“So we were at Canelo’s house and I was riding his horse…” says Frank Smith on a couch in the Monte Carlo Casino. These little moments now make up the majority of Smith’s life. The kind of moments that most of us would quote at a dinner table for years to come. It’d get annoying at a certain point. But for Smith, these fall back into oblivion.
His journey at Matchroom started when he was just sixteen. He began as a pageboy, and then a cold call salesman. He’s been with the company for nearly twenty years. He’s held just about every role you can. Now he’s the CEO of the near billion dollar company. Matchroom has been his maker.
Smith is not your average leader. He doesn’t have quotes that he wakes up to, or words he lives by. He’s not up at the crack of dawn with every minute of the day scheduled down to the dot. He just rolls with it. He rests when the work is done.
The key to Smith’s success? Silence. He learned how to be a businessman by watching the best. Now he’s become one. We sat down with the young leader of Matchroom to discuss that journey to the top, memories along the way, and why listening is more important than talking.
Square Mile: What was your introduction to the fight world?
Frank Smith: When I started at Matchroom, I would have been sixteen or seventeen. We did an event called Prizefighter, it was a tournament format. I was never really big into boxing prior to Matchroom. I was a football fan like everyone else, I had no interest in the sport prior to Matchroom. I sorta just fell into it.
SM: How did you meet Matchroom?
FS: I met Eddie when I was fourteen years old selling raffle tickets. My grandfather had just died, I was selling tickets for a lung cancer charity. That was seventeen years ago. I pestered him for a job. I knew he was wealthy and I said, ‘I want to be like you.’
SM: How many raffle tickets did he buy?
FS: I sold him 20 pounds worth. Someone told me he was wealthy so I went back and got 50.
SM: What was your first role in the company?
FS: I was an assistant, like a tea boy. For anyone and everyone. We do ten different sports, and we used to run a football club in Leyton Orient. I used to go down and help out, I used to dress up in the mascot's outfit. I used to make teas and coffees at poker events. I’d get pizzas. Literally anything he wanted me to do, I’d do. Back then it was a different business.
SM: How would you compare the company then to what it is today?
FS: It’s evolved into a multinational, huge business. Probably one of the biggest private businesses in sport delivering 400 events a year. When I started, it was much smaller and only in the UK. We didn’t have that international feel like we do now. It’s on a whole other level. Eddie thinks it’s down to him. I think it’s down to me.
SM: Can you walk me through your trajectory in the company that led you to CEO?
FS: I had four or five roles before I got here. I started with teas and coffees, then I used to try to sell tickets. I’d cold call. I was terrible. I used to pick up the phone and be like, ‘uh-uh-uh.’ I used to sit in Eddie’s dads office trying to sell tickets, and do that all day. I did that for snooker, darts - this was when I was seventeen, eighteen. That gave me my confidence, getting turned down so much. Eddie sold windows, I sold tickets.
From there, I started selling sponsorships, then I got into TV rights when I was about 21. I remember Eddie’s dad said to me: ‘Right, you’re gonna start telling TV rights.’ I had no idea what that meant. But I got into it and then I got more involved in organising the events. I was in operations, building everything we did. I did everything at some point: flights, hotels, social media, press releases. Couldn’t write a press release to save my life. But at 25, I was head of boxing. At 27, I was CEO.
SM: When you entered Matchroom, did you always have the vision to rise?
FS: I didn’t really care about sports at the time. I just knew whatever business I went into I wanted to be successful. I wanted to work hard. Even now, I still get involved in the smallest details, the smallest things because that’s my mentality. Whether it was sport or something else. I love events; I love shows. There’s not many businesses where you can walk out and see the final delivery. There’s so much satisfaction in that, compared to being in a big corporate company and never seeing the end result. So, it’s been a long run.
SM: What’s been your favourite event to see through?
FS: We've been lucky enough to deliver events in some of the best venues, and countries around the world. Some of the biggest for me was Joshua vs Klitshko at Wembley stadium, we had 80 odd thousand people in there. You look around and you go, ‘alright, we signed this fight, we did all the production, we did this.’
