HOLMES A COURT: Why Russell was so good for Souths

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Russell Crowe. AAP Image/Action Photographics, Robb Cox

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Russell Crowe announced this week that 2013 will be his last year as an owner of the South Sydney Rabbitohs. The Roar asked me to share my thoughts on what this means for the Rabbitohs. I enjoy this site’s mad passion, so I agreed to write this.

The last six years have seen the comprehensive turn-around of the Rabbitohs. In 2006 the club was labelled a bankrupt laughing stock.

Today it is a financially stable, membership-focused club with a team that is a true Premiership contender. In 2013 the club is forecast to be cash-positive for the fourth consecutive year, with a net profit (after tax) of over $1 million (all of which will go into reserves).

Depending on which way you slice the figures, the Rabbitohs are #1 in sponsorship, membership and social media activity in rugby league.

Something else happened during that time that is harder to count, can’t be stacked up on league tables, and is difficult to share on social media.

It’s about values, and putting them at the centre of what you do in business.

An American sports team owner is famous for saying “just win, baby.” I never saw the goals of sports team ownership that way and I don’t think Russell did either.

I’ve called what I’ve tried to do in business ‘values-based change management’, which sounds a bit too close to management speak.

Russell is able to be a bit more immediate with his words. But the bottom line is the same, and I think we’ve demonstrated that good values have a place in good business decisions.

Russell was outspoken on a number of issues, and showed that it was appropriate for an owner of a business to have views about how it interacted with its community.

Russell took considerable heat for expressing his views on how women were seen at games (only as cheerleaders) and the impact to our society of putting poker machines in every corner of our cities. These were not popular or financially beneficial positions but they were the right ones to take.

Russell instilled a laser-like focus on excellence, a habit of very hard work, and absolute determination to achieve your goals. These values will stick with the club.

I remember when he first said we should try to recruit one of the best players in the world, Roy Asotasi. Roy deserves credit for seeing the potential, but it was Russell’s idea to go after the best. It was the change in values the club needed.

He didn’t just have a vision for how our players should look, but how good rugby league could look. He shared a belief that league could stand tall and be proud of itself. More importantly, he was prepared to stand behind the sport, and promote it on a world stage.

My involvement with the club began because of a chance meeting with a person associated with the club. He told us that the Rabbitohs would have to be happy to be back in the competition, and that is all they could reasonably hope for. The team from South Sydney would merely ‘make up the numbers’. Fans would have to be duped into accepting mediocrity.

It would have to be a lie to every supporter who bought season tickets. Kids could put the posters on their bedroom walls, but they couldn’t afford to dream too high.

When I heard those words I had to do my best to control myself. I was brought up to consider those to be fighting words.

Not everything was exactly smooth: a few times we were put in very difficult positions. Certain individuals did some things that did not fit with our values, but in some ways they were helpful for us.

In each case, the harder the decision in the short term, the better the decision was in the long term. I rank some of these as the most difficult decisions of my business career.

At the heart of everything we did was our community, starting with a partnership with our members. We did what we told members we would do, and members did what we asked of them.

This happened because our members, by an extraordinary majority, with all the information presented to them, and after considerable deliberation, voted in favour of Russell and I controlling the club.

We got rid of nasty politics, but there were deep pockets of blazer-wearing bullies and keyboard cowards that would only be made irrelevant by performance.

We put in (and kept) good people who work incredibly hard. They are open to new ideas and are dedicated to finding world’s best practice. I am confident that some of the best people in sports management in Australia work in our club.

We respected the past, but we made sure we stole the best ideas from the future.

We built systems, invested in the infrastructure, paid off old debts we inherited.

We worked hard to be productive partners with City and State authorities. We supported the changes that have made the NRL a much better structured code.

We worked to build a great relationship with ANZ Stadium and enjoy playing finals games there.

Russell will be well remembered for his passion every time people see the Red and Green run onto the field. But those who know his full involvement will also see his impact in our financial results and the way the club relates to its community. Indeed, in everything that we do.

Yours in sports madness, Peter Holmes a Court.

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