One year ago I wrote a blog post about leadership. It was a delight to write with great clarity about how an organisation had achieved remarkable things through strong, committed, innovative, focused and inspirational leadership. I was using this organisation as a model example of how leadership can deliver success to a business and inspire its employees and ‘customers’ to become even stronger advocates or ‘fans’ of the organisation.
One year on and it is with great regret that I am writing about this organisation for the second time – a great regret as I am now able to describe how a change of leadership can very quickly and incredibly dramatically change the fortunes of a company, even when it appears that more success should be likely, or maybe even inevitable.
In April 2014, the football club I have supported my entire life was on the brink of something quite special. Leyton Orient, a little known football club from East London were on the brink of promotion to the championship. Whilst this may not sound particularly significant, to followers of football in England and to committed fans of ‘the O’s’, this was a feat of epic proportions. It was epic as this kind of thing does not happen to Leyton Orient very often!! In my 42 years on planet earth, Orient have achieved automatic promotion on just one occasion!!
What made the Orient story special was the story behind their achievement. A story that started twenty years earlier with near financial ruin and that culminated with the establishment of a financially stable business. By April 2014, led by Barry Hearn, Orient had become one of the most stable professional sports clubs in the UK. Although he was not always popular with the fans (his customers) Barry turned Orient into a sustainable business, something that seemed unimaginable when he bought the club for the paltry sum of £5 in 1995.
Whatever anyone thinks of Barry Hearn, it is difficult to dispute that he is a very astute and successful businessman. It is also now difficult to dispute that Barry was and is an inspirational business leader. Under his stewardship, a crumbling company was transformed. The transformation was largely achieved through his relationship with people – especially his employees. During his twenty years as chairman of Leyton Orient, Barry Hearn worked with two of the longest serving managers in the football league. Both Martin Ling and Russell Slade helped Orient to become a business that its fans (customers) could become proud of.
Transforming the financial fortunes of Leyton Orient as a business was not achieved through the influx of a large amount of financial investment. Quite the contrary – this is one of the things that made the achievement of near promotion last year all the more amazing. By the time Orient walked out onto the hallowed turf of Wembley Stadium in May 2014, not a single transfer fee had been paid for any player in the squad. Russell Slade was manager of Orient for over four years and NEVER paid a transfer fee for a player.
Orient’s success was achieved through amazing leadership – the ability to create and generate a culture of desire, character and togetherness that drove people to achieve incredible things. The desire, belief and pride that was clearly felt by everyone connected to Orient was infectious – it was hard to believe that good things were really happening to a club like Leyton Orient!!
HOWEVER…… as the image at the head of this post suggests, sadly, the Leyton Orient story one year on is rather different – a story that has seen the hearts of all Orient fans broken. The reasons why our hearts have been broken is the real reason I am writing this blog post. So with a deep breath, let me explain…..
On the 25th May 2014, Leyton Orient sadly did not achieve promotion to the championship. It was close….. very close, but I am not writing this blog post to re-live the pain of missed penalty kicks. Inside Wembley stadium that day, sitting next to Barry Hearn was an Italian businessman. Unknown to the thousands of Orient fans (customers) assembled inside the stadium, this unknown Italian businessman was about to dramatically change the fortunes of the club they love.
Shortly after the disappointment of defeat at Wembley, Barry Hearn sold Leyton Orient to Francesco Bechetti. A businessman who has made the majority of his billions in the waste industry (cue lots of jokes about him wanting to buy more rubbish!), his purchase was announced by Barry Hearn to the media as the best thing that could ever happen to Orient. I must admit, when I heard the news, I could hardly believe that my club was now owned by someone that had serious money at his disposal – billions!!
On hearing the news though, I was also disappointed – disappointed that the wonderful leadership team of Barry and Russell was being broken up. The reality is that nothing lasts forever – all organisations experience changes in leadership. The challenge is whether or not the performance of a business can maintain itself once leadership has changed. You only have to look to high profile examples for the effect of changing leadership – especially when the previous leadership team had been in place a long time – Tesco (Sir Terry Leahy); M&S (Sir Stuart Rose) – both retailers fortunes have changed dramatically since these transformational leaders were in charge. In the football world, we only need to look as far as Manchester United and Sir Alex Ferguson. Maybe Tim Cook, CEO of Apple gives us hope that leadership change can sustain success of a previous regime.
Back to the Orient story – during the summer last year, Orient recruited a number of new players (employees) – they recruited the kind of players that they could only have dreamed about just a few weeks before. With a new owner who has very deep pockets, they could suddenly afford to pay players significantly increased wages. As seemingly far more experienced recruits joined the fold, Orient fans (customers) were finding it difficult to hide their excitement. As has often been seen in the business that is professional football, money can and has bought success to others – finally it seemed that money was going to buy success for Orient.
