Could Spurs be the next Kodak?

Beware of putting too much faith in the superstar CEO.

by Stephen Jones
Last Updated: 20 Nov 2019

While the eyes of the nation were tuned into ITV1 for the showdown between Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn, a different type of leadership contest was unfolding in North London. 

After a five-year but trophyless spell as Tottenham Hotspur manager, Mauricio Pochettino was sacked and the following morning replaced by the Champions League winning - and somewhat controversial - Jose Mourinho. 

They have radically different styles. If you imagine them as CEOs, then Pochettino is a long-term thinker, committed to organic growth and nurturing talent (often plucked at bargain prices). He squeezes every ounce of value out of what some once saw as mediocre assets.

Mourinho on the other hand is the larger-than-life superstar CEO, with a track record of bagging big contracts and delivering them quickly. As such, he seems to be the obvious choice to revive and offer instant lift to a stagnant organisation. 

But superstar CEOs bring a lot of baggage with them. Mourinho is a short-term, move-fast-and-break things leader who will get quick results, but possibly at the expense of long-term relationships. After three years, he’ll leave, and the club may find the foundations of future success have been neglected.

It could be the footballing equivalent of Kodak in 1993, when the photographic giant replaced CEO Kay Whitmore with George Fisher. 

Whitmore, who had been CEO since 1990, was seen by investors as being the primary reason behind the company’s stagnant performance and general failure to keep up with industry rivals. 

Fisher on the other hand, who had just overseen Motorola’s rapid growth to become the fourth largest chip maker in the world, was seen as the man to breath new life into the business. 

Kodak’s stock price immediately jumped - by a factor of 13. But just over three years later, after a series of acquisitions and investments, including in the immensely expensive digital-film Advantix camera system, Fisher was sacked. 

He, like his predecessors and his successors, failed to recognise the signs of the digital revolution that would eventually destroy Kodak, which famously developed the first digital camera in the 1970s only to suppress the technology as a threat to its film business.

In fairness it would be hard to attribute similar failings to Tottenham Hotspur’s business model. The club has recently opened its lucrative new stadium, signed a number of young and promising talents and delivered a record £380.7m turnover last year

The moral is rather that bringing in a big-name leader with a history of big results doesn’t necessarily guarantee long-term success - indeed, the bosses who lay the groundwork for such success often don’t last long enough to take the credit. Though perhaps in the fast-paced and intensely competitive world of football long-term success is not actually the aim.

After all, much like modern shareholder capitalism, it can be a fickle game.

Image credit: ISABELLA BONOTTO / Contributor via Getty images

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