Rasmus Ankersen: Why football clubs should embrace failure

Ankersen is co-founder and CEO of Sport Republic, the London-based investment firm that took a controlling stake in Southampton in January

Ankersen is co-founder and CEO of Sport Republic, the London-based investment firm that took a controlling stake in Southampton in January

RASMUS ANKERSEN has said that clubs and fans are wrong to discount managers who have failed - and that he actually prefers those who have.

The Dane is co-founder and CEO of Sport Republic, the London-based investment firm that took a controlling stake in Southampton in January. Prior to this he was co-Director of Football at Brentford and played a major role in their promotion to the Premier League.

Earlier this month Southampton appointed Nathan Jones as their new manager, yet some questioned the decision, highlighting the Welshman’s poor record at Stoke City, where he won only six of 38 games in charge in 2019.

However, in an interview with The Athletic, Ankersen said: “I don’t know why it’s a must for a manager not to have failed.

“You don’t necessarily want someone that’s just gone from strength to strength throughout their career. You want someone that has had failure, learned and can reflect on it.

“One thing Nathan has done is reflect on what went wrong and what he could have done better. He’s got a very clear idea about that, which is a good thing.”

This would seem to go against a lot of the conventional thinking in football. For example, research by the League Managers Association found that almost half of first-time managers never get a second chance.

However, there are many examples from outside sport that show the potential folly of this.

Henry Ford went bankrupt before starting the Ford Motor Company and Steve Jobs was sacked by Apple in 1985 before returning to make the company the biggest in the world.

Jobs later said: "I didn't see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.

"During the next five years, I started a company named NeXT, another company named Pixar, and fell in love with an amazing woman who would become my wife. Pixar went on to create the world's first computer animated feature film, Toy Story, and is now the most successful animation studio in the world.

"In a remarkable turn of events, Apple bought NeXT, I returned to Apple, and the technology we developed at NeXT is at the heart of Apple's current renaissance. And Laurene and I have a wonderful family together.

"I'm pretty sure none of this would have happened if I hadn't been fired from Apple. It was awful tasting medicine, but I guess the patient needed it."

A 2019 research paper looked at the dynamics of failure by analysing three big datasets:

  • 776,721 grant applications submitted to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) between 1985 and 2015.
  • The National Venture Capital Association’s database of all 58,111 start-ups that received venture-capital funding from 1970 to 2016.
  • The Global Terrorism Database, which included 170,350 attacks between 1970 and 2016.

What the researchers found was that success came down to learning from one’s prior mistakes, for example by continuing to improve the parts of an invention that were not working rather than scrapping them altogether.

This is why the Japanese-American venture capitalist William Hiroyuki Saito has said he actually seeks out failures when making investments.

“Frankly, I only make investments in people who have failed because, if you look at all the famous companies in Japan - Sony, Hitachi, NEC, Honda - they had some other company before it that failed,” he has said.

“I say that everybody has to fail once, that is why I don’t invest unless they’ve failed.”

Read more on:

LeadershipSouthampton

More stories

Sign up to our newsletter to get all the latest news from The Guru