Incoming Celtic CEO Dominic McKay profiled; commercial whizz, controversial choices

By Euan Davidson

January 29, 2021

Celtic CEO Peter Lawwell is set to retire in the summer, with SRU figurehead Dominic McKay coming in to replace him.

The shock news was announced early this morning on Celtic’s website. Lawwell’s legacy is complicated. The Bhoys won 29 trophies during his 17-year spell, and became European regulars. However, progress has stagnated under the current regime. Equally, there are fans unhappy with the corporate direction the club has taken.

On the Scottish Rugby website, the popular McKay spoke about his new role:

“Joining Celtic FC as Chief Executive is a once in a lifetime opportunity and a new challenge I am very excited about taking on later this year. I have been incredibly impressed with the vision and people within the club and I look forward to working with them.”

“I can honestly say I have enjoyed the best 13 years of my life at Scottish Rugby and made life-long friends across the sport and all its numerous Unions, partners, broadcasters and sponsors.

“It has been a huge privilege to work with such a talented and passionate group of people over this time and I’d like to pay special thanks to Mark Dodson for his support, friendship and leadership.”

Incoming Celtic CEO Dominic McKay (L), striking a rugby deal in Singapore / (Photo by ROSLAN RAHMAN/AFP via Getty Images)

Who is SRU man and incoming Celtic CEO Dominic McKay?

McKay’s ascent in sport has been rapid. Having only joined the SRU in 2008, McKay made great strides in maintaining and establishing commercial opportunities for Scottish Rugby.

He expounded on an existing deal between BT and the SRU, putting the telecom company’s logo on Scotland shirts and selling Murrayfield naming rights [Scotsman]. That could be of concern to Celtic supporters, who would be furious with a name change at Celtic Park.

Influential across Rugby Union, McKay currently leads the commercial side of Glasgow Warriors and Edinburgh Rugby. They are the two professional rugby union outfits in Scotland, and members of the Guinness PRO14 league. McKay is also chair of that league.

The SRU commercial guru also negotiated deals with sportswear manufacturer Macron. Equally, AG Barr, Celtic sponsor Eden Mill and car dealer Peter Vardy invest in Scottish Rugby. The Eden Mill continuity will help McKay get his teeth into the role from day one.

McKay also has charity experience. He is the former chairman of Ocean Youth Trust Scotland, who use sailing as a means of motivating children “from all backgrounds” [Ocean Youth Trust Scotland]. That’ll help him to help with the Celtic FC Foundation’s charity efforts.

His background is mainly in PR, having worked for drinks giant Pernod Ricard as well as Greenspace Trust [PR Week]. In a 2010 interview, he outlined his approach to work:

“Do not shy away from disagreeing with colleagues if you firmly believe in your point of view. And always look to take on new projects and responsibilities to assist with career development.

“A sense of humour always helps.”

He’ll need it at Celtic.

A big job, but McKay looks ready

With the club needing to hit the reset button after a difficult season, McKay has quite a job on his hands. Replacing the experience of Peter Lawwell is no easy task. Neither is placating fans who have been against the board.

Still, with his experience of both commercial and charity work, combined with his time in Rugby Union, McKay seems like a solid appointment. His existing relationships with brands, as well as his reputation in Scottish sport will stand him well.

This’ll have been a tough decision for Dermot Desmond to deal with, given his long-standing relationship with Lawwell. Clearly, though, McKay has been hand-picked for the role and has an impressive CV.

McKay will need to make popular decisions in the summer. Investment in the playing squad is a massive priority. Naming a successor to Neil Lennon in the dugout is a call he will have to be instrumental in making. A big-name hire will put him in good stead.

Equally, he cannot risk the club’s identity. First and foremost, renaming Celtic Park a la “BT Murrayfield” is a resolute no-no.

We will have to wait and see how the Rugby whizz makes his mark at Celtic Park.