Derby businessman Mel Morris, who recently became sole owner of Derby County Football Club, speaks to Kelly Tyler about his love for technology, innovation and the Mighty Rams.
Since leaving school at the age of 16, Mel Morris has had an undeniable thirst for business.
From developing world-renowned computer software to launching his own companies – including dating website Udate and internet security firm Prevx – Mel’s CV boasts a prosperous history.
He was also an early investor in King Digital Entertainment Plc, the firm behind mobile gaming app Candy Crush Saga.
And more recently, Mel became owner of Derby County Football Club after purchasing it from North American Derby Partners LP.
But despite his achievements, Mel says he never believed he would be so successful.
“I hadn’t ever thought that I would be, but equally so, and a lot of people who know me will tell you, I never ever give up,” said Mel.
“If someone says to me ‘you are going to fall flat on your face’, I get so much motivation from it. I don’t like having to say I failed. If I have to, I will, but it won’t be without a damn fight.
“Success is about timing, people, and a bit of good fortune. When I realised I could attract quality people to work with me, and retain and motivate them, I started believing I could be successful.”
Born in Littleover, Derby, and a pupil at John Port School, in Etwall, Mel’s passion for Derby County was instilled into him from an early age.
“The first game that I went to that I can recall was in 1969 – Derby vs Tottenham Hotspur at Derby’s Baseball Ground.
“It is different when you are involved in the Club, it actually means more. A lot of fans think it can’t possibly, but it does, because you spot things you can influence.”
In 2014, Mel joined the ownership group of Derby County Football Club and became a Director.
In June 2015, he became Chairman of the Club before taking on his life-long dream as the sole owner in September.
“I don’t see myself as the owner now, I just don’t.
“There’s a couple that have seen nearly every Derby County game, including cup games, home games, away games, pre-season friendly games and most of the Under 21 games for over 40 years. I estimate they have spent about £100,000 of their money watching this Football Club – so you tell me they don’t own a piece of it? These people are stakeholders every bit as much as I am.”
Since being involved with Derby County, Mel has worked on substantial developments and facilities at the Club’s Training Centre, Morley Road – which was renamed the Derby County Training Centre in Partnership with the University of Derby under a new deal with the University in 2013.
He says his next challenge, as owner, will be earning the respect from supporters.
“For Derby fans, the best period of football they ever saw was the Brian Clough and Dave Mackay years. Brian Clough had this phrase which said ‘owners and directors should be seen and not heard, just sign the cheques.’
“When I took on the role of owner, there was a big concern about whether I was going to dictate who was going to play, who we were going to buy, those sorts of things. Am I going to dictate that? No, but equally, I am not just going to sit back and write cheques.
“Part of the challenge for me is to hope that the fans give me enough time and patience to get all the pieces in place and promotion will come as a result of that.”
Derby County currently compete in the Sky Bet Championship, the second tier of English football.
But Mel said the dream is for the Club to be a perennial competitor in the Premier League.
"I don’t want to just be in the Premier League, I want us to be a competitor in the Premier League"
“I don’t want to just be in the Premier League, I want us to be a competitor in the Premier League,” said Mel.
“Does that mean we will ever win the League? Who knows, but at least it means we have a chance to be in the top half and that’s a realistic objective for us. I suspect it will take three to five years for us to get there.
“We also need to become a standard of excellence in a number of things that we do, including how we treat people and the belonging of people to the Club. Then there are all the practical things – the use of technology and the best facilities.
“We are doing a lot from the grassroots to make us different from what others clubs are doing. Once they start to work, other people will start to follow and we know we will be a standard-bearer for a lot of things.”
If you weren’t in the business industry, what would you be doing?
I would be a doctor. My second interest was always all-things medical, which is why I helped fund a project with the Royal Derby Hospital to buy a Da Vinci Si Robotic Surgeon (a computer-assisted surgery machine).
What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?
Stop looking for the easy route. The first mistake is that entrepreneurs will believe they have a totally unique, really interesting idea. The real smart entrepreneurs are the ones that don’t say they have a unique idea; they make sure they have a unique idea and they then start a business around that.
How would you describe yourself in three words?
Honest, trustworthy and kind.
What level have you got to on Candy Crush?
The highest I’ve ever got to is about 170!
Who is your idol and why?
Elon Musk, the guy behind the investment for Tesla motors, now Chief Executive of the company and prior to that he was behind PayPal. He has a ‘never say die’ attitude. He built an electric car; people moaned it wasn’t fast enough, so he developed it so it now does 60mph in 2.8 seconds. His achievements are miraculous.
Writer: Kelly Tyler
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