James Sutherland, one of Australia's longest-serving CEOs, is finally stepping down as cricket boss

Matt King/ Getty ImagesCricket Australia CEO James Sutherland.

James Sutherland is resigning as CEO of Cricket Australia after more than 17 years overseeing some of the most turbulent periods in the modern game.

Sutherland is giving a year’s notice and plans to stay on until his replacement is appointed.

“I feel very comfortable that this is the right time for me and a good time for the game,” he said.

His departure follows one of the most controversial periods in Australian cricket after three players, including former captain Steve Smith, received lengthy bans following ball-tampering during the South Africa cricket tour two months ago.

While the organisation is facing two reviews in the wake of the tour scandal, including an investigation into Cricket Australia’s culture, organisational structure and governance, Sutherland said he felt the “foundations” he’d helped put in place over the last year led him to conclude “it is a good time to hand over the reins”.

“In the last 12 months we have laid key foundation stones which have included a new strategy for Australian cricket, a new Memorandum of Understanding with the Australian Cricketers’ Association that provides certainty for our male and female cricketers, and just recently, a new domestic broadcast rights deals that will see broader TV coverage and significant increases in revenue flowing into the game,” he said.

But those “foundation stones” came at a cost, including a protracted dispute with the players over pay during 2017 that saw a tour cancelled, left players off contract for several weeks, threatened the Ashes series and even provoked Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to intervene at one point.

A deal was finally reached last August.

Many saw the South Africa cheating as the embodiment of a win-at-all-costs culture at Cricket Australia.

After coach Darren Lehmann, appointed in 2013, brought the side back from its nadir of being all out for 60 during the 2015 Ashes tour – the worst innings in a century – and a long Test losing streak that continued into 2016 to reassert Australia’s dominance in Test cricket, the South Africa incident led to Lehmann’s resignation.

The median tenure of an Australian CEO in 2015 was 5.5 years in 2015, just a little higher than the global average of 5.3 years.

Sutherland was 35 when he became head of the then-Australian Cricket Board (ACB) in 2001, having started as managing director in 1998. He turns 53 this year.

Sutherland’s tenure in the top job is more than three times longer than the average Australian cricket board CEO. Only Alan Barnes (1960-80) and William Jeanes (1927–54) have held the position for longer.

There’s no doubt Cricket Australia has been successful on his watch. According to IBISWorld, the business posted revenue of $313 million last financial year. Admittedly that figure has been on the slide over the last two years from FY15’s peak of $380 million, but that was a massive leap from the $295 million figure the previous year.

But the public company, which has a equity value of $98 million, posted a net loss after tax last financial year of around $50 million, its first loss in four years.

That came after falling Test crowd numbers saw Cricket Australia cut ticket prices ahead of the 2016-17 season.

Sutherland’s big coup this year was the new six-year TV rights deal between Fox Sports and Seven West Media worth $1.182 billion, signed in April, ending a 40-year association with Nine.

But that came after the Magellan Financial Group terminated its three-year deal with Cricket Australia as naming rights sponsor of domestic Test matches involving the men’s team, reportedly worth $20 million, in the wake of the South Africa cheating scandal.

Many have formed the view that there has been a long-running and ongoing problem with the culture of the Australian men’s side. While three players were punished and Lehmann left, there’s a view that the cultural problems within the organisation are far broader and have all occurred on Sutherland’s watch.

Critics such as Jaimie Fuller, executive chairman of the sportswear manufacturer Skins, went so far as to personally pay a five-figure sum for a full page ad in The Sydney Morning Herald to lay the blame for the Cape Town fiasco squarely at the feet of the administration amid what he sees as a series of failings, including last year’s “divide and conquer” strategy in the long-running pay dispute.

But change is coming in CA’s C-suite.

Last week, head of integrity Iain Roy took redundancy. He oversaw the investigation into the ball-tampering scandal and today congratulated Sutherland on his tenure.

Senior manager of game development John Watkin has also gone as the organisation restructures, looking to save $20 million in admin.

A number of executive assistant positions are believed to be in the firing line.

CA chairman, David Peever said Sutherland was “an outstanding chief executive” and made his own decision to step down.

“James has been instrumental in driving crucial change around the game to make it even stronger for future generations,” he said.

Pever said aggregate attendances had increased by 137% and revenue nearly ten-fold from around $50 million to $500 million today under Sutherland’s tenure, and female participation had shown similar growth.

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