Why changing bosses like Leicester doesn't work in the City

Andrew Cave
Follow Andrew
Craig Shakespeare: Will All Be Well That Ends Well? (Source: Getty)

Nobody understood why Claudio Ranieri was sacked as Leicester City manager just eight months after leading the club to its first ever top-flight football championship.

Fewer are questioning the decision now, with caretaker manager Craig Shakespeare having guided Leicester's champions to six consecutive victories after being handed the job on a temporary basis.

While club sources fiercely denied that Ranieri had lost the dressing room, there is little doubt who Jamie Vardy and co are playing for now.

Leicester were third from bottom with just 21 points when Shakespeare was appointed. Now they have 36 - just four short of the 40 traditionally needed for safety - and sit in tenth position.

Under their new leader, the club also won through to a lucrative European Champions League quarter final clash with Atletico Madrid.

Read more: Leicester City pile misery on Sunderland and Moyes

Assistant managers, like Shakespeare before his elevation, are generally seen as the players' friends, coaxing and comforting them through seasons of being injured, dropped and overlooked by overbearing, distant bosses.

When they get the manager's position themselves, they have to learn quickly to make unpopular decisions, experiencing the comparative loneliness of the top job.

So far, Shakespeare is adapting just fine. However, such turnarounds by promoted insiders are rare in the other City.

Chief executives who get sacked at FTSE 100 and 250 companies tend to be replaced by outsiders, with chief financial officers and other board members and divisional chiefs only getting a sniff at the top job when the company's fortunes are solid and a smooth succession has been planned.

Examples of the latter include Emma Walmsley taking over from Sir Andrew Witty at GlaxoSmithKline and Mike Coupe succeeding Justin King at Sainsbury's.

Of course, smooth internal successes don't guarantee success - witness Sir Terry Leahy's replacement by Phil Clarke at Tesco, Andy Haste's handover to Simon Lee at insurer RSA and in the US Steve Ballmer's disastrous time after taking on the mantle of Microsoft CEO from Bill Gates.

However, it is hard to think of a financial managerial achievement that's parallel to what Shakespeare is pulling off on the pitch.

Of course the reasons are clear enough. A Premiership football season lasts 38 matches and even if you take over with only a third or a quarter of those remaining, a turnaround can gain instant momentum.

When the problem is the profit and loss account, there is often more pain yet to come before the tanker is turned around.

Restructuring schemes, job losses, disposals and line management changes are normally part of the medicine - paid for with exceptional charges that keep the red ink and bad corporate news flowing.

Often it takes more than one change of CEO to stop the rot. Marks and Spencer bounced from Sir Richard Greenbury to internal candidate Peter Salsbury, external hire Luc Vandevelde and another insider Roger Holmes and then looked outside again for Stuart (now Lord) Rose before the boat was steadied.

Read more: Betting: Shakespeare has the script for Champions League success

Barclays, meanwhile, was righted after Matt Barrett's credit card gaffe by internal promotion John Varley before fellow internal hire Bob Diamond took the bank into deep water and his internal replacement Antony Jenkins failed to get the company out of it. Then former JP Morgan banker Jes Stanley was brought in.

In football meanwhile, external managerial transfers David Moyes, Louis van Gaal and so far Jose Mourinho have been unable to continue what Sir Alex Ferguson famously achieved at Manchester United over two and a half decades.

Shakespeare will be only too aware that he will be judged on more than a few games or a successful one-season turnaround.

It remains to be seen if all will end well. Shakespeare's more famous namesake might have had something to say about that.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

Related articles