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How An MBA In Horse Racing Turned A Passion Into A Career

Debbie Grey became head of operations at the Injured Jockeys Fund after completing the University of Liverpool Management School's Thoroughbred Horseracing Industries MBA


Thu Jan 7 2021

Horse racing in the UK is a billion-dollar industry, worth an estimated $5.3 billion. Thoroughbred racing also accounts for four of the top 10 highest-attended sporting events in the UK. Cheltenham Festival and Royal Ascot, the largest, are attended by over half a million people each year.

Debbie Grey is head of operations at the Injured Jockeys Fund, a UK charity working to improve the lives of injured jockeys and their families. The fund, set up after jockeys suffered serious injuries in the 1964 Grand National, has helped over 1000 jockeys and their families and has paid out more than £18m ($24m) in charitable assistance to date.  

Debbie had always owned horses when growing up in her native South Africa. In 2016, she moved to Newmarket in the UK—widely considered to be the global center of thoroughbred racing—and decided to combine her passion for horses with her experience as an operations director to pursue a career in the horse racing industry.  

Debbie says her decision to enrol on the Thoroughbred Horseracing Industries MBA (THIMBA) at the University of Liverpool Management School has been key to her career success.  


After moving to the UK in 1999, Debbie worked as manager of a recruitment specialist before taking a role as Director of Operations at Enterprise Consulting UK in Cambridge, where she worked for 12 years.  

She completed a part time Master’s Degree in Childhood and Youth Studies at the University of East Anglia alongside her work, before moving to Newmarket in 2016. There, she became involved in horse racing and started breeding horses, before deciding she wanted that to be the focus of her career. 

In 2016, she joined the National Association of Racing Staff (NARS), a trade union for stable staff in the horse racing industry.  Shortly after joining, she decided again to pursue further education, this time opting for the Thoroughbred Horseracing Industries MBA, which she could study part-time alongside her work at NARS.

The THIMBA is the only masters program in the world to be delivered through a partnership with governing bodies in the industry, including the British Horseracing Authority. 


The program covers core business elements like leadership, strategy, marketing and finance, while also covering industry specific content like bloodstock management, veterinary issues and management of racecourses, exposing students to the inner workings of the industry.   

Describing herself as a “lifelong learner,” Debbie felt the THIMBA would allow her to learn a wide variety of industry specific skills which were important in continuing her management career.  

“It’s really important that you remain current,” she says, “and it’s good to show that you still have the capacity and the desire to learn.”  

The influence of having an MBA on her CV when applying for management jobs was also important. “I wanted to make sure that I could have some sort of career progression and make myself more marketable,” she adds.    

Building a career in horse racing

The dual focus of horse racing and business meant the THIMBA modules gave Debbie a broad understanding of what life in a management role in the industry would be like.  

“One of the strengths of this program for our industry is the fact that you learn so much in each area,” she says.  “I can’t really say that one module shone above the other because there was something that I took out of every one.” 

Candidates complete a Dissertation or Work Based Project in the summer of their second year, where they carry out in-depth research including focus groups and questionnaires, before using business theories to write up their conclusions.

Debbie focused hers on team management, where she was able to channel her passion for working with people while learning more about how to manage well. 

“Training and development of a team is really important to me and I am able to employ some of the principles that I researched for my dissertation in managing the team day to day,” she says.  

Having access to the THIMBA network, which includes industry leaders such as Nick Rust, former CEO of the British Horseracing Authority, and Rod Street, chief executive of Great British Racing, as well as MBA graduates throughout all areas of the industry, allowed Debbie to grow an expansive network.   


“If you wanted to you had the opportunity to make the most amazing relationships,” she says. “We had access to speakers that you wouldn’t necessarily get to see if you didn’t do the MBA and they were very gracious in giving us their personal details and offering help.”  

The opportunity to work in teams with classmates from all over the world meant that Debbie was also able to connect with and learn from her peers. Interacting with other cohort members from Hong Kong, the Middle East and Ireland meant she saw a variety of approaches and developed an understanding of different cultures.  

“There is such strength in being able to acknowledge and realize there is not only one way of doing things,” she explains. “I think that the diversity of the people on the course really helped embed and cement that belief.” 

MBA to Operations Director

Debbie left NARS in September 2019, after graduating from the MBA program. She spent some time as a consultant on the The Whip Project, a scheme run by the British Horseracing Authority looking at the use of the whip in races.  

She then took up her current role at the Injured Jockeys Fund, which sees her directing a number of areas including welfare, operations, and IT.  

