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Leadership from a different perspective – Football

Leadership from a different perspective – Football

Naked Leader Week – 256 – Monday 5 May 2008

Leadership from a different perspective – Football

I am very fortunate Chairman of Woking Football Club –

It is my hobby, my passion, and in many ways my poisoned challis. When I took over I said I would run the club as a business. This caused some surprise in football circles, and I wrote this piece about it for the local business magazine, this is an extract:

As towns go, Woking must rank as one of the more humble. We take so much for granted – one of the best theatres in the country, fast access to the coast and the capital, and full of successful organisations, and entrepreneurs. Oh yes, and we have a football club, with a hundred years plus, proud history, a strong brand and reputation, and a future of massive ambition, on and off the pitch.

 When Chris Ingram, the man who saved our club from oblivion (well, administration, which is pretty much the same thing), asked me to be Chairman, I gave the only response I could. After all, I had very little knowledge of the game, absolutely no time whatsoever, and I knew it would be a poisoned chalice, which I would drink as an unpaid hobby.

 I said yes, without hesitation.

 Chris asked me to reflect before I made my final decision.

 Reflect! That’s what you do with mirrors, not with opportunities of a lifetime. I am a great believer that in life, and in business, we make our minds up within seconds, based on our emotions, and then spend time stacking up the logic to support the decision we have already made.

 That is just what I did, working out how I could do justice to this great role, and deliver what the fans,   charities and community groups dream, desire and deserve.

 And that was when I had the idea – something I had often been told was near impossible – I would run Woking football club like a business – exactly like a business. While this might sound at best ambitious, and at worst, totally mad, I had another powerful, totally logical reason for doing this – it was my only option. As a business person, I have to run it as a business, as I know of no other way.

 I spent the three weeks leading up to my appointment on 1st December visiting other clubs, listening to business Chief Executives I admired, and working out a strategy. During this time I also uncovered the three main arguments against running a football club as a business, and worked out ways to turn them to our advantage:

 Argument One – Football is in the blood, it is about emotion and passion. Running it like a business removes that.

 Absolute rubbish – the most successful companies are those with the best loved products. Ask First Direct, Coca-Cola and YouTube, and thousands more.

 Argument Two – Football fans are not like customers – they never go away, when things don’t go well, they stay around and moan.

 WOW – imagine having a retail business like that – sorry, no milk, sugar or bread today, come back again next week. It is not as simple that that, of course. If we do not entertain (i.e. play attacking football) or win matches we will drive our fans away. No argument, our fans are our customers – and business is first and foremost about delighting customers.

 Argument Three – Business is about profit, and profit is somehow wrong / evil, and football has to be above that.

 Every organisation is about ensuring that you make more money than you spend. If you choose that to be profit, so be it. If you choose to put that money back into the organisation, so be it. The whole future of the UK and global economy depends on business – it employs people, it gives people purpose and fulfilment, and we must be proud of that.

 And so I set out as Chairman of the club as I would a CEO of a company – my first priorities to set out where we wanted to go – our ambition, to strengthen the Board, and the ground rules on which that Board would operate.

 Our ambition is to win promotion to the football league, and stay there; we know how we will do that, on and off the pitch. Our board is in place and each director has clear accountability for a specific area, and has signed up to a set of values, that include absolute openness (we stab each other in the stomach, never in the back), a commitment that when we make a decision, it will be true (we won’t keep revisiting it week after week) and, most importantly, we will always put the collective needs of the football club above our own. And one other thing, every director is a fan, first and foremost. If you are a director, and you do not love what you do, then why are you doing it?

 My roles are simple, to help my directors excel in theirs, to make sure they receive the credit when things go well, and to take the public flak when they don’t.

 My next priorities are building a fans army of resource, skills and expertise, to build business partnerships with local organisations for mutual benefit, and to set professional standards on and off the field that are higher than anyone else can ever reasonably expect of us.

 All of this aside, however, I know the score – whatever I write, my success will be judged by whether we score more goals than the opposition. And, truth be told, exciting though it is to be Chairman of such a great club, it comes second to watching a Woking free kick fly into the top of the net, from 20 yards.

 Mind you, a very close second.

With my best wishes




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