BACK WITH EXTRA BITE (AND MORE RELISH)
When Lucian Grainge recently had his contract as Worldwide Chairman and Chief Executive Officer for Universal Music renewed for another five years, he immediately went into overdrive.
With Vivendi being the parent company of the world’s biggest music company, Grainge, a very strong and respected leader, and a brilliant negotiator with great people skills, knew that the music company he manages could no longer continue with a Business As Usual ethos. That’s not why he had his contract renewed. He knew he had to make some tough decisions. This included immediately replacing some of his most loyal and long-time lieutenants who had run their course with new hires. The music industry and media applauded the moves.
Loyalty has its time and place, and when given the role and task of charting a new and more vibrant and profitable business course, there’s no time for playing Mr Nice Guy. Vivendi is a publicly listed company- a results-oriented organisation that wasn’t interested in the music company maintaining a status quo. Not when the tech companies were controlling the streaming and selling of music and working directly with artists and artist management. New third parties working directly with contracted artists in the very grey legal muddy waters of the online world has always been cause for panic and paranoia in the music industry. The hyper tail was wagging what had become a sleeping dog.
In the world of horse racing, there was a significant announcement yesterday from Australia. It was an announcement that will bring about change as it means replacing one very senior executive with another and with all eyes on who this will be- and what it will mean. Will it be continuing the tradition of playing it safe, or, like Lucian Grainge, seizing the opportunity to bring about sweeping changes that will benefit everyone- and not only a handful of highly paid executives.
It’s lonely at the top and at the end of the day, that’s where the buck stops. Just ask Michael Corleone about the hard choices he had to make. Ask Tom Hagen, who was the smartest of them all, and knew when to divorce himself from the family. And then ask Frido how he felt to get on that boat alone knowing he would be sleeping with the fishes.
When trying to find what has forced change, It’s not about what’s been tweeted by rabid bottom feeders with zero power bases, and a media swaying from side to side to see who’s winning before deciding which horse to back. It’s about having balls- big balls- and knowing intuitively how the cards will fall.
For many horse racing clubs, the resignation of this executive might be the time to get off those high horses, and revisit something as obvious as organisation charts. There might well be some glaring mistakes and omissions that have been allowed to continue down that same old path with Alan Ladd because that’s the way it’s always been- at least in that insular navel gazing corporate world, and nothing to do with catering to the wants and needs of customers.
Surely, it’s also time to look at the role of Human Resources. Are they simply going to the same well again and again, and bringing in more of the same from the same industry, which often stunts growth? It also creates internal politics as familiarity breeds contempt, along with a cesspool of rumours and innuendos and paranoia.
In this social media-driven world where everything happens in a nanu second, people cannot help “sharing”. But there’s sharing and then there are self-serving agendas and politics flowing from here to there with everyone wanting to be part of everything and desperately seeking Susan and acceptance. It’s also where many stay on the sidelines, lob grenades, and hope others fight their battles. It’s always easier to be a spectator.
In any industry, there are serial leakers constantly creating holes and internal Deep Throat problems that not even the best team of Watergate plumbers can fix. The end game for these people with probably way too much time on their hands, or else wanting to upset the apple cart for personal gain, for vindictive payback, through frustration, desperation and that green-eyed monster called Jealousy, is chaos and disruption. They thrive on it.
What does any of this have to do with improving the business at hand? Nothing. Ask Lucian Grainge. For him, it’s not about looking back and talking with a forked tongue. As the world’s most powerful music executive, it’s about appreciating, respecting and also learning from the mistakes of the past, but knowing only too well that you’re only as good as your last hit. It’s knowing that all eyes are on you hitting that next home run out of the park- and with that hand-picked team really able to deliver- and allowed to deliver- without going through the usual tiresome bureaucratic red tape that often forgets all that “conference talk” about being customer-centric, expanding customer bases to increase sales- or turnover- and working with exciting new business partners with different ways of looking at things, and with the skill sets to know how to get there with a minimum of fuss.
It’s really not that difficult. What’s difficult is being able to put that drink down, look outside of the square with a clear mind, and create a flexible long-term business strategy, and being damn proud of finally making a decision- even if it was long overdue- to create a better and more profitable product.
In the racing world, how many executives are capable of doing this? I know the answer to that one.
THE RIGHT CALL BY RACING VICTORIA
Unless one was taking a sabbatical on another planet or living buried deep under Ayers Rock, it would have been impossible not to witness first hand the intense pressure which was accumulating around Racing Victoria, its Board and senior management. Pressure, which largely it brought upon itself through a glaring lack of decisive leadership at its highest management levels. Inevitably, and quite rightly, the buck always stops with the leader of any organization, and despite all the tangible KPI’s returning positive results, the brand and image of Racing Victoria since the cobalt positives some 16 long months ago has taken a battering and continued to do so with Victorian racing descending into an almost anarchic state with the inmates taking over the Epsom Road asylum.
Over those 16 months, the racing and non-racing community has been served up with a weekly dose of scandal and crisis. From drug positives to animal welfare issues, to bitter, vicious, and out of control social media outbursts by disgruntled trainers and their families, jockeys and ex-employees, and increasingly fractured relationships with race clubs, and a systemic disease of leaking from within the higher echelons of the organization, Racing Victoria has resembled an iceberg speeding towards the Titanic.
Its media communications and issues and crisis management areas have been a dysfunctional, ineffective and embarrassing mess. It has been the blueprint in what a sporting or business organization should not do when shaping its corporate communications policy and strategy. Not one other mainstream Australian sporting organization, or sport, nor for that matter, its adversary, Racing NSW, has come even remotely close to resembling Racing Victoria’s hopelessly flawed modus operandi.
