What can executives learn from former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s controversial ownership of Manchester City Football Club?
Frequently hailed as one of the canniest entrepreneurs in Thailand, he has been lambasted in the British press for his treatment of his now ex-manager Sven-Göran Eriksson.
When Mr Thaksin became owner last year, he demanded a top 10 place in the premier league – the world’s toughest – from a club that had flirted with relegation the previous season.
Mr Eriksson revamped the team and delivered a comfortable ninth place, the club’s highest level for 15 years. Arch-rival Manchester United was also beaten in the process: at home and away. This was not good enough for Mr Thaksin who, reports say, was infuriated by the team’s worsening performance as the season progressed.
We do not know what was said behind closed doors but it is probably fair to speculate that the new owner – a figure of tremendous influence in his home country – did not gel with the famously cool Scandinavian.
Mr Thaksin, of course, is playing to a bigger audience than Manchester City supporters; in soccer-mad Thailand he is positioning himself as a reborn political saviour of the disadvantaged, after being ousted by a military junta in September 2006.
There might also be a clash of cultures behind the humiliation of a successful manager who remained in limbo for weeks, unable to walk away for fear of risking his hefty remuneration, but apparently expecting to be sacked at any time.
Mr Thaksin, a former policeman with a post-graduate degree from the US, is fond of promoting “modern” business techniques, yet he remains steeped in Thai culture.
He tends – like most Thais – to trust family, friends and old associates, above all others. So he placed loyal executives and a son and a daughter on the Manchester City board.
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