz.

What are your fondest memories of St Catz?

Although my tutors may not thank me for this answer, probably the sports field. One of the things I thought was such a positive aspect of the collegiate system in Oxford was the ability to follow your passions through your college – whether it was sport, music, drama or something else, we had so many opportunities. I loved the fact I could try out rowing (at 5’3” I wasn’t an obvious candidate) or play in women’s ice hockey cuppers. These things just didn’t happen at other universities. Other than the sport I loved the relatively laid-back atmosphere of the college, the fantastic opportunities we were given through our education and of course the friends I made during my time at Catz – friendships that are still very much intact 20 years later.

How did your time at St Catz prepare you for the career you now lead?

The combination of studying PPE and playing lots of sport was perfect for the world I now work in. The tutorial system teaches you to think on your feet and be prepared to defend an argument and a point of view. I didn’t realise at the time how invaluable this skill would be in the workplace when you are faced with a daunting meeting, or a tight turnaround to get something done. Nothing has ever seemed as daunting as those days reading out and then discussing a rushed essay with your tutor, often the person who had written one of the books on the subject matter, not to mention going through the experience with one of your peers. The life lessons from my tutorials are endless. Other than academically, I was lucky to play many sports for the college as well as hockey and cricket at university level. That led to my election as JCR Clubs Rep, University Hockey President and finally Sports Federation President in the year after I’d graduated. The world of sports marketing was a natural next step.

What is your favourite thing about the work you do?

Working for a club like Manchester City is something I never dreamed I would have done. Despite my clear love of sport, I always thought I would leave Oxford to train as a lawyer or accountant or become a management consultant – I didn’t initially think or really know about the sports marketing industry. Now that I’m in it I feel very lucky to have forged a career in something that I enjoy and that so many other people are passionate about. Day to day, I enjoy the challenge of getting the best merchandise on sale for City’s fans around the world, which for many of them provides a way for them to connect with the club. I’ve seen a real change in the five years that I’ve been at City, from quite a basic range of products to now offering many more items to suit all ages and genders, as well as ensuring key moments and milestones are marked with commemorative items, which the fans love – collectibles and sporting moments go hand in hand. I work daily with our sportswear partner, Nike, and it has been incredible seeing how their attitude to women’s football has changed over the last five years. From a marketing and product point of view they hardly acknowledged that there were women’s footballers when I started, whereas today there is a genuine recognition that women’s football is important and that the women’s football World Cup next year will be a big event – with marketing spend to back that up. We are witnessing an exciting time for women’s sport.

What have you been most inspired by over the course of your career so far?

My grandfather was someone who really inspired me when I was growing up, although he was only alive for the very early part of my career. He was a successful businessman, but from what I observed he always had time for everyone – from the most junior people to senior. He was also very supportive of me in helping to give me the confidence to aim high in whatever I tried to do. Whilst I’ve been working there have been many people who have inspired me, but I would probably single out Paul Deighton and Seb Coe (CEO and Chairman of the London 2012 Organising Committee). London 2012 was a unique project to work on, and despite the immense pressure on all of us to deliver, and the many challenges we faced, Paul and Seb managed to stick to their vision and put on one of the most successful Olympic and Paralympic Games in recent memory.

What do you consider the highlights of your career so far?

Looking back, I’m very proud of what my team achieved at the Ryder Cup in Ireland at the K Club 2006. We were a young team running a huge on-site retail operation (taking over €1m on some days) at one of the world’s biggest sporting events. People worked incredibly long hours, and we were all away from home, living together as well. It wasn’t easy and we were faced with challenges that were out of our hands, such as bad weather from some brutal Irish storms which hit the course. The camaraderie within the team was strong and we ended the week with record merchandise sales and a European win. It was only years later that I realised quite what an achievement it had been.

In my current role at Man City, I’m very proud of the work City is doing to promote women’s football. The campaign City launched earlier this year, ‘Same City Same Passion’, was all about the fact that it didn’t matter if it was the men’s team or the women’s team, it was the same game. The campaign coincided with us merging our men’s and women’s team social media accounts. It has been an important step in recognising that we are all one club, and giving our women’s team more exposure to a much wider fan base. In turn, this should encourage other clubs to follow. As a leader in the men’s game, it’s right that the club understands its role to develop the women’s game, which is currently a much greater commercial challenge. This will change over time and I’m happy to work for a club that is helping to lead the way.

What’s next for you?

Who knows! Man City is a great place to work right now – as I type this, we are the current Premier League champions and sitting on top of the 18/19 table. Our women’s team is lying second in the Women’s Super League. City is an ambitious club, and as employees we are all encouraged to push the boundaries and innovate as we play catch-up to some of the more historically dominant clubs in Europe. This makes for a refreshing and challenging work environment, and I would love to be there to see City win the Champions League one day (men or women)! After City – maybe something entrepreneurial, maybe something promoting women’s sport. I’ve never been a great career planner – so far, I’ve been lucky that opportunities have come along when they have, and so I hope that continues.