Lyall Gorman: changing the narrative at the Cronulla Sharks

19 December 2014 | Posted in Quick-Fire Questions | By James Emmett | Contact the author

Lyall Gorman: changing the narrative at the Cronulla Sharks

Lyall Gorman was appointed as the new chief executive of the Cronulla Sharks National Rugby League (NRL) side in November.

The former A-League boss and Central Coast Mariners chief executive has his work cut out for him. His first task will be to secure the development work of 650 units of land next to Shark Park, the team’s home stadium, in an initiative that Cronulla’s chairman, Damian Keogh, believes will secure the organisation's financially viability. Another challenge will be to find a major sponsor for the team, who have not had a significant front-of-shirt contract since the end of 2012.

Gorman must conduct his business against a backdrop of strife, as the Sharks recover from a scandal earlier this year in which 17 current or former players were implicated in one of the worst doping affairs in this history of Australian sport.

In an exclusive interview with SportsPro, Gorman set out his stall for the challenges that lie ahead.

What is the single biggest responsibility in your new role?

I think the single biggest responsibility is to provide a high performance environment that allows everyone in the club to maximise their potential on and off the field so that the club grows, the game grows, and the region benefits from it. It’s creating that culture and that high performance environment which allows this club to move from an ok club, which it is today, to a good club, to a great club. This club shouldn’t be where it has been. We’ve put the building blocks in place to reposition it.

What do you expect to find most challenging about the role?

It’s funny you ask that because I always see challenges as opportunities, opportunities to do something different, something better, to look at things in a different light, with a different mindset. I compare this city a little bit to Norwich City a little bit in terms of pride, passion, parochialism and so on. It’s the only professional sporting club in the region, and there’s a tremendous belief and support for the club. I guess we’re coming off a little bit of negative brand equity at the moment.

The immediate opportunity is to turn that around through changing the narrative of the club, getting back out and reconnecting with the community, with fans, with corporate partners, with business, with government, and we’re doing that very actively. We’re back out in the community on weekends. We’ve got fan forums. Turning the negative brand equity into a narrative that tells the good part of this club and its future is the real opportunity right now. You can call that a challenge if you want, but I call that an opportunity.

How will you look to stamp your own footprint on this role? Is there a Lyall Gorman brand of leadership?

Yeah there certainly is. It’s very much driven around the fundamentals of identifying and consistently applying an absolute clarity of the vision, values and culture. That’s what we’re doing with these forums; we want to revisit our fan group and say ‘what does this club really stand for? What’s its essence? What are its fundamental, core values?’ And they become our decision making framework and you get a very simple question: ‘do they fit or don’t they?’ – whether it’s a player, a staff member, a board member, a sponsor or whatever. The starting point will be the consistent and non-negotiable application of those agreed principles.

Then a climate of high performance where organisations grow when the people within them are growing. The other part of the platform of that for me is that we don’t own the club; we have an accountability and responsibility to grow it together. It’s a club very much driven around the principles of community engagement and empowerment.

"I want our fan group to tell us what success looks like. I’m always very nervous of clubs whose success is to win premierships."

How will you measure success?

I want our fan group to tell us what success looks like. I’m always very nervous of clubs whose success is to win premierships. That’s always got to be an aspirational target but for me you set yourself up for failure as soon as you do that. We’ve got to turn this club into more than a football club. It’s a community asset, it’s a contributor to the greater good of the Sutherthland Shire and the game of football overall. When we were at the Wanderers, the Wanderers fan group told us three things: stand up for us, be competitive, and make us proud. That’s one measure of success.

The other is the difference we could make to our community, to grassroots football, to boys and girls around social issues, anti-violence, anti-bullying, positive self-image, increased physical activity. That’s another success parameter. And then we can work with the region as a whole around trade, tourism, commerce. We can have many measures of success and one of those is of course performing well on the field. But not setting ourselves up for failure by stating that if we don’t win the grand final we’re not successful.

What was your dream job growing up?

As a young kid onwards I was always very driven to be in environments where I could make a difference. My dream job originally was the one I started in and that was education, and doing it better than I received, and making a difference there. I’ve been blessed along the way that I’ve been in many vehicles that have allowed me to do that, to make a contribution to the greater good and touch people’s lives. It wasn’t so much the job, but what the job allows you to do. Sport is a wonderful opportunity to do that too. You can get out there and make a true difference.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

Well I just signed a five-year contract. I’ve got four key decision making drivers that helped me settle on this role: I’ve got to believe in what I do – and I tremendously believe in the journey this club is on; it’s got to excite me – and I’m incredibly excited and passionate about the opportunity to turn this business around; I’ve got to be able to move it from a measurable base to somewhere that doesn’t necessarily need to be penthouse, but you’ve got to see significant growth, so a status quo role is no good for me; and the last one is the legacy effect – and if I look back at some of the roles I’ve done and say ‘hey, that’s really made a difference, a true legacy for the community that it represents.

So in five years I’d like to think that that job is done in this role and you’d like to looking at what’s next. In five years I reckon there’ll be another sporting franchise or code that’s got the capacity to be uplifted significantly.

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