I can confirm that money does NOT buy success – not for Orient…..not for any business. Do not get me wrong – money and investment is essential for any business wanting to grow. An injection of capital enables an organisation to do things that it was previously unable to do – spending money on new resources, equipment, employees etc. – are all a vital component of a growth strategy. Yet without good leadership, HOW that investment is used is what really makes the difference. In THEORY, as we approach May 2015, Orient should not only have been able to repeat the success of 2014, they should have been able to go that one step further and actually achieve promotion. In REALITY, not only have Orient failed to do that, the impact of the change in leadership has been a complete disaster – a disaster that will very likely lead to Orient being relegated to League 2 in just a few days time.
When any business changes leadership, it creates a period of instability. It is inevitable when new leaders have their own ideas and ways of working. If you try to change too much too quickly, the results can be catastrophic. Bechetti made so many changes so quickly, in just twelve months his leadership has single-handedly undone twenty years of organisational transformation.
Russell Slade left Orient early on in the season. It was clear that he was not going to be able to maintain the kind of working relationship he had with Barry Hearn in the new regime. Russell was not the only leader who left the club. Only one of Orient’s leadership team from last season remains at the club (Kevin Nugent). Orient’s current manager is their fourth – yes fourth – of the season!! The man still at the helm is a former Italian international, Fabio Liverani. Fabio does not even speak English and still conducts his post match interviews in Italian.
It has been reported in the media that Orient have players being paid as much as £20,000 a week – unimaginable numbers. Bechetti has funded one of the highest paid squads outside of the Championship. Yet this squad of highly paid players are about to return Orient to the basement of English football. The ignorance of leadership has led to a complete lack of BELIEF in the employees of the business that is Leyton Orient. This lack of belief has led to DISBELIEF among its loyal fanbase (the customers). A complete lack of leadership has as a result led to despondent FAILURE – failure that will hit the business in its pocket – albeit a very deep pocket of its billionaire owner.
The reason I am sharing this story is that it is a great example to any business of how leadership affects an organisation. With strong committed leadership that galvanises its employees to work together as a seamless unit – that gets everyone working selflessly for each other – that sees everyone fighting in the same direction and for the same goal – amazing things can be achieved. Money helps, but is not essential to achieve great things. Achieving great things will provide the rewards to those who deliver it.
However, as soon as you replace passion; belief; commitment; pride; guts; courage; knowledge; and understanding – you can throw success away in an instant. Throwing money at a problem will have no effect on that problem if the people you are throwing money at do not know what they are supposed to be doing, If the people you are throwing money at do not believe in the strategy or approach the business is taking, they will take the money whilst finding it difficult to achieve the objectives of the organisation. Throwing money at a business will often take the focus away from the purpose of the business. The people who then suffer the most are the customers – in the case of Orient, the fans.
As Orient prepare for the effect of poor leadership, another small English football club, Bournemouth, are preparing for their first ever promotion to the top flight of English football – the heady heights of the Premier League. Arguably a story even more amazing than Orient’s, Bournemouth were almost relegated out of the football league entirely just six years ago. Like Orient, Bournemouth have had an injection of much needed investment from a wealthy businessman. The difference is that the principles of leadership underpinning their business have remained untouched. Their desire, character and togetherness has enabled them to use their investment to believe that they could achieve anything. They have done so with amazing success – I am delighted for their fans…..loyal customers who deserve it more than anyone.
I hope that my heart and those of all Orient fans will mend in the future. I am not hopeful though. I dream that one day we will enjoy the delight of promotion again……. whether Orient will be a sustainable business in the future is yet to be seen.
Excellent analysis and criticism. Can it be translated into Italian and sent recorded delivery to Becchetti?
Excellent blog, Ian. Can you get a copy to Becchetti? Maybe he’ll take notice for once.
Spot on. Good piece
Absolutely spot on with the conclusions made in the blog. Please,please get a copy to Becchetti in the vein hope he gets rid of Liverani and his associates before he drags Orient into the conference and then out of existence!
Very important analysis and guidance to the ruination of Leyton Orient F.C. this past year and exactly incapsulates my feelings for the club that I gave supported for over 60 years.All my family have , my father Bill Boon was hugely involved as a Leyton born man and business man in Stratford from 1946.We even scattered his ashes there in 1987 on the Brisbane Road pitch,facing ‘down the slope’ as Dad called it.My brother,David, who also came as I did when boys and had to lose regular visits when business took him to the Isle of Wight,is still passionate about the club too…his tweets are brilliant.
This article should be read by all the O’s fans and I wish it could be ‘posted’ where all can read it.My main concerns are ‘what is to come’..I for one will not renew my season ticket if Liverani is still manager…frankly the most useless and waste of time (including all the apparent 17 members of his ‘team’ from Italy) person it has ever been my misfortune to see in charge of a football team.surely Mr Becchetti MUST realise that his appointment has been ruinous and follows the problems of Watford,Leeds and others who followed the same path.I just wish someone weathy ‘East Londoner'(and there are some!!)would see what is happening and bring the Orient back to where we belong…as one of the best loved football club in the land.
