F.C. Barcelona just elected Joan Laporta as its new president – largely because of his success in the role from 2003 to 2010. But he will fail if he tries to do the same thing again. His only path to success is to reinvent himself as he re-invents Barcelona.
As Tariq Penja put it in, “Laporta’s previous term as Barcelona’s president set the stage for a dominant era for the club.” Indeed, between 2008 and 2013, Barcelona earned 92% wins or draws, 3.5 goals for every one against, the highest ever ELO, and 15 trophies. That qualified it as one of the 16/1000 professional teams with “freakishly” successful streaks that Scott Walker evaluated for his book The Captain Class.
Laporta brought in the right Manager in Pep Guardiola. Brilliant. He brought in one of the world’s great stars in Lionel Messi. Gutsy. But, as Walker makes the case so clearly, those would not have been enough. The key was the captain, Carles Puyol.
Laporta can’t do that again the same way. Barcelona’s world has changed. As Panja and Rory Smith reported earlier, Barcelona had a billion dollars in revenue and over a billion dollars in debt before the pandemic hit. The pandemic wiped out most of the revenue, but not the players’ salaries and not the debt.
And, to pour more coal on the fire, Christopher Bingham et al make a strong case that most boomerang CEOs fail. Indeed, their study of 167 returning CEOs between 1992 and 2017 showed that the annual stock performance of their companies was 10.1% lower than their first-stint counterparts.
The spectacularly successful boomerang CEOs like Apple’s Steve Jobs, Starbucks’ Howard Schultz, and Seagate Technology’s Stephen Luczo are more than offset by far less successful returnees like Xerox’s Paul Allaire, Procter & Gamble’s A.G. Lafley, and infamously, Enron’s Kenneth Lay among far far more.
Succeeding as a boomerang
The general advice for a returning CEO is not to think like a boomerang. Don’t think you’re returning to the same company. You’re not. Don’t think what you did before will work. It won’t. Think in terms of joining a new company and work through all the steps of onboarding and converging into the new company before trying to evolve it. And, under no circumstances consider for a moment of taking it back to its glory days.
- Get a head start – building relationships with all the key stakeholders including people new to you and people you knew before, expecting them to have grown since then. It’s also important to put together your personal 100-Day Action Plan so you can be deliberate about how you approach things.
- Manage the message – getting clear on your organizing concept, main message, and message points so you position the new you instead of letting people default to thinking “They’re back.”
- Set a new, forward-looking direction over your first 100-Days, jump-starting new strategic, operational, and organizational processes. The pandemic means everyone is facing a strategic point of inflection. You have to face yours head-on.
Laporta’s path to success
While the general advice is applicable to Laporta’s return to Barcelona, rebuilding a culture of winning may be even more important to a winning sports franchise. Laporta can lead that in three steps:
- Focus on the basics. Whether you call them “product, customers and brand”, “blocking and tackling”, or “skating and checking,” Laporta needs to figure out what the fundamentals are for Barcelona and get the right people focused on them. This will most likely include the right Manager, the right Captain, and the right collection of star players for the post-Messi era.
- Focus on the right time horizon. Laporta needs to ensure different people pay attention to different time horizons so he’s covering short-term and long-term needs. Of course, he has to fix the short-term revenue, cost, and debt issues. At the same time, the 140,000 members of the club chose him to take them into the future, not just survive the present.
- Knit them together into a winning culture. Product, customers, and brand are inextricably and intricately linked. Strengthening each is necessary, but not sufficient. In sustainable winning cultures the connections are hard-wired and mutually reinforcing. Like the Captain is the glue that holds the team together on the pitch, Laporta must be the glue for everyone else.