Barry Hearn is not a man troubled by uncertainty.
“I always listen to other people’s opinions but if I disagree with them then I disregard them immediately,” he told me.
The interview was conducted as the World Snooker chairman dashed between meetings. It was just another day for Hearn: up early, into work and on with business, a business which has been incredibly profitable since Matchroom was founded over 30 years ago.
Hearn rode the crest of the snooker wave in the 1980s before conquering new lands, some of them mainstream like boxing and others niche such as poker and fishing. He carries with him a first rate reputation as a wheeler and dealer, gregarious front man and lover of innovation.
Self confidence is not something lacking in the Hearn repertoire and neither should it be. Yes, he talks the talk but his record proves he has also walked the walk.
But an increasing number of players are finding cause to criticise him as the wind of change runs through professional snooker. John Higgins last week reportedly claimed the UK Championship had been ‘ruined’ by the decision to reduce it to best of 11 frames from its traditional best of 17.
It is a change that has left many appalled, but Hearn sighs deeply before answering the charge that the game’s second biggest event has been downgraded.
“This is a great example of why snooker players should play snooker and leave commercial decisions to people qualified to make them,” he said.
“You have to take note of moving trends and remember that the customer is always right. The viewing figures and ticket sales are our customers, are what we listen to.
“I don’t want to say we were fortunate that the BBC signed a new contract but let’s put it this way: we are grateful of their support.
“For the UK Championship they wanted a result in every session and best of 11 was actually stretching it as far as we could.
“People may not like it but across all sports there is a move towards faster action. We have never got near to the ticket sales we have achieved this year. People know that they will come and see a result.
“It sounds to me like John Higgins is completely removed from reality. He’s a great player and is entitled to his opinion but we’re a commercial sport. If he and others want bigger prize funds then they have to live in the real world.
“To be honest, what they want is almost immaterial to me. I have to transform snooker and I know what I’m doing. If that sounds big-headed, well, tough. I’ve been doing it for 35 years and I’ve been successful.”
What, then, of the World Championship, which currently runs for 17 days over long matches where it sometimes takes days, never mind sessions, to reach a result?
“We will leave the World Championship virtually untouched because it’s proved itself,” said Hearn, who featured in a famous Crucible cameo when he barrelled across the stage in 1981 and nearly knocked Steve Davis over after his young charge became world champion for the first time.
“It’s a bizarre tournament in a way, the fact you can play a match for three days, but it works.
“But you can’t expect nothing to change otherwise the game will die. If that happens the likes of John Higgins will have to get a job, and they won’t like that.”
Hearn tells me he has a “skin like a rhinoceros” but he does sound genuinely frustrated when I raise the subject of complaints about the PTCs.
“What people don’t seem to understand is that we have a proper commercial plan,” he said. “It’s a five-year plan and the PTCs are here for five years. We haven’t even reached the end of year two yet and they’re already moaning. Wait and see where we are after five years.
“Peter Ebdon got it right two years ago. He told the EGM they were giving me control of the game forever. Correct, and I know the way to go. I know exactly what I’m doing because I’ve done it in darts and elsewhere.
“The PTCs will evolve over time. Players complain about them but they forget they are sharper than ever because they’re playing all the time and they forget that winning the £10,000 first prize – which is a lot of money to a working man – qualifies towards playing in a bigger tournament where the first prize is £75,000.
“The European PTCs have been a great springboard to showcase the game in Europe and explore the market there. Those events will grow but we need the players to support them.”
Hearn says he takes an hourly interest in the fast moving administration of the professional circuit. “Yes, I make mistakes,” he admitted in a rare moment of self reproach. “As Aneurin Bevan [politician and founder of the National Health Service] said, if you haven’t made 11 mistakes before breakfast then you’re still in bed. But I have so many ideas and most of them are good.”
One such idea will not go down well with top players. Hearn’s long term plan is to have all players start in the first round in all tournaments, as happens in the PTCs.
How he will sell this to broadcasters who want the big names guaranteed on their screens is another matter, but Hearn believes snooker has been a cosy closed shop for too long.
“I will eventually move it so that every player comes in at the first round stage, no seedings, no exemptions,” he said. “There’s been too much protection in this game. It’s a long term project and top players won’t like it but it’s much fairer, just like the new ranking system is.
“Eventually everyone will play in the first round. The sport hasn’t been vibrant enough, there have been too few new faces coming through. It’s been a closed shop largely and there have been too many obstacles.
“This will be good news for the new players and youngsters but I also believe the prize money structure should change. There should be more given to winners and less lower down.
“When the history books of snooker are written, the few years before I took over will be looked at as snooker in its death throws. It was going nowhere.
“So many things were being done because they had always been done and people seemed content to basically just divvy up the money and keep everyone sweet.
“It was run like a boys’ club. In five years time the sport will look completely different. There will be a tournament every week, just like golf, just like tennis.”
In the face of all this, I suggest the bullish Hearn isn’t bothered by public criticisms from leading players, but he disagrees.
“I am bothered by them because they are damaging. These negative comments have a direct commercial impact with sponsors,” he said.
“It seems to me a lot of top players would rather be at home in bed than go out to work like the rest of us.
“The players job is to keep their mouths shut and play snooker. Mine is to provide them with the opportunities to do that, which I am doing.
“You can’t just take from life. You have to put in as well. If it means the inconvenience of playing in lower prize money tournaments then so be it. They should think about the bigger picture, about where the sport can go.
“Some of them seem to want everything now. Well, that won’t happen but at the end of five years the sport will have been transformed. The prizes will be there for those who want them and are prepared to work for them. Some players seem to think I should just send them a cheque every month.
“I know I can do it, but the players have to play their part too. I may sound over confident but that’s 35 years of being successful for you.”
Snooker, though, is a difficult and cut-throat sport. Many players are left out of pocket through the expense of travelling to tournaments that do not carry large financial prizes.
Does Hearn have sympathy? Up to a point.
“It’s tough, of course, but at the end of five years there will be a tournament every week and the players can choose what they want to play in,” he said.
“I don’t mind people losing money playing if that’s their chosen path, if that’s what they want to do with their lives, but it’s my responsibility to give them the chances and reward them if they are successful.
“In golf, if they get their tour card they know it will cost them £70,000 a year in expenses and if they don’t make the cut they won’t get paid but if they do well they will become very wealthy. That’s sport. We’re not here to protect anyone but we should reward people who do well.”
If what Hearn says is right then snooker in 2015 will indeed look very different: a 12-month global circuit featuring tournaments big and small.
It may be that some big names get swept away in this revolution, but this has happened before. 20 years ago when the game went open many of the familiar faces from the boom years of the 1980s disappeared and were replaced by young stars, some of whom are now approaching veteran status.
Ray Reardon, in fact, retired in protest at the influx of new stars, each turning professional based on paying entry fees rather than ability.
The sport has done well to survive the various troughs of recent years. It went through some bad times but is still standing, and with European and Far Eastern interest is set to flourish again.
This is how professional snooker is now: changes, challenges and a hectic playing schedule, plenty for people to adapt to and much to be questioned as well.
We can judge the success of the Hearn plan when it is complete but one thing is clear: whether people in the snooker world agree with him or not, he isn’t going anywhere and he isn’t going to change course.
That’s never been the Barry Hearn way.