Five business lessons from Harry Redknapp

He may not seem like the most obvious posterboy for leadership but Harry Redknapp hasn't been a football manager for nigh on 30 years for nothing. Here are five lessons you can learn from the Spurs boss.

by Kier Wiater-Carnihan
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

Harry Redknapp’s ability to step away from unpleasant legal and financial bother over the years to reappear elsewhere, firmly in the pink, is legendary. It has even earned him the moniker Harry Houdini. Case and point: HMRC recently failed to convict him of tax fraud and, within 24 hours, he went from facing jail to becoming the favourite for the England hot seat. 

Check out five ways to be just like Harry. 

1. Motivate your employees; and if you can't motivate them, move them on

While Redknapp is not renowned for his tactical nous (he kept Gareth Bale, now considered Tottenham's most valuable player, on the bench until his preferred left-back got injured), he is regarded as being very good at motivating players. Chief among his methods is the fabled 'arm around the shoulder', where he gives a struggling player a bit of much-needed support and reassurance.

While you should be careful about adopting an approach that involves physical contact in an office environment, it is important to keep your staff striving for success. Bear in mind that if they are smarter than the average footballer you might need to think of a motivational technique more sophisticated than a cuddle and the words, ‘Don't worry son, you're a triffic player". If they're not smarter than the average footballer you’re in all kinds of trouble already and MT can’t save you now.

Of course, some people don't respond to motivation. They may not be team players. Perhaps they're unable or unwilling to address their under-performance. Be ruthless: if you find they're missing business opportunities your ‘missus could've scored’, it may well be time to, as the saying goes, send them to Coventry. Or Sunderland.

2. Never forget what you're in it for

‘I'm the most ungreedy [sic] person you have met in your whole life. Ever. Ever.’ That's what Harry told the prosecution in his trial. This is the same Harry Redknapp who had an entire chapter dedicated to him in the award-winning book Broken Dreams – Vanity, Greed and the Souring of British Football by Tom Bower, who quoted him as saying ‘No one gives a monkey’s about you once your career’s over, so in my view you should make the bucks while you can,’ and ‘Don't rip anybody off but if there's a chance to earn a few quid take it.’ Loyalty, my love, has its place but you're in the business to make money. Which brings us to our next point...

3. Aim for the cheapest deal, but remember some things are worth spending on

He may claim that he’s a dreadful businessman – ‘I am a fantastic football manager not a hard-headed businessman,’ he said during his colourful court performance last week. ‘I've got no business acumen whatsoever’ - but Harry does have an eye for a bargain. At the beginning of every transfer window he adopts the chaste innocence of a Jane Austen heroine and insists his club will not be conducting any transfer activity (while making a few coy remarks about certain players he may admire). Yet somehow half a dozen players always manage to slip in just before the window slides shut.  

Of course, the closer the window is to closing, the less time the selling club has to try and negotiate deals with other clubs. If they don't want to keep the player, or the player has made it clear he wants to move on, the selling club has very little room for manoeuvre. Using this tactic, Tottenham managed to acquire the coveted Rafael Van der Vaart last season for an estimated £8m, less than would be expected for a player of his talent and experience. The club even managed to acquire two players on the day of the last transfer deadline, despite it falling right in the middle of Harry's trial.

Still, while a bit of brinksmanship can pay dividends, there are some areas in which you shouldn't scrimp. Here's some sensible advice I'm sure Harry would endorse. First, hire a good accountant. Then, hire a good lawyer.

4. Be careful about bonuses

Considering the current furore over excessive bonuses, football gets a pretty easy ride. Redknapp's court case centred over whether £189,000 paid into his off-shore bank account was a top-up on a bonus relating to transfer profits from his then boss Milan Mandaric, or a friendly gift that just happened to be roughly equivalent to what Redknapp allegedly thought he was owed. Despite Redknapp repeatedly telling a reporter (admittedly a News Of The World reporter) that the money was, in fact, a bonus, the not guilty verdict means that, actually, it wasn't.

What's interesting is that he was getting a bonus at all. Giving managers a financial incentive for selling players at a profit runs the risk of encouraging them to sell when it might prove more prudent not to. While managing West Ham, Redknapp fiercely denied stories he was about to sell future England captain Rio Ferdinand to Leeds, saying, ‘He is not going anywhere...he is better off being at West Ham.’ Three months later he was sold for a then record £18m. Two years after that he broke the transfer record again, signing for Manchester United for £30m.

No one will ever know whether it was the right bit of business for West Ham, but we do know that Redknapp was handsomely rewarded – he received a £300,000 gift from West Ham after the transfer went through. In fact, it was HRMC's investigation of that payment which first led to their interest in him.

5. Timing is everything

All winning streaks come to an end, so make sure you always getting out while the going’s good. At Portsmouth, between 2005 and 2008, Harry bought a whopping 73 players, many on exorbitant wages. The club has just been issued with a winding-up petition. Harry, however, is long gone.

And let’s take a look at Harry’s tenure at Bournemouth, the club he took over in 1983. Though he was much more frugal in the transfer market there (only 18 signings in nine years), an unsustainable increase in wages caused the club's overall debt to increase from £150,000 in 1987 to a whopping £2.6m in 1992, a huge amount for a lower league club.

Yet, while Bournemouth, West Ham United, Southampton and Portsmouth have all flirted with/succumbed to bankruptcy, it's never been on Harry's watch. Watch and learn, leaders. Watch and learn.

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