Debbie says the THIMBA gave her the confidence to be able to deal with the variety of situations she may find herself in each day. Ultimately, the grounding the program gave her in business and management means she can be confident in the choices she makes. 

“Before, I just made decisions based on what was coming; there was no theory behind all the decisions I made," Debbie explains.

“When I am in a meeting now and I don’t understand something, I can either ask pertinent questions or I know I have a network of people that I can go to for help."

Student Reviews

University of Liverpool School of Management




On Campus

My experience in UOL

Well I won't tell you about all the great things about this university. But I'll just tell you my honest experience about it. I have visited almost all the places here. This university knows how take care of their students. Be it any aspect, be it career and placement department, be it societies, be it organising committees, they know what all issues a student can face and they are ready with the solutions already. Professors here are so welcoming. You can literarily bother them ample number of times but they will still be so nice with you. They actually put a lot of efforts to make letures more fun. They try their best to focus on each and every student and check if they are comfortable or now. Coming to the offerings. They know that there will be a lot of international students and there will be a lot of issues they will face in adjustment over here. So they organised a lot of events, distributed a lot of free vouchers just to make students feel welcomed over here. Trust me if you are looking for a Uni for yourself or for someone, do add this one on your priority list.




On Campus

Fantastic school

The lecturers are incredibly experienced in their field of study, and it shows when they teach. They know what they are talking about, and that instills a level of trust that you have made the right choice coming to this university. They are supportive and charismatic - exactly how lecturers should be! The accommodation is all fantastic too. Homely, comfortable, so close to campus. Even Greenbank, which is a 15 minute bus journey from campus, has its perks (heavily discounted bus pass - from £400 to £60 and free gym membership). There are so many societies too! Literally one for everything. During the society fair, they were all so welcoming which is so great to see. The lecture theatres are all top-notch too. It feels so modernistic. It really feels like I have had a big step up from sixth form to university. I made the right choice by coming to UoL!




On Campus

Original RedBrick Review!!

The Marketing Course at this uni a great course with exceptional industry connections - for example a brand assessment centre from The Hut Group and an assessment centre at Anfield Football Stadium! The campus is great as it is all connected and everything can be found there - so whether you are a Starbucks or Cafe Nero kind of person the campus has everything. Freshers is great with campus tours, city walks and course talks to connect you with fellow coursemates. Halls was also a great experience - I loved the halls packs where you can get free tshirts, baking kits and we even got free dominoes pizzas!!




On Campus

Enjoyed every aspect of it!

My experience studying Marketing at the University of Liverpool has been amazing! All the lecturers and students have been so lovely and helpful. The management school building is my favourite place to study. I would recommend studying Marketing at the University of Liverpool because the content is so engaging and the assignments are creative.






Perfect learning methodologies and curriculums, the most i liked about my learning experience with University of Liverpool is the professionalism, in delivering the subjects and helping the students gaining more knowledge.




On Campus

Amazing course

The marketing course at UOL is great the lecturers are helpful and provide in-person and online resources to succeed in assignments, and the careers department is extremely helpful. The modules are all relevant and have expanded my understanding of the marketing industry and consumer behaviour, social media and so on




On Campus

The Best Experience

Currently in my Second Year studying Marketing at the University of Liverpool. Due to the big student culture in Liverpool, you soon feel completely at ease and at home. Staff are extremely helpful - there is always opportunities to ask for additional support/guidance. Each module is clear and well organised - this definitely helps in first year when it can be easy to feel overwhelmed with the new workload. It’s very easy to find your way around due to it being a campus university as everything is in close proximity. I lived at Greenbank accommodation in my first year and the staff are so helpful and make you feel very well settled. There is a huge community feel and the modules are interactive meaning making friends is much easier and a lot less intimidating. If you’re considering attending this university and I honestly couldn’t recommend more - you’ll have the best experience!




On Campus


One of my favourite things about this university is the diversity of its people. I met so many different people during my time here, from all different backgrounds and experiences. Not only did these people provide me with insight and knowledge into their own cultures and beliefs, they also allowed me to learn about and understand different ways of life that I would have otherwise never been exposed to. The tutors were also incredibly supportive on this course and allowed me to excel.




On Campus

Great university!

I did my undergrad in film studies at LJMU and I honestly could not recommend it enough. It has the perfect mix of practical and theory work that prepares you for any job possible in the film industry, from lighting tech to AD. The university lecturers were also very attentive, and I felt comfortable enough with them to seek their help if I ever had an issue or concern, academic or personal. LJMU gave me experiences I would not have got anywhere else, offering summer placements completely free that broadened my horizons. The fact the campus is interspersed around the city also makes it very convenient.

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