Outgoing HM Passport Office director general Abi Tierney has spoken of her lifelong support for Welsh rugby after being unveiled as the first female chief executive of the Welsh Rugby Union.
The senior civil servant – who is also registrar general for England and Wales, and Home Office ethics adviser – was formally announced as the new WRU boss yesterday afternoon. She will take up the role by the end of the year.
Tierney’s father, Peter O’Sullivan, grew up as part of a large family in South Wales and played rugby for Barry, Dinas Powys and Glamorgan Wanderers.
She described her new role as an opportunity to combine one of her major passions with her working life.
“The opportunity to lead the Welsh Rugby Union is an immense privilege and I relish the chance to make a lasting positive difference at such a critical time,” she said.
“My passion and commitment for this role is unquestionable and I feel a huge sense of pride having grown up in a family where rugby has been a constant and positive force in our lives.
“Rugby has the ability to enable life chances and develop people on and off the pitch. In this role, I intend to take that heritage and the skills and learning I have gathered in my career to deliver the significant cultural advancement Welsh rugby deserves.”
Tierney will be the permanent successor to Steve Phillips, who resigned in January after a BBC investigation raised allegations of sexism and racism at the WRU.
Tierney joined HMPO in 2020 from outsourcing giant Serco. She said she had a “track record” for “positively shaping an organisation’s culture” that she would be bringing to the WRU.
“I am an inclusive leader and I will do my utmost to promote belonging, trust, understanding and mutual support at all levels in Welsh rugby,” she said.
Tierney said she would work alongside executive director of rugby Nigel Walker and WRU chair Richard Collier-Keywood to “realise the full potential of Welsh rugby in the years ahead”.
Collier-Keywood said Tierney’s appointment was a “major coup” for Welsh rugby.
“She has worked successfully across the private and public sectors in delivering commercial value and improving the culture of some complex organisations,” he said.
Tierney was business-development director at Serco Health immediately before joining HMPO. Prior to that she was director of strategy and innovation at University Hospitals Leicester and before that she was director of strategic leadership at Aberdeen City Council. She has also been a marketing leader for IBM’s global services business.
She is likely to be in line for a significant salary boost with her new role. According to the Cabinet Office’s latest Civil Service High Earners List, her salary as of September last year was bracketed at £160,000-£164,999. ITV News reported that former WRU chief exec Phillips’ salary last year was £359,000.