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  • Ian T

The Black & White Army - What Businesses Can Learn


And just like that, in classic Newcastle fashion, the biggest achievement in the clubs recent history rolls over the line. An evening that showed all the dominance of this season, was met with 10 minutes of nail biting, palpable te

nsion. A brilliant save by Nick Pope, a nervous header by Botman and a lot of tired legs got us through to the final whistle and the chance for 52,000 Geordies to celebrate an evening long, long overdue. Real Madrid, Barcelona, PSG, all back on the menu for next season.

It did get me thinking though. How many parallels run through what Newcastle, Eddie Howe and the team have achieved over the last 18 months and how (good) business are run. Over the past three years, Newcastle United Football Club has experienced a remarkable transformation. From the depths of uncertainty and frustration under the ownership of Mike Ashley, the club has emerged as a solid, well organised team, rewarded with a coveted spot in the Champions League.

In this blog post, we will draw parallels between Newcastle's ascent and the success of a well-managed business, highlighting the importance of pragmatism, wise decision-making, and a solid management structure. Additionally, we will pay homage to the foundation laid by the legendary Sir Bobby Robson and the challenging years endured during the Ashley era.

Building from a Strong Foundation: The rise of Newcastle United cannot be discussed without acknowledging the profound impact of Bobby Robson, who managed the club from 1999 to 2004. Robson, a humble, brilliant manager, encapsulated everything good about Newcastle during his tenure. In short - he "got" Newcastle and the fans, because he was one of them. There is a framed quote in my sons bedroom that read “What is a club in any case? Not the buildings or the directors or the people who are paid to represent it. It’s not the television contracts, get-out clauses, marketing departments or executive boxes. It’s the noise, the passion, the feeling of belonging, the pride in your city. It’s a small boy clambering up stadium steps for the very first time, gripping his father’s hand, gawping at that hallowed stretch of turf beneath him and, without being able to do a thing about it, falling in love". Sir Bobby was right.

However, behind the emotion, there was a level of pragmatism to his management of Newcastle. Robson's tenure saw Newcastle compete at the highest level, with an entertaining style of play and a team that resonated with the fans. While the club experienced varying degrees of success after Robson's departure, his legacy left a blueprint for future success.

Years of Turmoil and Mike Ashley's Era: The subsequent years saw Newcastle United caught in a downward spiral under the ownership of Mike Ashley. Financial constraints, poor decision-making, and a lack of long-term planning plagued the club, resulting in relegation from the Premier League on two occasions. The fanbase grew increasingly frustrated, as their beloved club seemed destined for mediocrity and perpetual struggle.

A Change of Ownership

We will park the issues with Saudi ownership - that is a blog in itself, however we can spend time focusing on the ways in which Newcastle today is a very, very different team.

Pragmatic Growth and Wise Decision-making: "They'll buy the league, just like when City brought Robinho in for stupid money" said a pundit as the ink on Dan Burns contract dried….There has been no ridiculous spending at Newcastle, it has been a very smart, very controlled evolution of the team - the arrival of new ownership provided a renewed focus on stability and progress. The new owners recognised the need for a solid management structure, and their pragmatic approach to rebuilding the club yielded positive results. They prioritised making smart decisions, avoiding overpaying for players, and carefully managing resources to build a strong squad capable of competing at the highest level.

In business, most start-ups don’t succeed: More than two-thirds of them never deliver a positive return to investors. the No. 2 cause is that they “ran out of cash,” New York-based CB Insights said in a report. Often, start ups get excited by the investment, have plans to conquer the world quickly and over spend on items that reside outside their roadmap and strategy. Fiscal disciple is incredibly important as is sequential, controlled growth.

Investment in the Right Areas: Similar to a successful business, Newcastle United identified areas where investment was crucial. They prioritised the development of their youth academy, ensuring a steady supply of talented young players for the first team. Additionally, they made strategic signings, focusing on value for money rather than splurging on marquee names. This measured approach allowed the club to maintain financial stability while building a competitive squad.

Time and time again, I have been advised by other start up CEO's and founders - bring in the right person for the current challenge, not someone you think will help in five years time. Many of the founders I've met (both those who have succeeded and those who failed) have said they brought in big guns (often from the Big Four) on astronomical salaries, thinking they'll mature the company through their experience. Of course this can happen, but often you need a Nick Pope , a Kieran Trippier or a Dan Burn to lay a really solid foundation, before you look to bring in a superstar name. Follow the plan, believe in the strategy.

Solid Management Structure: Behind every successful business lies a robust management structure, and Newcastle United is no exception. The club appointed individuals who shared a common vision and worked diligently to implement a sustainable model. This solid management structure fostered a culture of professionalism, teamwork, and ambition, which permeated throughout the entire organisation. Businesses are no different - how do you react when things go poorly, how do you collectively overcome challenges, how do you avoid getting too excited when things are going well. Maintain the course, rely on your experience and control the growth.

For Newcastle, measuring this is easy (ish) - points won, distance run, successful passes completed etc. For business, you need to have KPI's that link back to your strategy; new customers, growth of customers month on month, churn rate etc.

A Bright Future: Newcastle United's resurgence over the past three years has brought the team back to the Champions League. Their remarkable transformation from a struggling club to a force in English football serves as an inspiration to businesses looking to achieve growth and success. We have to avoid falling into the trap of thinking this is just because of money - as of today, the team has not spent like the richest club in the world.

By embracing pragmatism, making wise decisions, avoiding overpaying, and establishing a solid management structure, Newcastle has navigated the challenges they faced under Mike Ashley's ownership and positioned themselves for a bright future.

Conclusion: The story of Newcastle United's rise to Champions League contention bears striking resemblances to the journey of a well-managed business. Through pragmatic growth, wise decision-making, and a solid management structure, the club has overcome the obstacles that once threatened to undermine their success. As the team continues to build on the foundation laid by Bobby Robson, their transformation serves as a testament to the power of resilience, adaptability, and strategic planning. With renewed hope and aspirations, Newcastle United looks set to reclaim their position among the elite in English football.

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