Tributes paid after tragic loss of Rob Crossland

RIP Rob Crossland 1966 - 2024

The world of business and rugby league has been shocked this week at the tragic passing of Rob Crossland.

Aged just 57 he had been battling cancer.

He built Optionis Group, formerly Parasol, the Warrington-headquartered freelancer and SME services company, which was backed by MML Capital Partners and specialised in providing tax, employment, accountancy and legislative compliance solutions to freelancers, contractors, small businesses and recruitment firms.

He started Parasol in 2000 then led a £23m management buy-out in November 2006, backed by Inflexion Private Equity, which took a majority stake, before themselves selling to MML in 2014.

He won many awards including the BVCA chief executive of the year award and the EY North Entrepreneur of the Year.

A former IT contractor he founded Parasol as a direct result of becoming frustrated with the mountains of paperwork and sheer hassle involved with freelancing.

Parasol had a reputation under Rob Crossland as a supportive partner to thousands of contractors and recruitment agencies.

In an interview with the BBC’s Tanya Beckett he confessed to bouts of self doubt, but that he learned to channel that feeling and combine it with a competitive streak.

“I’ve always kind of wanted to prove people wrong, you know. I’m often found to be underestimated in that regard, so that’s perfect. There’s a competitive streak in me. Huge, huge competitive streak and when I was competing with graduates I thought  ‘You’re not very good. I’m better than that’,” he said.

He grew the business from one person in 2000 to 280 staff and £350m in revenue in 2017 and later ran a portfolio of projects that ‘do good’ as part of consultancy ‘DWDG’ (stands for Do Well Do Good).

Born in Hull, he was a former vice chair of Rugby League club Hull Kingston Rovers, as well as a Manchester City FC supporter.

A statement in tribute to him by the club noted that he grew up Portabello Street and was a lifelong school friend of Neil Hudgell, chairman and owner of Hull KR. 

“Over the years, many of Rob’s businesses have taken pride of place on the front of club jerseys including Parasol, Brian Alfred and Clear Sky, providing significant support to the club.

“In 2007 he was formally invited to join the club’s board, as Vice Chairman, a position he remained in and cherished until he stood down in early 2019 to focus on other business commitments,” the tribute noted.

He was invited to the 2023 Challenge Cup Final as a special guest of the club, to enjoy the occasion with his close family.

Owner Neil Hudgell paid tribute to his friend, saying: “Rob and I grew up in the shadow of the old Craven Park. Those formative years shaped our love for the club. He used to run errands for Colin Hutton out of the Zetland Arms pub.

“We had so many laughs over the years, teaming up again 20 years ago to begin the club’s journey back to Super League. He was with us at Wembley and again at our end of season awards night. He has fought his illness with incredible bravery and dignity throughout. Willie (Peters) dedicated our win last Thursday night to Rob, a game he watched on television.

“It is desperately sad he will not be here to see where this journey takes us. He will remain front and centre of our thoughts as we mourn his loss, and send our love and support to his wonderful family.”

His last post on LinkedIn was a desperately sad update on his medical condition, but coupled with a request that people support his fundraising efforts to support the Douglas Macmillan Hospice (Dougie Mac), the only hospice in Staffordshire supporting Children, Young Adults & Adults.


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