Delia Bushell is CEO of The Jockey Club, a 270-year-old institution which owns Aintree, Epsom Downs and Cheltenham in a portfolio of 15 racecourses. She was previously one of the leading figures in the UK’s media sector and built Sky’s broadband business before taking a leadership role at Sky Italia. She stunned the sector by heading up BT’s revolution in sports broadcasting before tacking again to run artificial intelligence business Afiniti.
Technology → Sport
As befits the head of an organisation which hosts some of the world’s most exhilarating sporting events, Delia Bushell is something of a thrill-seeker.
“I like the adrenaline rush of doing something new where I’m broadly terrified when I first step into it,” she says of her career path in business. “That’s part of the excitement, that theoretically I’m stepping into something that I probably don’t have a full background on, but where I can take the transferable business skills that I’ve learned and get the enjoyment of learning something new while adding value to it.”
The diversity of roles which Bushell has taken on is remarkable. She has been a pioneer in broadband and a leader in artificial intelligence, before taking charge of The Jockey Club, a globally famous sports organisation that was founded by a group of aristocrats in 1750. Her career journey has taken her to continental Europe and to the United States.
Just like a champion hurdler, she thrives on overcoming new obstacles. “A willingness to take on new and difficult challenges or to embrace change, and generally to step into the unknown, has probably been one of my key drivers,” she tells SRI’s David James.
“I like the adrenaline rush of doing something new where I’m broadly terrified when I first step into it”
Bushell has built her career on the firm foundations of a strategic consulting role at Pearson, where she learned much from working with Marjorie Scardino, then the only female CEO of a FTSE100 company. “She was just fantastic. She was warm. She was inspirational,” says Bushell. “She was running a business that spanned the Financial Times to Pearson Television…and Penguin publishing.”
Her dream while studying at the University of Oxford was to be a BBC journalist but strategic consulting turned out to be “the best decision of my whole career”, she says. “It just gave me a base level training of financial, strategic, and presentational communication skills that have really been crucial for every subsequent role that I’ve done.” Working with Scardino taught her that what she really loved was “the journey of growing businesses”.
When Bushell moved to Sky she benefited from further mentorship from James Murdoch, then its CEO. She was given the “hugely exciting and challenging experience” of launching Sky broadband, growing that business to three million customers. Then “itchy feet” tempted her to move to Italy as Chief Commercial Officer of Sky Italia, despite having three daughters of six and under. “We moved the family lock, stock and barrel across to Milan,” she says. It was “probably the most enjoyable two years” of her career.
After 11 years at Sky, Bushell shocked UK broadcasting by joining its “arch adversary” BT to lead its big money push into sports. It was an opportunity for audacious innovation, including augmented reality studios, high-profile presenters, multiple screens and ground-breaking apps with interactive features.
The taste of emerging technologies drew her to a leading role with American artificial intelligence firm Afiniti before she sprang a further surprise by taking the top job at the Jockey Club in September. It was the breadth and complexity of the role which attracted her. “It’s really a sports and leisure business that spans live events like the Grand National, the Cheltenham Festival and the Derby to a property portfolio, a catering business, betting and media rights, marketing and digital…the National Stud and the gallops in Lambourn.”
The opportunity for The Jockey Club, she says, will be to take horseracing’s strong ties with the betting industry and “really build on the digital and fan engagement side” of the “second-biggest spectator in the world”. Put your money on her.