Chris Bentley, the towering 6ft 6ins lock who graced the Exeter Chiefs shirt for the best part of 10 years chats to the RPA about his transition from the game and explains why he believes the rugby family plays such an important role post-retirement.
Where has life taken you since we last saw you on a rugby pitch? After retiring at the end of the 2011/12 season I embarked on a new role with the Chiefs, working as a member of the corporate sales team. It was the perfect transition for me. I stayed within the club and was appointed Sales Manager. The experience was terrific, it was high intensity at times, but I learnt an awful lot and thoroughly enjoyed the ride. I have a huge amount of respect and gratitude for Tony Rowe. He saw something in me six years ago and handed me the role.
You now work for Smithkin Baker, can you touch on the company and your role there? Smithkin Baker is my wife’s boutique sales and marketing firm. We offer a small number of companies an exclusive, all-inclusive design, marketing and sales service. We help companies improve their branding, design, website, social media, sales, marketing and event planning. Towards the end of my time with Exeter I felt like I needed a change. I loved my time at the Chiefs but progression was something I desperately wanted. A position became available at Smithkin Baker and I literally jumped at the opportunity. My role is to grow the company brand, improve our client base and maximise our potential. It’s been the perfect next challenge for me and something I have thoroughly enjoyed.
Why do you enjoy working in sales? I love it because I enjoy being in front of people. I am a big talker and take great pride in representing my employers and selling their product. I used to host the match-day hospitality at Exeter Chiefs and it was a hell of a lot of fun and something I would recommend to any former player. Being able to connect with the audience and network with potential clients was hugely beneficial. Having completed a degree in philosophy I came to realise I just love being around people and as a salesman I can maximise these skills and gain the most enjoyment and satisfaction.
After a long career as a professional player, when the time came to retire did you feel ready? Like a lot of athletes I had a grand plan. It was all mapped out, I would continue playing until I was 34 and then finish and progress into something new. As it turned out, Tony Rowe called me into his office when I was 32 and told me he saw no future for me as a player but wanted me to join the corporate team. Retrospectively it was exactly what I wanted and needed at that stage of my life. But at the time it didn’t make it any easier because all I wanted to do was play rugby. I remember being so frustrated and at one point had a mini breakdown on the pitch. I had a scrap with a few of the boys during a heated moment, basically because I wanted to show I still had enough in me to keep playing at the required level. It was a hard period in my life and I found it extremely difficult. Having recently completed the RPA Transition Weekend I can honestly say it was one of the best things you can ever do as a player. I found the experience outstanding, hugely beneficial, remarkably enjoyable and a great way to connect with fellow players. There was a moment during the weekend where Laura Penhall, one of the Fieri mentors, was speaking about her experience of rowing a boat across the Pacific Ocean. She explained her story, the ups and downs, and how she experienced days where she felt completely in a rut. She stressed that days like that happen in all stages of life, and you don’t need to worry because you will eventually find a way to pull yourself out of the situation. To me, that made so much sense and summed up the feelings I have felt throughout my transition. I have experienced days and moments where I have felt in a deep hole, but through keeping motivated and speaking to those around me, I have managed to pull myself through those challenges.
Since 2016 you have served as an RPA Player Representative for Alumni members based in the south, what has been the best aspect of the role? Being able to reconnect with former teammates and grow a strong network of alumni has been massively beneficial. I am looking forward to helping Josh Frape in his newly created role as Transition Manager and giving as much support as possible to players coming out of the game and those who are already retired. The rugby network is a fantastic thing, and as former players we have a brilliant family of people who are always there for each other through difficult times. Not to mention, it’s been great to catch up with a few of the old boys for a beer to remember the good old times.