BCFC: The Decision Makers

There has been a lot of focus on the people running Birmingham City in recent weeks as the pressure on Head Coach Pep Clotet has grown. With this in mind I thought it would be good to take a proper look at who the is on the board at Blues, to aid understanding of just what is going on and who would be the one to make a decision.

St Andrew's taken 26 December 2018

There are a couple of stylistic things to note before reading this piece, which should help to reduce confusion.

Firstly, when writing Chinese names I use the eastern name order which has the family name first and the given name second – for example Ren Xuandong rather than Xuandong Ren.

If a person has an anglicised name that they also use, then I use the convention which puts that name at the start of their name – for example Edward Zheng Gannan.

I also use standard romanisation (Pinyin for Mandarin, Jyutping for Cantonese) for names unless a different Romanization for a person’s name is in common use.

Zhao Wenqing

Zhao Wenqing

As Chairman of the board of directors of Birmingham Sports Holdings, Zhao Wenqing is only second in the pecking order to the owners themselves. Entrusted as the right hand man of Wang Yaohui (aka the elusive Mr King), Zhao is effectively the chairman of the football club too. He is also the senior figure of the board in age at 53.

Unlike all of the other BCFC board members, Zhao is listed as having British nationality at Companies House. He’s normally based in Beijing but Zhao does come to Birmingham on a semi-frequent basis to look over things and make decisions.

Zhao has been involved in several other companies in other jurisdictions, including a few that are directly related to Wang Yaohui. He was a director of the Blue Harbour shopping mall project that Wang built in Beijing, as well as currently being a director of Asia-Pacific Development Specialized Bank which is based in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Because Zhao has the most power of the BCFC board members, sometimes he’s the one to make decisions at the club – especially when other board members don’t seem to want to. A good example of this was the departure of Steve Cotterill; it took Zhao coming to Birmingham to finally bring Cotterill’s reign as manager of Blues to an end. Whether that happens again with Pep Clotet remains to be seen.

Zhao has been in Birmingham since the Reading game and is due to stay until the New Year.

Ren Xuandong

Ren Xuandong

Ren is a director of Birmingham City and also the club’s Chief Executive Officer. Often known by and referred to by his given name “Dong”, Ren is for all intents and purposes the man who runs the club on a day to day basis in Birmingham.

Unlike the other directors of the club, 37-year-old Ren has a background within football – although it has to be said it’s not a successful one. His football academy company Winning League was shrouded in acrimony with many of the imported Portuguese coaches complaining of not being paid. Ren refused to comment on allegations made by coaches in the piece I wrote about this originally.

Ren’s company Winning League also bought a shareholding in Chinese League One club Nei Mongol Zhongyou in January 2016 in a blaze of publicity, with Luis Figo installed as “honorary chairman”. Only four months later Winning League quietly bailed from the club as rumours swirled of financial problems at the club.

Ren is a Chinese national but lives with his family in the Birmingham area. As club CEO he is the most powerful of the three directors who work at the club but he is still very much subservient to Zhao.

Edward Zheng Gannan

Edward Zheng Gannan

Edward Zheng Gannan is a director of the club, and like Ren works day to day in Birmingham. Zheng was educated at both Birmingham City University and Warwick University, and thus knows the area well prior to being involved at Blues. Zheng is the youngest of the directors at 34 years old.

Zheng’s background is in marketing. His role previous to Birmingham City was as a marketing manager for Rolls Royce Beijing. He listed himself previously in his Twitter bio as a co-opted member of the EFL Commercial Committee as well as “Assistant to the Chairman” at Blues, which I’m guessing is a different kettle of fish to “Assistant Chairman”.

Like Ren, Edward is a Chinese national and lives locally in the area with his family. Notionally Zheng is seen as less powerful than Ren but it would not be an unreasonable assumption that Zheng and Ren both compete to be seen as the better employee in their superior’s eyes.

Shayne Wang Yao

Shayne Wang Yao

Shayne Wang Yao is a director of Birmingham City, and the least known of the directors who have a base in Birmingham. He is 37 years old and a Chinese citizen.

I’ve got to be honest in that I don’t know much about Wang, other than he is supposedly connected somehow to Wang Yaohui (Mr King) – albeit not as a relation, despite the same surname. The only titbit of information I can offer is that I was told previous to Blues, Wang was an interior designer in his native Beijing.

Originally more of a Beijing based board member, of late Wang has been more frequently present in Birmingham to perform his role – possibly as a counterbalance to Ren and Zheng. Like Ren, Wang is a fan of the game and from the little bit I know is keen to offer his opinions to the board on players and managers Blues should look at.

Jerry Yiu Chun Kong

Jerry Yiu Chun Kong

Jerry Yiu Chun Kong is the odd man out on the Birmingham City board of directors. Based in Hong Kong, he is the only member of the Blues board apart from Zhao who is also a member of the BSH board.

The chief reason Yiu stands out is he is the only member of the board that is linked directly to Trillion Trophy Asia owner Paul Suen Cho Hung. Yiu is also an executive director of EPI Holdings, another Hong Kong-listed company that Suen has a shareholding in and is known to work closely with Suen.

Yiu’s background is accountancy. He is a member of the Hong Kong Institute of Certified Public Accountants (HKICPA) and according to his biography in the BSH annual report has a background in auditing, accounting and finance.

He is the second youngest member of the board at 35, and a fan of football. The pic above was taken from his works team’s 2017 trophy winning season, which featured Yiu as skipper.

From the little I know about Yiu he’s essentially the silent guy on the board. I’m not certain he’s been to Birmingham let alone St Andrew’s and my impression is that Yiu is on the board simply as a proxy for Suen.

One of the big things to remember in the current situation is that Pep Clotet is Ren’s man. This makes it very difficult for Ren to sack Clotet as it would show he made a mistake in making him manager. Contrast this to Garry Monk who was hired by Zhao which meant there was no loss of face in Ren sacking Monk in the summer.

Zhao being in Birmingham is important because he will see with his own eyes what is happening at the club, rather than from reports from Ren, Zheng and Wang.

When Blues were going through a rough patch earlier in the season the Birmingham-based board members reassured the owners that a lot of the problems were down to a lack of luck and that things would surely turn around.

What I think will be the big question is if the current poor run is one that can be turned around by Clotet or if the owners believe it will necessitate another expensive change of management.

While many Blues fans may have already made their minds up about Clotet, I’m not sure that the owners have… yet.

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