The former WRU finance director had been fulfilling the role of CEO on an interim basis, with the Union’s Board – led by chairman Robert Butcher – having elected to give due time and consideration to this pivotal appointment in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
Phillips has already been in position at the helm of the WRU since September 2020, during which time he has overseen a significant period of both challenge and change.
He has secured a £33.5m rescue package, including a £13.5m Spectator Survival Fund from Welsh Government and a £20m loan from NatWest, to help the professional game survive the impact of the health crisis, welcomed the hugely significant private equity investment of CVC in the Guinness Six Nations and seen Wales mount an exciting title challenge in which they scored more points and tries in the Six Nations Championship than ever before.
Only this morning the WRU published its Pathway to Participation strategy for the months ahead and Phillips is keen to point out that there will continue to be significant challenges ahead, including refinancing the loan from NatWest which currently supports the professional game.
“I’m delighted to have been given a mandate by our chairman and Board to continue in my current position and am grateful for this endorsement of the hard work of all of our staff over the last seven months, in extremely challenging times,” said Phillips.
“Needless to say it’s both a privilege and an honour to be leading this wonderful organisation, which is such a huge part of the fabric of Welsh life.
“It remains our stated ambition to ensure our members survive the current pandemic intact and that Welsh rugby remains in a position to continue to thrive once restrictions are over.
“This will not happen on its own and we know that the Welsh rugby community and all the elements of our professional game must pull together in order to secure the future of our game and I am extremely proud to be in a position to lead that process.
“We now have a clear way ahead and every reason to be optimistic about the future.
“Investing the money, which will come to us from the new CVC partnership with Six Nations, wisely will be a key part of our strategy for the future.
“But we know we will also continue to face challenges in the short and medium term. Re-financing the loan from NatWest with Welsh Government support, which has ensured the survival of the pro-game to date, will be a vital next step and the whole game watches on in keen anticipation of the return of spectators.
“How we continue to negotiate the repercussions of the pandemic will be fundamental to the survival of rugby in Wales, both at a professional and community level.
“I consider it a huge honour to be at the helm of Welsh rugby during these unprecedented times of challenge and survival and I am hugely optimistic about our future and our ability to thrive, in spite of adversity, in the years ahead.”
Phillips joined the WRU as finance director in 2007 from a similar role with TBI, one of the largest regional airport owners in the world. He spent ten years there, playing active roles in the acquisition of airports in Belfast, Sweden, London Luton, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Australia and North America, before moving on to tackle Welsh rugby’s finances.
In addition to managing the financial impact of the current pandemic on Welsh rugby, he has also represented the WRU in discussions with CVC over their investment in the PRO14 competition and overseen a new hotel project on an adjacent site to Principality Stadium, which is a joint venture between the Union, Celtic Manor Resort and property firm Rightacres.
“We have interviewed an extremely strong field of candidates for the position of Group CEO of the Welsh Rugby Union and we have taken our time in order to ensure we have ended up with the right individual for the job,” said WRU chairman Rob Butcher.
“The decision to ask Steve to perform the CEO function on an interim basis in September has been vindicated by the process we have followed thereafter.
“Steve has shown resilience and focus steering the business through these unprecedented times and it is to his great credit that the selection process has not distracted him from that task. We are delighted that he has accepted the challenge of securing the future of Welsh rugby.
“In an extremely strong field Steve has shown he has the expertise, an unrivalled in-depth knowledge of Welsh rugby and the insight to find the right solutions to the challenges ahead.
“Finally, may I take this opportunity to sincerely thank each of the individuals who were under consideration.
“We have been extremely pleased with the selection process we have undertaken and the high standard of candidates that have taken an interest in Welsh rugby.
“The rigorous selection process was overseen by a panel that covered the breadth of our game and leveraged the business expertise on our Board.
“And we firmly believe, having gone through this thorough process, that Steve is the best person for the job.”
Phillips trained with KPMG and qualified as a chartered accountant in 1989. He was previously with TBI, initially as Group Financial Controller and then Group Finance Director.
He played rugby for Amman Valley Comprehensive School, Imperial College London, University of London and Amman United, where he captained the first XV.