Saudi Arabia when we did Joshua vs Ruiz. We built the venue from the ground up in three months. I remember going there for the first time, and I said to Eddie, ‘I don’t think this can be done.’ And it was. Then there’s Taylor vs Cameron in Dublin. It was a smaller arena, it held 10,000. But it was one of the best atmospheres we’ve ever been part of.
It’s hard to pinpoint because we’re doing 40 events a year. We go week to week to week. It becomes a cycle of just get it done. We never really look back and go, how was that? This has become the norm to us. We’re here in Monte Carlo and this is a prestigious event. This is an event that's special to us, but it’s still get it done and then we’re going to Newcastle. Get that done, then we’re going to Dublin, Belfast, San Francisco, Arizona. It’s non stop.
SM: Do you thrive in that kind of schedule?
FS: Yes. I prefer to be busy. I don’t just travel for the events either, I travel for the deals. I came to Monte Carlo eight times for this deal. That fits in between 40 events a year. You’re flying to the US then to the middle east. As much as the shows are part of it, there’s also all the work around it.
What’s the best deal you’ve ever made?
Our DAZN deal. It was a huge jump, obviously financially a big move. In sport, the Saudi deals. With anything that people view, no one sees the work that goes on behind the scenes. When we do deals with governments, it takes three, four, five months. It doesn’t always happen either, we come under a lot of pressure of ‘you’ve said this, you’ve said that.’ We’re fans as well. We want to make the biggest possible events. Joshua vs Wilder for example. We want to make it happen. If it doesn’t, that’s unfortunate. But we want to. We will do everything in our power.
There’s been so many moments where I’ve gone, ‘right, we’ve done that.’ Our first deal with HBO I was only 24 or 25 years old. Eddie does all the talking and then he turns around to me and says, ‘good luck!’ I’d never organised an event outside the UK before. Now it’s like a travelling circus.
SM: In three words, do you think you could describe how you hold yourself in important business meetings?
FS: Quiet. Composed. I don’t know the third one. I’m not a big talker. I’m a listener. I use my ears a lot more than I use my mouth. I do my work away from everyone else.
SM: What’s been the toughest leadership lesson you’ve learned since becoming CEO?
FS: The hardest part is keeping everyone happy. Within the business now we have 35 different personalities. We don’t always see eye to eye. It’s a high pressure environment, it’s not always easy. Just managing personalities is hard. I’ve worked with a lot of people that hold grudges.
SM: Would you say that’s common in the boxing industry?
FS: Yeah, I think it’s common in business as well. You know, people can’t let go of a mistake. Whereas I think everyone makes mistakes. You know? Don’t do it again, now let’s move on. I can be firm in my own way. I can say, ‘That’s a problem, but let’s move on.’ So many people hold on, they don’t move forward. The pressure as well, there’s no escape from it. It doesn’t matter who makes the mistake because no matter who messes up, you’re the one in that position. If something goes wrong, it’s always on you.
SM: What do you think the biggest mistake you’ve made in your career is?
FS: It’s almost hard to remember. We move at such a fast pace. I make lots of mistakes, but it’s about making the best of any situation. You can only control what you can control. Stay composed. Things go wrong all the time, every hour, every day, especially in this business. If you can stay on a flatline level, you know, I’m always happy. It’s the best way to be. Especially in this business. If I wasn’t like that I’d go absolutely mental.
SM:What do you do every day to ensure you have a good day?
FS: Wake up.
SM: That’s it?
FS: That’s it. I wake up and I’m happy.
SM: Do you wake up at a specific time every day?
FS: To be honest, I’m not one of those people in business that gets up at 5 am and then has breakfast and then starts work at 7. We work late, sometimes we’re up until 1 or 2 am. I just wake up when I wake up. When I’m at home it’s literally non stop. Sleep and rest is extremely important. I like sleep, if I don’t sleep I’m not going to be the best. So if I wake up at 9 am, I wake up at 9 am.
SM:Did you ever read anything that influenced you in business?