An excellent piece that is spot on, please make sure Bechetti is sent this !
Very well thought out and reasoned article and there’s not a huge amount in it with which I’d disagree. But I do take issue with the basic premise that the old organisation was ultimately a very successful one. It’s true that there was a unity of purpose and exceptional bonds of trust and understanding between the management and the club’s players & supporters. But what did this ultimately achieve? After an incredible and historic winning start to the 2013/14 League 1 season, we eventually limped into the play-offs, avoided facing one physical long-ball team in a semi-final but succumbed to another at Wembley, again after a dream start that no-one could have expected or truly believe. So a heroic failure, but a failure nonetheless and a very painful one. Other teams have fared badly following such heartbreak, though I concede none quite as pitifully as ourselves.
I was one of those fans who was confident that some fine tuning and enlargement of the squad would bring rich rewards. But Barry Hearn never tried to fool anyone into believing that he could deliver a sustainable Championship level football club. It almost certainly isn’t possible to assemble a genuine second tier team made up exclusively of free transfers. Our best chance of survival in that higher echelon would probably have been to blend our best players with a handful of youthful loanees from bigger London clubs. But then again, our existing stadium isn’t built to take full advantage of lucrative, larger potential crowds and of the play-off squad, with the best will in the world, probably only Baudry, Cox, Cuthbert and Odubajo could have adjusted to the demands of the Championship. Clearly, some substantial additional investment was needed on the playing side alone. But before it was made available, our most promising and valuable player was sold. For me, that single transaction was at least as significant as anything that followed it.
I won’t detail all the mistakes that have been made this season that will probably ensure our relegation in a couple of days time. This has been done to death already and most of the articles are variations on a familiar and depressing theme. I submit however that if the new owners genuinely wanted a clean break with the past, perhaps they ought to have set about it straight away, rather than persevere with a team manager clearly resentful of the powers taken away from him and apprehensive about the need to deliver success in a short time frame. It’s generally acknowledged that Russell Slade’s transfer dealings in the short close season of 2014 were short-term and short-sighted and he probably realised he had one season to deliver promotion rather than rely on the luxury of being able to deliver marginal year on year improvements, as had previously been the case. I was still sorry to see Slade depart and the establishment of the Sporting Director role was a huge mistake that probably hindered the club’s efforts to find a suitable replacement.
Of course leadership is important and yes, up to a point we had a moderately successful structure in place. But the truth is probably that it was never going to take us any further forward and standing still isn’t really an option when footballers get older, supporters become dissatisfied and everyone expects a bit more. Sometimes you do have to take a step backward before another two forward. The present regime doesn’t inspire faith and deserves all the criticism it has had and will continue to get. Yet in the medium term, I still feel it offers the best chance this club has had in the past forty years.
But anyway, well done on your article which is sure to be well received. Hopefully in a year or so there will be a happier postscript to it.
Hit’s the nail, exactly. Mr Bechetti…..get your finger out and get us a decent English Manager.
A very good piece-and well thought out. I argued- unsuccessfully that we should have had installed Paolo Di Canio. Why? Well he is passionate-understatement-, organised, and would make an excellent temp replacement. He speaks and is Italian (so fits in the current model) but as a lower league manager he has the power to transform very average players into fighting men-something we need to get out of this mess- A mess I saw coming- Fab seems a decent guy and nice guy, but not speaking English should have been the first and red line issue to stop him getting the job. I mentioned this on the forum (orient forum) and of course I had all the usual off field politics that PDC is associated with- Of course not nice but I don’t need a nice guy to manage to get us out of this mess- I need a fighter and a vision-I think he could help us. I can’t really think of anyone else except Nigel P at Leicester and Vinny Jones-unlikely as he is enjoying Hollywood too much.
We need guts and determination and good old fashioned up and at the em’ something so sadly lacking. I think if this was to happen then upstairs would be able to change- however we have a billionaire owner with lots of money and these guys are not stupid and he certainly he never bought orient because he thought it out with his business brain. I think there might be an alternative motive and going down might just have suited him- you need to think this one through as to why?
Excellent blog that perfectly sums up our dreadful season! Well written.
A lot of teams have gone down, regrouped, and come back stronger, I can agree with that.
But why waste 9 years experience and hard work establishing the club in division One.
The awful thing about this season passed, was the lack of local opposition, hardly any easy trips, and god awful football to watch.
A Chairman who does not seem to care!
A manager who has been here 9 months and still can’t speak English properly!
Losing in the play offs is harsh,the final even more so, after such a brilliant season, and especially as we were 2-0 up and cruising.
If I were to take over a Club in Italy, would I pick a manager who can’t speak the lingo, NO!
So why do it here? Is your arrogance that big?
Dear Mr Bechetti, bite the bullet, and appoint a good, experienced, English speaking Manager, and get the club back on solid ground, or we will free fall out of the division, into non league oblivion.
We have one chance to get this right, so swallow the pride, and get on board for the ride!