Culture matters, in business and in sport. The set of principles which guide the employees, managers and shareholders of a business are what produces results and culture plays a similar role at soccer clubs. Both clubs and corporations are organizations focused on accomplishing a set of goals, it follows that there are parallels in organizational style. Read on for the long lost corporate twins of your favorite clubs.
“When you walk through a storm, Keep your chin up high, And don’t be afraid of the dark.” So goes the anthem that rings out at the start of each Liverpool match. The lyrics are especially poignant for Liverpudlians these days as stormy weather has found its way to Anfield these past two seasons. The Merseyside Red have a massive history with numerous domestic and international triumphs won largely during the 1970s and 80s Golden Era; however recent history was more comfortable than glorious. That all changed when Liverpool became the first club knocked out of the Sky4 oligarchy. Management problems and the arrival of Manchester City conspired to knock Liverpool from its Champions League berth in the 2009-2010 season much to the chagrin of both owners (soon to be ex-owners) and supporters. For those awaiting the resurgence of the Red Giant the Golden Age was once again a distant dream.
There are plenty of companies seeking to reclaim the innovation and profit of a previous era but few that truly merit a comparison with Liverpool. Just because geniuses are human does not mean that all humans are geniuses. Such was the brilliance and sheer dominance of Liverpool that there is only one company which matches its historical significance: the Xerox Corporation. Chester Carlson invented the process that would revolutionize the printing world and Xerox commercialized it. In its ascendancy Xerox had no competitors to speak of, it held a complete lock on the technology and manufacture of the machines and was able to extract a handsome profit from businesses hungry for easy document duplication. There was a Xerox machine in every American office and it printed money by the page (Xerox still charges businesses a per page usage fee), but this was not to last. Over the decades Xerox lost market share due to anti-trust laws, the entrance of lower cost competitors and technological change. The company has been battered by the erosion of its highly profitable office business and is trying to reinvent itself as a business focused on digitizing and organizing documents rather than reproducing them.
A recent injection of investment by John Henry’s New England Sports Ventures has revitalized the club’s finances and put it back in the chase for a European spot, but competition is fiercer than ever and success is far from guaranteed. Liverpool and Xerox have placed their bets and their reasoning draws as much on the past as it does the future. Liverpool has invested in a manager that hails from the Golden Era and armed him with expensive, young British talent. Xerox envisions a digital office which still has room for the paper document. For both there is a lot of money riding on the hope that there is a golden sky at the end of the storm.