Louise Johnson is the CEO of Fuse – the only female UK CEO in the sports industry.Louise Johnson is the CEO of Fuse – the only female UK CEO in the sports industry.

Louise has over 20 years’ experience in sport and entertainment marketing having worked both client and agency side, including Vodafone’s global portfolio which comprised of Ferrari F1, McLaren F1, Manchester United FC, David Beckham, and the UEFA Champions League, working across 100+ markets.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background, and your current role

I’m Louise, the CEO of Fuse, a leading sport and entertainment agency that services brands and rights holders. I have over 20 years’ experience in sports and entertainment marketing, having worked both client and agency side, including on Vodafone’s global portfolio which comprised of Ferrari F1, McLaren F1, Manchester United FC, David Beckham, and the UEFA Champions League, working across 100+ markets.

At Fuse, for brands, we plan and execute sponsorships in sport, music and Esports. For rights holders, we consult across areas such as sponsorship sales, digital and data. We have over 350 employees across the EMEA and APAC regions. The agency is currently retained by Nissan, PepsiCo, HSBC, Vodafone, FedEx, Klarna and Google. Fuse has negotiated over $1.1B worth of rights in the past six years for clients across the biggest platforms in the world.

As the only female Chief Executive Officer in the UK sports marketing industry, I have been named in Sports Leaders Under 40 (Class of 2018), Ad Age’s Women to Watch (2019), and IPA Inaugural List of Diversity & Inclusion Trailblazers (2020) and was most recently highly commended by Management Today’s Inspiring Women in Business Awards (2020) and Global Women in Marketing Change Maker Awards (2022).

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I would like to say I did, but I never knew what I wanted to do. I did a history degree at UCL and only had four hours of lectures a week so I would use the rest of my time to try different internships across London to explore what I wanted to do covering PR, fashion, and music. I treated it like a process of elimination. It wasn’t until I got an interview at Vodafone Global working in the global sponsorship team in my mid 20s that the penny dropped and realised that sports marketing was for me. I’ve loved it ever since.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

I’ve had a fair few challenges along the way. But I have two that stand out. The sports marketing industry has and still is predominately a male dominated world. When I took on the leadership of the agency back in 2016, I was a relatively young and a newly appointed Managing Director. It took a while for some senior male rightsholders to take me seriously as a woman, which was tough, even though I represented millions of dollars of their sponsors investment. The second was navigating Fuse’s pathway through the Covid-19 crisis and delivering solutions for long-term growth amid the shutdown of sport – the first time since WW2.

But we have come out stronger as a business with lots of innovation and creativity to take to the market.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

I am incredibly proud of the gender makeup of the agency now. We have a female CEO, a female Chief Operations Officer and female Managing Director. The Board is 50% female, 76% of the senior leadership team and 56% of the overall team is now female, resulting in a salary gap in favour of women.

This has led to driving game-changing work for clients to promote positive change across women’s sport.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

A very strong work ethic, resilience and being restless for the best. 

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?

I feel very strongly about the positive effects of mentoring. Successful women don’t get there by accident – we need sponsors, mentors and coaching to help and lift us up along the way.  I have always mentored women of different ages inside and outside of my organisation. I currently have 4 mentees as well as supporting the WACL Talent Mentoring programme where I get to connect and mentor a further eight amazing women from the industry a year. There are quite useful reverse mentoring opportunities too, where I get to understand today’s challenges as a female businesswoman from the ground up.

If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Equality, what would it be?

I think it’s really hard to pinpoint one thing. But first I think we do need to break down the bias and tackle this head on.

It doesn’t matter what policies or working practices we implement, attitudes and behaviours that hold women back will still persist otherwise.  

To make a difference to closing the gender pay gap, specifically, I think a really easy thing employers can do is to stop asking questions about salary history when you are recruiting. This can put women at a disadvantage. You should offer the salary that the role deserves.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be?

Don’t take things personally. Things will go wrong, it’s evitable but it’s what you learn from the experience that counts. Control what you can control, and don’t worry about rest.  

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

The next chapter at Fuse is to grow our global sport practise into more markets, we have our sights on North America, India, and MENA as our next development stage.

From an EDI perspective, whilst we have strong gender representation across the agency, we still have work to do on other areas. This year, I am focused on recruiting employees from a multicultural background and aim to increase this by 27% by the end of 2022.

Published by WeAreTheCity