FS: No. I think the mentality of the world right now is so much that you need to be led by inspiration. All these instagram quotes and things. For me, what drives me is being around people I can learn from. I’m a big listener. I take bits in. So many people want to be experts at everything, rather than focusing on what they’re good at. You can’t read a book and become a businessman. You’re either in it and you’re good at it or you’re not.
SM: Who were your inspirations when you were little?
FS: My father and my grandfather. They both worked very hard and built their own businesses. My grandfather was an early investor in Green Shield Stamps, which later became Argos. He did very well, he retired when he was fifty. My father had a business in travel that didn’t go well in the end. But I got my mentality from him: work, work, work.
SM: Did your mom work?
FS: I actually retired my mom at sixty. That was the one thing I wanted to do. You can buy things, but nothing gives you the pleasure like giving back to the people who gave to you. They gave me my mindset. Get up and work every single day. It’s never changed, and it will never change. Until it gets to the point where I’m done with boxing, because I don’t want to be doing this for fifty years. I want to get out at the right time.
The reality is you see all these people that have been doing it for that long and they’re all bitter. It’s a very hard sport to be in for that long. Also, there’s always going to be someone better than you. Not too many people can look at that person, and say you know what this person is very good. I’m not saying today. But over the next thirty years, someone will be. Right now, no one comes near us in my opinion. But I think in time I’ll be selling flip flops on the beach in Bali.
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SM: Is that the plan? Retire early?
FS: Not too early. I like working. Even if I was out there, I’d be doing the same thing. I’d be working hard. I don’t chase money, I chase enjoyment. If you enjoy it and work hard, that side will come. You meet so many people that are still chasing something. At some point, you have to just enjoy it.
SM: What is your favourite thing about MatchRoom as a company?
FS: The family feel. Everyone that comes in, that mentality remains. They’re used to be 30 or 40 people, now there’s about 114. We’ve still got that feel. No matter how big the business has got. That’s led by Eddie’s father Barry, and Eddie of course. I know so many people that work with big corporations that don’t get that. It’s not as enjoyable. Eddie will walk over to someone just starting out and say, ‘Well done. Good job on that.’ You don’t get that kind of thing in a big corporation.
SM: If you had all the power in the world, what would you change about the boxing industry?
FS: I’d probably get rid of quite a few people in the industry. At the end of the day, boxers are in a dangerous sport. But a lot of boxers are led by people who don’t actually know what they are doing. I’d like a bit more control over how people get involved in the sport. So many people are making money off of fighters who don’t deserve to. Fighters deserve to make as much money as possible. We’re in a business as well, we need to make money. But I wish I could remove the people who are detrimental to the sport and to the fighters.
SM: What’s your best advice for someone that hopes to be like you?
FS: Work hard and do literally everything and anything that someone asks. Also: never lose the mentality that you’re replaceable. We’re all replaceable. I think I’m really good at my job, but if I mess up tomorrow or if I don’t deliver or don’t put my optimal effort in. I could be gone tomorrow. It hasn’t changed since I was 14. Treat it like it’s your own business. People think they can walk in and just get it day one because of what we see on social media. You don’t see the work that goes into it. Just stick it out. But also, not everyone’s idea of success is the same. So don’t judge yourself on someone else’s standard.
SM: What’s been your favourite memory with Matchroom?
FS: You know, I just started a journal recently so I could remember more. We are so lucky to do so many things every day, things that are just wild. We travel non stop. I was in hotels 290 nights this year. It’s easy to forget. But at the same time there’s some moments you can’t forget. Like we were at Canelo’s house and I was riding his horse. Last week, we went to Ed Sheeran’s concert and sat backstage with him for three hours. All these moments become the norm, it’s the life we live. But there’s so many. I started journaling to remember more of them.
SM:Would you change anything about the choices you’ve made that led you here?
FS: No, not at all. I’ve had such a great ride, such a good journey. There have been mistakes. After six months of working I got my final warning for turning up two hours late. But at the same time, that sent me on my way to never do that again. It’s quite good to let it roll and see how you get on.
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