Port Vale need to appoint a proper CEO with a long-term vision for the club

Port Vale need to appoint a proper CEO with a long-term vision for the club

Rob Fielding says that mistakes in managerial appointments and supporter apathy show why the club really needs a proper CEO who can plan for the long-term development of the club.

Rob Fielding writes…

Note: after first publishing this article some supporters have pointed out a tweet from Norman Smurthwate that says that Colin Garlick is the new “CEO”. However, he is listed as club secretary on the official Port Vale website and so far has made no comment about Vale’s strategy to the press. I think there is a big difference between someone being a “CEO” in job title and someone at Vale actually having the power and authority that a genuine CEO has. I therefore do not believe that Colin Garlick’s role fits that of club CEO but that he is (as the official website states) the club secretary, an important role but not that of a CEO. Some of the text of this article has changed from the originally published feature to take on board the above information.

I do not doubt that Norman Smurthwaite wants Port Vale to succeed on the pitch. He put his reputation and money on the line with the gamble on Bruno Ribeiro. The cynical may argue that the owner only wants success to make sure he is not out of pocket but nevertheless Smurthwaite did make money available to Ribeiro and his comments at the time clearly showed that he wanted to see the club in promotion contention. He wants Vale to be a successful team.

I therefore think it would be foolish if Vale did not make a move to appoint a football-savvy CEO who can come up with a long-term strategy…

However, we are nowhere near a successful side right now and we also have some worrying long-term issues to deal with. Vale are suffering from an ageing fanbase, declining gates and supporter apathy and many would argue that  those developments do mean that Vale’s long-term future could be in some doubt. I therefore think it would be foolish if Vale did not make a move to appoint a football-savvy CEO who can come up with a long-term strategy and manage the club day-to-day.

But this isn’t a chance just to give someone a new job title. A CEO has to live up to expectations. They have to be able to be the club figurehead, to deal with the media, to think strategically and to operate the club. Over his spell in charge, Smurthwaite has admitted he has “made mistakes” and is on a “steep learning curve” so this appointment would allow Norman to take more of a backseat role. This isn’t a club secretary role, this is a chief executive – someone who is in charge and who has to make and take key decisions.

A good CEO will more than pay for themselves and bring money into the club so for that initial lay-out you would actually generate more funds which would boost the club in future years. It’s the old “loss-leader” principle – you make a loss initially but in the long-term you generate more money.

A CEO who has marketing experience and a long-term vision can undoubtedly help a Chairman who has missed the input given by the more PR and marketing savvy Paul Wildes. Time and again fans have asked: What is the long-term strategy at the club? When will the club’s marketing improve? Why are Vale not doing more to attract youngsters? Why are other rival clubs seemingly more professional in their non-football work?

Given the right candidate a CEO would not undermine Norman Smurthwaite’s position but strengthen it…

Given the right candidate a CEO would not undermine Norman Smurthwaite’s position but strengthen it. A CEO could take on the day-to-day running of the club, a CEO could advise the owner on where best to invest (so he avoids expensive mistakes such as Ribeiro) and a CEO could address the fans more effectively than via a private Twitter account. It’s therefore vital that Vale make the right CEO appointment.

If it were to work, the owner himself may have to adapt. Norman would have to trust the CEO to do their job and to not micro-manage them. He would have to see this as a long-term plan and not something that produces instant results. He would have to trust the CEO’s marketing knowledge and allow them to take some key decisions. Smurthwaite would still be the owner, he would still hold the purse strings and indeed if the move worked out, it would of course reflect well on Norman that he had the foresight to appoint a CEO in the first place.

Most importantly, a decent CEO would need to come up with a long-term plan and vision to take Vale forward.  They would need to communicate it to the fans, develop our links in the local community, come up with an effective marketing team and budget, improve communication with the fans and look at where the club needs to be in five or ten years.

All these things will be essential for the club if it is to progress and I would argue that if a CEO can do this then it’s a no brainer that Vale really need to appoint a CEO with a long-term vision and plan for the club.

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What does a CEO do?

The role of a chief executive is to deliver the strategic plan, coordinate an operational plan and essentially manage the day-to-day running of an organisation.

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