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Khun Vichai’s a role model for others

This is a story from the SD archive – the FSF and SD merged to become the FSA in 2019.

Thoughts on Khun Vichai’s legacy, by Steve Moulds, Foxes Trust

One of the aims of the Foxes Trust is “To ensure the club meets the highest standards of business management.” Certain events in life bring things into perspective, and what has become clear in the past few weeks is that there is a rare, often unseen, management culture in operation at our club that has more than met that challenge.

The club’s handling of the aftermath of the helicopter crash has been squarely in the class of ‘exceptional performance’. From soon after the accident, through to the emotional conclusion of the recent game against Burnley and the Royal visit, management has been exemplary. The spotlight on the leadership of our club has been intense, in the footballing world and more generally. Seeing how that leadership has responded has focussed thoughts on how that management culture came about and whether there can be a lasting,significant legacy to Khun Vichai’s tenure.

It is clear that the exemplary attitude was engendered from the top down. More praise to Khun Vichai’s memory and deeds was offered by the Duke of Cambridge on his visit to the King Power Stadium. He commented, “We knew Vichai as a man who cared deeply about his family and also his community. He of course was a man of wealth, but that wealth did not leave him disconnected from those around him.” Perhaps in this brief sentence, we can see why he is so revered by Leicester fans, and alsoa key to what his legacy might bring.

The British press in recent times, seems to be awash with headlines exclaiming that our institutions and companies are run under a culture of bullying by the arrogant and self-interested. Khun Vichai’s style was in direct counter-point to this – paternalistic, considerate, generous and shrewd.

Small deeds often go a long way – the free breakfasts,scarves, hats and t-shirts for away supporters – but bigger deeds have impactson people’s lives, investing the rewards of success in the future of the local community. The Foxes Community Foundation, now renamed in Vichai’s honour, has contributed £1.5m to local charities and Vichai personally donated £2 million to help build a new children’s hospital.

Evidence of this has been offered in many stories from fans who repeatedly spoke of Vichai as “one of us” – a real football fan, with a passion for the game. More importantly, he understood that fans mattered to his club and that the club mattered to Leicester as a community.

It was disappointing to hear that one West London club has recently disbanded its youth academy, along with much of its community work. It is hard to see how this endears a football club to the local community – seeing football as a business in isolation to the people who support it. Vichai clearly had a different vision to this and anyone who witnessed the mass celebrations in Victoria Park following the Premier League title win, will have seen how football clubs can bring people from all walks of life together.

However, other owners of clubs are involved in charitable work and also offer rewards or incentives to supporters – so there has to be more to Vichai’s style.

Being visible at matches, not hiding behind bullet-proof glass or perching upon high in the stands in a private box, helps make your chairman more visible, more accessible – Vichai was often seen engaging with supporters, stopping for selfies, shaking hands – how often does this occur in other Premier League clubs?

Clearly, Vichai also had an impact on players – often being a deciding factor in players signing or renewing contracts. It is not unusual for players to cite the influence of managers and coaches, it is rare for them to regard owners with an affection usually reserved for their own parents. Kasper Schmeichel has been very vocal about Khun Vichai’s influence, commenting: “It doesn’t matter who you are or what kind of position you have at the club. Whether it be player, staff,stadium staff, security – whatever it may be – everyone is equal and part of the family.”

Of course, all has not always been rosy in the garden. Claudio Ranieri was dismissed only a few months after taking the team to their Premier League title, a decision that was seen, by the media, as a sign of disloyalty and provoked widespread derision. What it proved to be was shrewd and the right thing to do at the right time, handled in an appropriate way. It was interesting to note that, on reflection, Ranieri said he thought so, too. Even Sven Goran Eriksson commented that, when he was sacked by Vichai, it was in the nicest possible way – and he should know!

It would therefore seem a simple recipe for success:operate with humility, generosity and consideration for others – remember that fans are people and that the community they live in extends beyond the executive car park.

As Ian Bason, Foxes Trust Chairman, has said: “One good thing that I hope can come out of all this is that others look at the example Vichai set at Leicester.

“They should see how he treated the fanbase and the city and change the way they work to follow the model that he implemented here.

“I think it’s an ideal model for how an owner should run a football club and ingrain himself in the community.”

After all, there is a lot of money in the upper echelons of football and success is often in short supply. Maybe there are lessons to learn from the author of one of the best underdog stories in modern sport.

Thank you and R.I.P. Khun Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha – may you and your deeds live long in the memory.

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