Carlton CEO Brian Cook backflips on top executive

Hired by Carlton to overhaul the club’s culture, Brian Cook has come under scrutiny after he appointed an executive who left Geelong under a toxic cloud.

New Carlton chief Brian Cook has been forced into an embarrassing backflip after he appointed an executive who left Geelong under a cloud of allegations of toxic workplace behaviour.

Cook, who has been recruited to Carlton to overhaul the club’s culture, in one of his first moves hired the former Geelong executive Braith Cox, who was investigated late last year over his management style, including “inappropriate behaviour” towards staff at the Cats.

In an email to all staff on February 1, Cook, the former Geelong chief executive, announced Cox’s appointment, praising his leadership experience and decade-long AFL-industry resume.

After The Australian contacted Carlton Football Club on Wednesday, Cook released a statement saying the club and Cox had decided to part ways.

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Brian Cook is seen at training at GMHBA Stadium in Geelong, Tuesday, Setptember 17, 2019. (AAP Image/Julian Smith) NO ARCHIVING
Brian Cook is seen at training at GMHBA Stadium in Geelong, Tuesday, Setptember 17, 2019. (AAP Image/Julian Smith) NO ARCHIVING

“Braith Cox was appointed to the position of general manager commercial last week,” Cook said in a statement to The Australian.

“Following discussions during the past few days, it became clear to both parties that the role wasn’t the right fit and today, Mr Cox rescinded his contract. The club will now continue the search to fill the GM commercial operations position.

Cook and Cox had previously worked closely together at Geelong, where Cox was in a commercial executive role.

After Cook had departed the Cats for Carlton, sources confirmed that late last year the Geelong leadership green-lit an external review into the allegations against Cox. The Australian has learnt he was “not exonerated” by that review. Cox, however, denies it took place.

‘‘In relation to the allegations, I am unable to respond due to their vague nature,” Cox said in a text message to The Australian.

“I have not faced allegations tantamount to ‘toxic’ workplace behaviour.

“I was never subject to any external review during my period of employment at the Geelong Football Club. Accordingly, there is no substance to the related allegation that I was not exonerated following an external review as it is entirely baseless.”

“Please note, the club and I decided on a 10-week long exit plan 20/12/2021 to 25/02/2022 with projects and WIP items to finish. That’s not what I would provide an employee if they were behaving in a ‘toxic’ manner.”

Braith Cox
Braith Cox

It’s understood the allegations are not sexual harassment or of a sexual nature. Cox left the Geelong club in December 2021 after a “restructure”.

The external review was conducted late last year under new Geelong chief executive Steve Hocking – the former AFL football operations boss – who club insiders say has led a cultural renewal at the Cats.

Before Hocking’s arrival, The Australian has confirmed that four senior staff members directly raised issues about Cox’s “inappropriate workplace behaviour” towards the treatment of staff, particularly women, with the then Geelong chief executive Cook.

Geelong refused to comment on the specific allegations levelled at Cox but said the club was in a phase of “renewal”.

“The board and executive will continue to lead a period of renewal at the club,” the Geelong statement read. “After a restructure in December 2021, Braith Cox left the club.”

Hocking addressed some staff after Cox’s departure and told them the executive left for “values based” reasons.

Cox was expected to start work with Carlton later this month. An internal email from Cook to Carlton staff, which was sent on February 1, announced the former Geelong executive’s appointment.

“I am pleased to announce that Braith Cox has accepted the position of general manager – commercial operations, commencing on Monday 21 February 2022,” Cook wrote.

“Braith joins the Club with over 10 years of AFL industry experience, most recently as the Chief Commercial Officer and prior to this, as the General Manager - Partnerships, Marketing and Sales at the Geelong Football Club.”

Cook served as the Cats’ CEO for 23 years, during which time the club won three premierships, including its first in 44 years.