Bernardo M. Villegas
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Rebalancing Strategy
published: Mar 31, 2017



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Management Lessons from World Cup (Part I)

           Many of the Filipinos who lost sleep watching the World Cup matches in Brazil were business people, a good number of them top executives.  Let me take this opportunity to draw lessons from the events and personalities of this spectacular display of the beautiful game that can be useful to the art of management.  As I have already written in several articles that appeared in this paper, the most important lesson is the role of cooperation in the attainment of the goal of any organization.  Contrary to talks preceding the World Cup that the “tiki-taka” style of precision passing saw its demise with the lacklustre performance in the last season of its foremost practitioner, the FC Barcelona (Barca) team from Spain, all the four semi-finalists demonstrated admirable skill in this Dutch-initiated way of playing football.  Germany, Argentina, the Netherlands and Brazil all employed to one degree or another the “tiki-taka” way of playing, of course combined with attacking.  This highlights the importance of team work and the dangers of the “superstar” syndrome in football.  In Philippine business today, it is more important than ever to develop corporate cultures based on cooperation that is maximized in the new management model called “management by mission” epitomised in such very successful Philippine corporations like United Laboratories (famous for its “bayanihan spirit”) and Mondenissin (whose product Lucky Me noodle just unseated Nescafe as the most popular brand in the Philippines).

          It is clear, however, that team spirit is a must for winning games (and running a profitable business) but is not a sufficient condition.  The victory of Germany in the finals highlights another obvious lesson for management:  As can be read in the internet article (Sport Techie) by Taylor Bloom, technology played a very important role in preparing the German national team (DFB) for World Cup success.  Even before the final match on July 14, 2014, the German team already demonstrated their leadership.  They crashed Brazil in the first semi-final match 7 to 1! They became the first team to score 5 goals in the first 29 minutes of a World Cup game.  Leading up to that match, Germany averaged one goal every 39 minutes, requiring only 5.3 attempts to put the ball in the net.  When it reached the final, DFB stood as the 2014 scoring leaders with 17 goals which was five ahead of Netherlands and Colombia and nine more than Argentina.

          The DFB went to great lengths to ensure their world-class players could perform at their peak.  They were surely outdanced by the Brazilians and the Argentinians, but they focused on the smallest details while preparing for each game.  The team built their own private, state-of-the-art camp in Brazil to station their players in comfortable accommodations during their stay in the jungle.  This was in a remote Brazilian fishing village called Santo Andre where the Campo Bahia resort was constructed by the Germans.  It was the brainchild of Christian Hirmer, a businessman who works in the Munich fashion industry.  Hirmer conceived a project that would combine building a sporting environment to maximise every conceivable ‘marginal gain’ with a facility that will endure long after the World Cup in Brazil is a costly memory.  While the other teams simply checked themselves into hotels in Rio and other key cities—and then faced a daily battle through traffic for training—Santo Andre was picked by DFB as a unique team base, which constituted a major factor in building up the special team spirit in the group.  As Joachim Low, who has coached Germany to the semi-finals or better in five straight tournaments, quipped:  “It’s a brilliant concept—it has been a very good idea to based ourselves in a resort rather than hotel.”  As Lars Wallrodt, chief football writer of Die Welt, wrote:  All the players have been talking about it.  The idea of living together in this way has been very good for team spirit.  You have your own space but the players are always bumping into each other around the resort.  It’s different from a hotel where you just have a room.  They all say it has been the perfect place to rest and calm down….”

          But more than the training camp in Brazil, the German’s team success can be attributed to their partnership with EXOS, world leaders in integrated performance training, and the Adidas miCoach Elite Team System, which is employed to monitor player performance in training sessions.  The system can measure the speed, acceleration, heart rate and power of every athlete in training, and all this information is made available on an iPad to the expert trainers from EXOS and the DFB, as well as post session for in-depth analysis.  The technology is used in almost every training session to monitor each player’s performance and record their stats.  Having detailed performance data allows coaches and trainers to fine tune each player’s skills and plan workouts that focus on particular areas of need.  The use of the Adidas miCoach Elite Team by the German national team at the World Cup, although not as visible as the boots or the uniform, is an outstanding example of one of the best teams that played in Brazil using all tools and innovations available to play their best. The Germans did not leave anything to improvisation, charisma, or luck.  It was not luck that made it possible for a relatively unknown young player by the name of Mario Goetze to score the winning goal during the last seconds of the game. That “lucky strike” was the result of four years of meticulous planning and attention to details.  Business men of the Philippines, take note.  There is too much improvisation in the local scene. (To be continued)