The Roberto Martinez syndrome

The Wigan manager’s strength of conviction in his own strategy is a shining example to all business leaders.

I guess football has been very much on people’s minds with the great Chelsea win in the European Champions League and upcoming European Championships. So you will forgive me if I use the beautiful game as the basis for this article.

About three months ago Wigan Athletic were languishing at the bottom of the Premier League, an almost cast-iron candidate for relegation. Eight straight losses in a row including one against Chelsea where two clear-cut offside goals were given against them.

They then went to the mighty Manchester United at Old Trafford and won. That evening on Match of the Day, Alan Hansen praised the Wigan manager Roberto Martinez as someone who had stuck to his guns despite his appalling run of bad luck and defeats.

‘Roberto kept his attacking formation and faith in his players,’ said Hansen, adding that the manager had always maintained his belief that ‘if you are doing the right things the results will come in the end’.

And come they did! Liverpool and Arsenal were put to the sword by a Wigan team now full of self-belief and Martinez’ team remained firmly in the Premier League.

Own goals

Now, how often in business do we hire new sales people, change our sales and marketing strategy or launch a new product only to find the results just don’t come. This is why the ‘Roberto Martinez syndrome’ is important.

Sometimes you just have to stick to your guns because if you are on the right lines the results will come. Then comes self-confidence and you are away. So just staying in the game and not panicking too early can be a vital part of a successful business manager’s armoury.

The best example of this is hiring new sales people, particularly for new markets and products. Sure, there are many cases where the person is not right (my advice is get rid as soon as possible if this is the case) but if your instinct is that they are doing the right thing, stand by them.

The exact opposite of this is where you hire someone who has an absolutely stellar career, most probably with one company, and you think success is assured.

It’s understandable enough. You have got your man or girl, you had to pay up to get them, but what the heck you have bought guaranteed success, right?  

Wrong! The person just doesn’t make it, your existing team are pissed off because they probably know the new top dog is earning a lot more than them, and you just don’t understand why your cast-iron plan hasn’t worked.

The answer is that some people or products are there just at the right time. In other words it is the market that has driven the company’s or person’s success, not the individual’s ability.

I guess by using the football analogy, I have gone some way to explain my views on what makes a good managing director.

But staying with my football theme a tad longer, I want to tell a true story about Jack Charlton and Paul Madeley, both footballing colossi who played for Leeds United (no snide comments please) and England.

There I was watching Leeds playing some namby pamby team like Chelsea in the early seventies, not believing what I seeing.

Jack Charlton was literally coaching young Paul Madeley, his successor as England centre-half (when we had such things!) in the middle of the game.

I vividly recall him gesticulating at Madeley for 90 minutes, showing him where to stand at corners, where he should pass and when he should run with it.

Sharing experience

So, you may say, get on with it, what’s your point? Simply this. How often do we replace our most senior salesman, technical director or managing director without getting him or her to really coach the newcomer? Too often, and the problem is ego. The elder salesman has probably been told that he has to make way for newer blood, so is miffed, annoyed and whilst accepting, probably quite upset.

But it doesn’t have to be like that. If you quote the Charlton/Madeley example it becomes very flattering that some young guy is being helped into being a future superstar by the outgoing executive, whose experience does matter and will be used in the future.

Don’t waste grey hairs, particularly as in my view we have a skills shortage like never before – a topic for my next article.

Oh and by the way, Leeds lost the game in question, but we won’t go there.


Michael Jackson

Michael founded Elderstreet Investments in 1990 and is its exec chairman. He was also chairman of Sage, the FTSE-100 accounting software group, until 2006. He is a specialist in raising finance and investing...

Related Topics