Leadership Lessons From the AFL Chairman Mike Fitzpatrick

By Thomas Murrell MBA, CSP International Business Speaker

Can you combine sport and academic scholarship?

Well, the Chairman of the Australian Football League has one of the most impressive CV's around.

Here's a quick rundown according to Melbourne's The Age newspaper:

FOOTBALL STAR Best known for captaining Carlton football club to its 1981 and '82 premierships. Has had equally spectacular success in business and government.

OXFORD SCHOLAR A Rhodes Scholar, studied at Oxford University, returning to work for the predecessor of Telstra and to play for Carlton in 1979.

GOVERNMENT ADVISER Lured to work for the Cain government Treasury Department soon after its election in 1982, looking after overseas loans and leases.

MERCHANT BANKER Head-hunted to New York by investment bank Credit Suisse First Boston in 1985. Returned to Melbourne in 1988 to become a director of the bank's Australian arm.

BUSINESSMAN Increasingly involved in privatisations, he took advantage of the growth of superannuation funds and set up Hastings Funds Management in 1994. Sold 51 per cent of the company to Westpac in 2002.

Now you can add AFL Chairman to the impressive CV of Mike Fitzpatrick (pictured above).

The AFL has been on a huge growth curve. Consider its just released results:

- Record revenue of $302m in 2008 – up by $17.3 million or six per cent on the previous year. This is the first time that AFL revenue has exceeded $300 million in a financial year.
- A record operating surplus before grants and distributions of $204 million.
- Record grants and distributions of $187.9 million to community football and AFL clubs with record distributions to AFL clubs of $131.8 million.

So what are the lessons on leadership from AFL Chairman Mike Fitzpatrick?

1: Alignment

A great leader has the ability to align the goals and aspirations of everyone within an organisation or team.

2. Get Good People

Attracting, recruiting and retaining top talent is essential in both business and sport.

Move people on quickly who are not performing.

3. Strategic Growth During Uncertainty

"We are entering a tough period where we face a downturn in the economy, which will put pressure on the AFL and its Clubs. The AFL is addressing this with strict cost control. The issue of securing better financial returns from stadium deals, particularly at Docklands and the MCG, along with satisfactory progress with the Gold Coast and Western Sydney expansion, will be a key focus of executive success in 2009," according to a public statement by Fitzpatrick.

4. Engage With Stakeholders

One of the critical success factors of the AFL is to keep stakeholders engaged.

The focus has been to keep the sport exciting and rules to keep the ball in play as much as possible.

5. Media Management

With such a high profile sport, dealing with the media is critical.

The media roles of the AFL CEO and Chairman are clearly defined.

The CEO is the regular spokesperson and the Chairman is only used for announcements on big issues.

Please consider our next media training course on March 24th.

Media Skills Masterclass: Winning The Media Game - Tuesday, June 16th 2009, Subiaco Arts Centre, Perth. Book here.

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