The circus of stumping up a plethora of senior, middle and junior management to make public commentary on issues, and often contradicting each other and sending some terribly mixed messages and polarising the industry, doesn’t happen anywhere but in racing. And in Victoria.
One of the distinguishing indicators of a successful Chief Executive, and, equally, a successful business, is to build, maintain and protect an image and brand and get the key messaging right. The integrity of a business and brand is pivotal and inseparable from its success or failure. And it demands a ruthless and zero tolerance approach to those participants in racing who have sought to deliberately undermine the integrity of racing by their vindictive, vicious and relentless attacks on the governing body and some of its key management. The vitriol is always attributable to one simple reason: Cheats don’t like getting caught. With a complicit cheer squad led by a particularly headline grabbing individual in the Victorian racing print media revelling in the bonanza of regular negative headlines, the integrity of Victorian racing has been- and still is-being dragged through a mud-soaked paddock.
And it has all taken place under the watch of its Chief Executive whose ability to make the really tough, hard and unpopular decisions increasingly became the subject of heightened conversations among the decision makers- in not just his own state, but externally and even across territorial waters.
Having clearly made the mutual decision to go their separate ways, Racing Victoria now faces the challenge of finding the right person for a very demanding and challenging role. A role which will require a person with a very different DNA and skill set which does not exist in Australian racing. That individual cannot- and must not- be from the growing pool of previously successful CEOs with their bulging payouts, who have led a contented and almost sedentary private life away from the frenetic environment which was once their battleground, and singing “The Good Life” while enjoying their retirement. Those golden handshakes and golden parachutes that are part of the Old Boys Club must be exposed, questioned and shamed. It sets an appalling precedent. It makes a joke out of everything and creates that great divide between the Haves and the Have Nots.
Successive Racing Victoria Boards have had a very poor track record in the choice of their Chief Executive. Five in fourteen odd years attests to this forgettable track record.
During that time, racing has succeeded in losing any relevance or position of respect and interest in the community. Spring carnival and championships aside, it’s littered with scandal and crisis. Hardly the honey pot for a generation spoilt for choice with a buffet of inviting, exciting, well-managed sports to entertain them.
Racing has been bypassed by change. It continues to operate and be stymied within its own outdated mindset and mode of thinking. It has failed to attract people of drive, energy, creativity, and with the necessary intellectual quality into the pointy end of its decision making layer and across its business as a whole, except for one or two very rare exceptions. It has chosen to operate and tolerated a culture of mediocrity wedded to irrelevant traditions which belong to the last century.
To survive in a dynamic environment that it faces and which is foreign territory to it, Racing Victoria needs to find a sharp, tactically and strategically street smart Chief Executive who can draw together the many disparate and conflicting sections of the industry together. Someone who is decisive, adept at the art of negotiation and compromise, and skilled at achieving outcomes for the benefit of the overall industry, and who can successfully “sell” the message to both the believers and non-believers, and the largely apathetic community at large. Victorian racing can no longer expose itself to the threat of being marginalized like its cousin over the border. It desperately needs to restore respect into the culture of the industry. Racing Victoria needs to take control of the asylum and restore its own self respect.
If it doesn’t, it will invite the inevitable and reluctant intervention of Government, and it will only have itself to blame.
YOU WERE EXPECTING SURPRISES IN THE INTEGRITY REVIEW OF VICTORIAN RACING?
One of the key functions vested in a racing governing body is the all-important and crucial responsibility for overseeing the integrity of the sport. It is the raison d’être for its existence. In this context, the recommendation in the Paul Bittar Integrity review for the establishment of a new and independent Integrity Unit to perform the Integrity functions for the three racing codes is a body blow for Racing Victoria. It is a damning indictment of the failure of the three codes.
Paul Bittar, above, a former Chief Executive of British Horse Racing, and former senior executive with Racing Victoria, was commissioned by the Victorian Racing Minister to undertake a review of the Integrity operations and functions of the three racing codes following the infamous greyhound “live baiting” scandals, and growing concerns within the racing and harness industry about the operation and management of the integrity function within the codes.
The key recommendation by Bittar for the creation of a separate independent Integrity Unit to oversee the integrity functions of all three codes was inevitable. The three codes had clearly demonstrated their incapability to successfully demonstrate their competence in controlling the destiny of Integrity in their particular code.
To the community at large, there has been- and still is- a powerful rotten stench coming out of all three racing codes. It is about the use of sinister, illegal performance enhancing substances, cheating, race fixing, and the use of inhumane practices, which, in greyhound racing, is still reverberating in the community. Crucially, it is also about the failure of the codes to decisively take control of the integrity of their separate sports and demonstrate that they are winning the war against the cheats and race fixers.
To make matters even worse, the meaningless clichés around achieving the euphemistic “level playing field” in thoroughbred racing being trotted out by the racing police and their lawmakers with an indecent haste to demonize, bundle and tar and feather transgressions to legitimate non-performance enhancing therapeutic drugs and join them with illegal performance substances, has demonstrated a fundamental weakness in the operation of the integrity function and those executives overseeing the integrity functions.
Bittar could have gone further and placed the proposed new Independent Integrity Unit in the state government bureaucracy, or in the office of the equally euphemistically titled Racing Integrity Commissioner’s office. Thankfully, he didn’t.
But the message was clear. The State Government and the Racing Minister had run out of patience with the three codes. And the three codes had failed to successfully maintain public confidence in the integrity of their code. Yet again, racing and its two related codes have produced an outcome of its own doing.