At the Recruitment Society meeting on 8 May, Peter Ridsdale, Chairman of Leeds United Football Club discussed what ex-HR director brings to football.
Ridsdale spoke with humour and candour on the trials and triumphs of his life up to and including his time at Leeds United. From an inauspicious first job filleting fish, he embarked on a 17 year career in personnel ‘by accident’, finding a job at a motor distributor. His career mirrored the rise of personnel as a function taken seriously by business at large, because of growing union power and increasing employment. Ridsdale's other jobs included working at ICL, canned food business Del Monte and Burtons.
It was as HR director of Topshop in the late 1980s when - after a lifetime supporting Leeds United - Ridsdale became formally connected with the club. Within six months of taking up the position at Topman the company was sponsoring football at Leeds, and Ridsdale invited to become a member of the board. Although his career moved on - from Burtons to Alexon, and then to set up home shopping channel QVC - his involvement with the club grew. Two years ago he became full time chairman.
Acknowledging the “privilege” of holding such a job, Ridsdale maintained that his HR background has stood him in good stead. The job clearly differs from HR positions - his salary is lower than the multi-million pound players he manages, for example, and they don’t take being told what to do - but “management is management”, he said.
In “traditional” business the CEOs or company boards might be able to fool themselves that they’re the most important people in the business. In football, this can never be the case, said Ridsdale. Football clubs are more than aware of the value of their members. But this was a lesson Ridsdale learned early in his HR career, he says - understanding your human assets makes the difference between good companies and great companies, something more businesses would do well to embrace.
One of the most crucial lessons he learned in HR, said Ridsdale, was that people are too often treated as though they’re all the same. “Companies are like jigsaw puzzles - they only work because each shape is different, and the shapes only work when they interlock to make the whole.”
Asked what kind of recruitment companies he used in his pre-football days, Ridsdale replied that only those who understood this basic idea worked: “The issue is cultural fit, it’s all about teams - they have to gel.” And just as line managers need to be helped by personnel to become good people managers and live up to their potential. Footballers too need to be taught how to manage their wealth, their spare time, and what they can do for themselves – and for the community – when off the pitch. Just as companies need to understand their staff as people, so too do football companies.
At the next Recruitment Society meeting on 19 June, David Fairhurst, Director of Global Resourcing at Tesco’s, will be speaking.