By Paul James
Seven years ago in the temporary offices of Greg Kerfoot (the principal owner of Vancouver Whitecaps) sat a copy of Jim Collins’s bestselling business hardback titled Good to Great. Based on empirical evidence the book in essence outlines significant common threads for separating the success of great, achieving companies from the good, or not so good.
Seven years on it appears Greg Kerfoot and the Whitecaps organization have diligently adhered to the book's recommended ideology. In fact, Mr. Kerfoot himself represents the first of the five criteria for becoming great in what is framed a special kind of leadership – a leader who keeps a low public profile, shies away from personal acknowledgement or praise, has a clear vision, is completely rigorous on business strategy, is decisive when making decisions and will always do what is in the best interests of the organization. Tough to argue against this being a solid representation of Greg Kerfoot.
With the second criteria pertaining to the assemblage of the right people then consider the following:
The recruitment of Jeff Mallett, Steve Luczo, and Steve Nash as part owners of the Whitecaps was a significant move and step towards becoming great, not just from the financial muscle they provide, but also the additional business acumen. In particular, the addition of Nash, the two-time NBA MVP, has given important credibility, influence and profile to the organization. Considering he is an iconic athlete with an insatiable appetite for the beautiful game has made his arrival onto the scene a significant strategic move for the club.
It should not have been a surprise to anyone when the Whitecaps hired Paul Barber – an executive director of English Premier League side Tottenham Hotspur – on the recommendation of Nash, a lifelong Spurs fan. Barber will now assume the role of CEO with the Whitecaps, bringing his business savvy and a significant global soccer network to the forefront of the club. The benefits of this hiring are endless and indicate the club's desire and openness to acquire expert knowledge from an external source.
Then there is Thomas Niendorf who, over the past few years, has quietly gone about setting up a very impressive Whitecaps residential soccer academy which caters to some of the best players, not only in Canada but North America and even Africa. Niendorf, who himself has an impressive resume when it comes to developing players – including talented England international Owen Hargreaves – provides unique experience in a very important area for the club.
Now the Whitecaps are looking to sign a pedigreed technical director who is connected, knowledgeable and respected within the MLS system. Tommy Soehn, the former D.C. United head coach, has been in discussions with the club and so has former U.S. international Brian Bliss. Bliss famously played against Canada in a 1988 Olympic qualifying game, turning round a 2-0 first-leg deficit into a 3-2 aggregate win for the U.S., qualifying them for Seoul and committing Canada to future futility. Either way, the Whitecaps will get a person of similar character to the rest of their main acquisitions.
Meanwhile Bob Lenarduzzi, though criticized by some for his history of nepotism and a gatekeeper approach to hiring local technical talent, should nevertheless be acknowledged for putting himself in the public firing line for so many years, be it as a coach, manager, or now as president. Seeing the more youthful business talent arriving on the scene it makes you wonder what will be next for Lenarduzzi – likely a spokesperson/ambassador for the club.
Make no mistake, when the Whitecaps finally enter Major League Soccer in 2011 they will be a very strong professional soccer organization both on and off the field. Toronto FC could do worse than take a serious look at what is happening across the country because, up to this point, they appear to be falling a little short on vision and knowhow. Losing some top local academy players to the Whitecaps residency program speaks volumes to the differences in philosophies. Through their philosophy of first-class leadership and the hiring of a diverse, talented group of the ‘right individuals,' the Whitecaps are well on their way to being better than good.