Thoughtson Khun Vichai’s legacy…
By Steve Moulds, Foxes Trust
One of the aims of the Foxes Trust is “To ensure the clubmeets the highest standards of business management.” Certain events in lifebring things into perspective, and what has become clear in the past few weeksis that there is a rare, often unseen, management culture in operation at ourclub that has more than met that challenge.
The club’s handling of the aftermath of the helicoptercrash has been squarely in the class of ‘exceptional performance’. From soonafter the accident, through to the emotional conclusion of the recent gameagainst Burnley and the Royal visit, management has been exemplary. Thespotlight on the leadership of our club has been intense, in the footballingworld and more generally. Seeing how that leadership has responded has focussedthoughts on how that management culture came about and whether there can be a lasting,significant legacy to Khun Vichai’s tenure.
It is clear that the exemplary attitude was engendered fromthe top down. More praise to Khun Vichai’s memory and deeds was offered by theDuke of Cambridge on his visit to the King Power Stadium. He commented, “We knew Vichai as a man who careddeeply about his family and also his community. He of course was a man ofwealth, but that wealth did not leave him disconnected from those around him.” Perhapsin this brief sentence, we can see why he is so revered by Leicester fans, and alsoa key to what his legacy might bring.
The British press in recent times, seems to be awash withheadlines exclaiming that our institutions and companies are run under aculture of bullying by the arrogant and self-interested. Khun Vichai’s stylewas in direct counter-point to this – paternalistic, considerate, generous andshrewd.
Small deeds often go a long way – the free breakfasts,scarves, hats and t-shirts for away supporters – but bigger deeds have impactson people’s lives, investing the rewards of success in the future of the localcommunity. The Foxes Community Foundation, now renamed in Vichai’s honour, hascontributed £1.5m to local charities and Vichai personally donated £2 millionto help build a new children’s hospital.
Evidence of this has been offered in many stories from fanswho repeatedly spoke of Vichai as “one of us” – a real football fan, with apassion for the game. More importantly, he understood that fans mattered to hisclub and that the club mattered to Leicester as a community.
It was disappointing to hear that one West London club hasrecently disbanded its youth academy, along with much of its community work. Itis hard to see how this endears a football club to the local community – seeingfootball as a business in isolation to the people who support it. Vichai clearlyhad a different vision to this and anyone who witnessed the mass celebrationsin Victoria Park following the Premier League title win, will have seen howfootball clubs can bring people from all walks of life together.
However, other owners of clubs are involved in charitablework and also offer rewards or incentives to supporters – so there has to be moreto Vichai’s style.
Being visible at matches, not hiding behind bullet-proofglass or perching upon high in the stands in a private box, helps make yourchairman more visible, more accessible – Vichai was often seen engaging withsupporters, stopping for selfies, shaking hands – how often does this occur inother Premier League clubs?
Clearly, Vichai also had an impact on players – often beinga deciding factor in players signing or renewing contracts. It is not unusualfor players to cite the influence of managers and coaches, it is rare for themto regard owners with an affection usually reserved for their own parents. KasperSchmeichel has been very vocal about Khun Vichai’s influence, commenting: “It doesn't matter who you are orwhat kind of position you have at the club. Whether it be player, staff,stadium staff, security – whatever it may be – everyone is equal and part ofthe family.”
Of course, allhas not always been rosy in the garden. Claudio Ranieri was dismissed only afew months after taking the team to their Premier League title, a decision thatwas seen, by the media, as a sign of disloyalty and provoked widespreadderision. What it proved to be was shrewd and the right thing to do at theright time, handled in an appropriate way. It was interesting to note that, onreflection, Ranieri said he thought so, too. Even Sven Goran Eriksson commentedthat, when he was sacked by Vichai, it was in the nicest possible way – and heshould know!
It would therefore seem a simple recipe for success:operate with humility, generosity and consideration for others – remember thatfans are people and that the community they live in extends beyond theexecutive car park.
As Ian Bason, Foxes Trust Chairman, has said: “One goodthing that I hope can come out of all this is that others look at the exampleVichai set at Leicester.
“They should see how he treated the fanbase and the cityand change the way they work to follow the model that he implemented here.
“I think it’s an ideal model for how an owner should run afootball club and ingrain himself in the community.”
After all, there is a lot of money in the upper echelons offootball and success is often in short supply. Maybe there are lessons to learnfrom the author of one of the best underdog stories in modern sport.
Thank you and R.I.P. Khun Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha – may youand your deeds live long in the memory.