Profile: Mike Lee, Uefa - Europe beckons for Premier League star Football nut Mike Lee lands the top communications job for Uefa.

Mike Lee describes the time following Labour’s defeat in the 1992 general election as something of a ’career crisis’. Until then the newly-appointed communications and public affairs director at European football’s governing body Uefa had been a trusted researcher for the then shadow local government spokesman David Blunkett. In the wake of defeat, and in the consequent absence of a prestigious special adviser post, Lee felt he was in a rut.

Mike Lee describes the time following Labour’s defeat in the 1992

general election as something of a ’career crisis’. Until then the

newly-appointed communications and public affairs director at European

football’s governing body Uefa had been a trusted researcher for the

then shadow local government spokesman David Blunkett. In the wake of

defeat, and in the consequent absence of a prestigious special adviser

post, Lee felt he was in a rut.



The crisis must have seemed small beer to a man who had watched his

father have his working life cut cruelly short by a mining accident in

which he lost a leg. Indeed, given Lee’s early years in the urban grime

of Sunderland’s Boldon colliery, you might think he is lucky to have

even reached the cusp of national power.



Whether or not luck played a hand, advance planning seems to have had

little to do with it. Uncertain of what to do with his life, Lee - a

grammar school scholarship boy who read PPE at Oxford - stumbled from

one occupation to another. He worked as a psychiatric nursing assistant

for a year after graduation, before taking a PGCE and spending two years

as a school teacher in Leicester.



As a Labour councillor and activist in the East Midlands, Lee proved a

hit, becoming Labour’s youngest ever full-time regional organiser and

helping win the party two marginal seats against the tide in 1987. Lee

eventually landed a job with local MP Jim Marshall which took him to

Westminster.



Within two years Blunkett had asked him to apply for the senior

researcher post, in which he remained until 1993.



The ensuing seven years at Westminster Strategy were Lee’s introduction

to public affairs. During his time there he rose from being an account

manager to being MD Michael Burrell’s deputy. He played a key role in

securing the agency’s Premier League account and, despite leaving WS

last September, remained attached to the league until this month. For

the chief spokesman of one of the richest football leagues in the world

there seemed to be only one better PR job in football: communications

head at Uefa, European soccer’s governing body. Now he has that too.



’I am passionate about football, I am passionate about politics, and I

love working with the media,’ he says. There is a drawback, of course,

in that his family will have to cope with the upheaval of a partial move

to the town of Uefa’s headquarters, Nyon, on Lake Geneva in

Switzerland.



His seven-year old son, and the 17-year-old son of his partner, former

Lambeth council chief executive Heather Rabbatts, are likely to see a

lot of Heathrow airport in the years to come, but the opportunity, he

stresses, seemed too good to pass up.



The move leaves Lee’s plans to set up in business with Rabbatts on ice,

at least for now. He is thought to have touted their idea - for an

integrated PR, public affairs and change management consultancy - around

some of the major agencies, and had lined up the necessary support to

get it off the ground. Rabbatts’ decision to take up a CEO position with

an e-commerce start-up, and Lee’s own move, have ’put that whole idea on

a very large shelf’, he says.



So what can Uefa expect from Lee? Former colleagues and associates are

unanimous that Lee has an unrivalled grip on the dynamics of football,

politics and the news media. Burrell praises him as ’a shrewd

strategist, of clear benefit to Uefa’.



Lee’s temperament is known to be on the fiery side, a point on which

Burrell is shamelessly diplomatic: ’In any consultancy you bring

complimentary skills to the job. Our styles were completely different. I

am the master of understatement, whereas Mike favours the

straightforward, no nonsense approach,’ he says.



While this straightforwardness may help in negotiations on football

rights or over a piece of media coverage with which Lee is unhappy, it

can sometimes boil over. Andy Burnham, the special adviser to culture

secretary Chris Smith with whom Lee worked on the government’s football

task force, admits there were times when the pair disagreed. ’We’ve had,

as the cliche goes, full and frank exchanges of views.’ Uefa ought to

hope Lee’s reputation for delivery proves more durable than his

reputation for getting cross.



With so much time taken up by flying to and fro in Europe, Lee is

unlikely to be able to turn out for his regular football team, which

includes other senior administrators of the beautiful game. Surprisingly

for someone who boasts of never planning a career move, Lee has thought

of this. In fact he has firm plans to join Uefa’s over-40s team just as

soon as he arrives.





HIGHLIGHTS



1985: Labour councillor in Leicester



1989: Adviser to David Blunkett



1993: Account manager to deputy MD, Westminster Strategy, Spokesman for

the Premier League



2000: Director of communications and public affairs, Uefa.



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