It's mid-March 2015, and Hayley Parsons has spent the weekend doing what she usually does every time spring rolls around – watching Wales play rugby. That, and staying out “far too long” afterwards.
The egg-shaped ball has been an ever-present in the 41-year-old Gocompare.com founder’s life, which is just about to enter a new chapter. Nine years after establishing the company around her kitchen table (said table being still in active service at her sister-in-law’s house), she’s leaving after a £95m sale to insurance giant esure. But life after she departs isn’t something she’s thought about too much yet.
“I’ve not got any clear plans for the rest of the year – I’ve just been focusing on finishing my journey at Gocompare.com,” she admits in her office, which overlooks the much smaller building which she and five Gocompare.com colleagues moved into in 2006 and quickly outgrew. “I’m actually going to be on holiday, in Cornwall, when the sale completes. I’m glad I’m away. I don’t think it’ll hit me until about three weeks later. I’m just going to enjoy the summer and not make any decisions – it’s the only time in my life I haven’t got a plan of what comes next. It’s exciting, and scary.”
Having a ball?
While she doesn’t have any firm plans yet, there’s one job she would’ve taken in a heartbeat.
When Parsons learned that the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) was in the market for a female non-executive director, she immediately put herself forward for the role. “I wanted the job at the Welsh Rugby Union,” she says. “But I get the impression that a 41-year-old entrepreneur is a step too far for them at the moment. I think they may be looking for someone with a bit more corporate experience,” she says with a mischievous smile.
“I would have loved that role because I feel like they’re at a crucial stage now, where they need to embrace change,” she continues. “It feels like it's the right time for them to move on. With some real drive and passion and change in there they can really move things forward – I would have loved the opportunity to be the driving force and part of that.”
The WRU has never had a female board member in its 134-year history and is also seeking a replacement for its outgoing chief executive, Roger Lewis. Media Wales has touted Parsons for the WRU top job, the vacancy arising at a crucial moment in the organisation's history.
While Wales has enjoyed considerable success on the national stage, there has been tension between the governing body and its regions and clubs, with many feeling that grassroots rugby has been somewhat neglected.
Speaking on the BBC's Scrum V radio show, rugby pundit Sean Holley said: "Roger's done a fantastic job on the finance side, but the job now is a huge job. Getting the right man is going to be very difficult and it's going to set the tone for whether [Welsh rugby] can move forward."
Parsons believes that her experience running Gocompare.com – a business focused on bringing customers and insurers together – would stand her in excellent stead to make a difference at the organisation. “I wanted to cut through the politics and do the right thing for the customers – the fans – and the clubs in the same way we do at Gocompare.com. The customer should be the first thing you look at. With rugby it should be the same. They’re the ones that pay their money and go to watch. Isn’t that where the focus should be?”
So, for now, Parsons is waiting and biding her time for the right opportunity – but would still jump at the chance if the WRU had a change of heart. “I still believe that job has my name written all over it,” she laughs. “If they came back to me at any time I would be there for them – and I would absolutely love to do it. But I hope one day they’ll come knocking on my door.”
Here be dragons
In amongst the offers she’s been contacted about is an intriguing one in the media. “I’ve been approached about Dragons’ Den,” she mentions. “I seriously considered it. The timing wasn’t right this year. But you never know – you might see a Welsh dragon in the den in the future…”
Two things which definitely aren’t on the cards are politics (“I haven’t got the patience or inclination,” she says) or financial services. “I’ve had the most amazing 25 years in the insurance business. I’ve met fantastic people, had some amazing opportunities, and it’s been my life. But I feel that’s something I’m leaving behind now and I want to go into different areas.”
Mentorship and investment in start-ups are ideas that she says appeal, but ultimately it seems like she’s after another test. “Whatever I do, it has to be a challenge and I have to be able to add value and significantly make a difference.”
Whatever comes next for the outspoken entrepreneur, she reckons you can be sure of a few things. “You’ll still find me hanging out on Mill Lane (a street in Cardiff densely packed with bars and clubs) after the rugby,” she says. “And you’ll still find me down Caroline Street (the Welsh capital’s infamous ‘Chippy Alley’) after a good night out – I did that 10 years ago, I still do it now, and I’ll still be doing it in 10 years time. And I’ll still be using Gocompare.com, too.”
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