How Not to Be Forgotten – Career Lessons from LeBron, Liverpool & The Forgotten One 1 - Blog

Hope Solo US Women SoccerAfter the lights dim, the chants from the crowds cease and the showers of praise dry up, will you be remembered? The scenario happens on the NBA basketball courts, the football (soccer) fields of Europe and across University campuses worldwide. Whether you are a recent advanced degree graduate or recent college graduate the annual ritual of graduation is the same and marks the promise of another phase of competency and success. A few years later, however, some inevitably fade to black, others marinate in a self-described, but not self-accountable, mediocrity. For a fortunate few, they grow and lead. If 80% of success is simply “showing up” then certainly the pre-cursor of “being remembered”, in order to be invited, must be even more critical to your success!


Cross-Atlantic Power Plays

A timely saga, cross-cutting sports, business and talent management, provides a rich backdrop to illustrate this point. Although inspiring, it is not the U.S. National Women's Soccer team's performance in Germany. Three unlikely protagonists capture this theme and offer lessons on how not to be forgotten. The 2010/2011 season witnessed NBA super-star LeBron James announcing which team he would sign with for the upcoming season on a high-profile special TV segment “The Decision”. Towards the end of the season his off-court move was just as deft becoming an investor in English Premier League titans, Liverpool Football Club. A storied 100+-year old institution, with a rich history and talented roster, Liverpool FC was suffering under too much debt. The Football Club had been mired by mis-management and struggled because of lack of capital leading to its forced sale. John Henry, owner of the Major League Baseball team, the Boston Red Sox and principal of New England Sports Ventures, ultimately bought the team at a bargain price.  The transaction was described after the final contested sale by the previous owners, private equity investors Tom Hicks and George Gillett as an “epic swindle”. One of the main assets of Liverpool is its roster of talented athletes. Joe Cole, Liverpool’s new acquisition at the start of the season was one of the crown jewels of the team. By the end of the season, Joe Cole was buried deep down the roster and was recently coined by sports reporters as “The Forgotten One”. Let’s examine the actions of each protagonist (LeBron James, John Henry and Joe Cole) to extract career lessons that you can use immediately.


The Global Play: Spread Offense

LeBron James Heat Jersey

Our first protagonist, LeBron James, NBA super-star is one of the most gifted athletes and an under-appreciated businessman. Upon entering the NBA League, he created a management firm with long-time friends and partnered with well-seasoned executives for strategic advice. “LMR Management”, LeBron James’ firm, whose main purpose is to leverage LeBron’s brand and to find investment opportunities. LMR brought the Liverpool investment opportunity to LeBron and he seized it. In commenting on his rationale for going beyond the clothing line and endorsement deals of many of his counterparts he noted that “non-US global exposure” was important to his portfolio and that he felt the Liverpool acquisition was at a good value. Not too bad for an “athlete”. Please note that many professional athletes face bankruptcy within less than five years after leaving their leagues. Start to plant seeds early. 20 years of age is not too early to start thinking strategically about your career.

Three take-aways on how to be remembered:

  • Create your own team of advocates or sponsors that is constantly scouring the market for your opportunities; not only when things are bad;
  • Make connections in another city, nation or industry that can help expand your vision and scope of career opportunities; and
  • Re-define “the labels” – it is your brand, create new labels, discard old labels and reinvigorate tired labels as you see fit.


Investment Thesis: Go Long and Syndicate the Capital Outlay

John Henry LiverpoolJohn Henry, former commodities trader and owner of the Boston Red Sox, nearing 62 years of age saw an opportunity in investing in one of the English Premier League’s most successful brands - Liverpool. The acquisition of Liverpool was at a price that merited swift action and the formation of group of investors. In typical smart investor fashion, he syndicated the equity capital required for purchase amongst a group of investors that included the aforementioned LeBron James and NYTimes. He engaged skeptical fans, coaches and players alike with humility and commitment before and after the purchase. John Henry would often make the time and travel the 4,000 miles to be seen at Liverpool key home games as shown in the accompanying photo. In acquiring Liverpool, this American owner, John Henry embodied the Liverpool motto of “never walking alone”. The investment thesis and risk mitigants of the Liverpool purchase are akin to decisions that many business professionals face weighing family concerns, opportunity costs of decreased income and capital constraints of whether or not to pursue graduate school. Stay alert to opportunities.

Three take-aways on how to be remembered:

  • Engage your community, visit the graduate school campuses, join alumni clubs and attend industry events. Your feet (communicating in person) not your thumbs (i.e. text messages) may express your commitment best;
  • Lengthen the harvest time for your investments in your human capital – your career development and your higher education. With good advice, patience and hard work the payoff will eventually come and your commitment remembered; and
  • Partner to offset the risk of investing in your education or your career development and leverage the group’s insights. Alumni clubs, group dinners/ brunches and after-work socials are just a few examples of ways to partner. The collectives are more likely to remember each other and help you in not being forgotten.


Ceteris Paribus (?): Never Too Big to Fail or To Be Forgotten

Ceteris Paribus – the Latin phrase, as many of you will surely remember, is sprinkled throughout much economic and financial theory – means all other things being equal. As the record $631 billion Lehman bankruptcy proved: all things, are rarely equal. Joe Cole a player of the year candidate the season earlier was heralded upon his arrival to Liverpool. The first game Joe Cole alienated himself by being dismissed for a hard and unnecessary tackle against arch rivals Arsenal Football Club. Subsequently, a spate of injuries limited his role on the team. Eventually, he was dubbed by media “The Forgotten One”. There were no widely-reported comments from his camp about his apparent demotion. There were few advocates rallying for his return to the starting line-up. A change in circumstance – new management – apparently has done little to resurrect Joe’s envisioned regular starting role. For many mid-managers, including those post-MBAs, achieving the title of Senior Associate/Vice President signified a sure-footing in their career, an “arrival” of sorts. The structural shift of the Great Recession of 2008-2009, offered many business professionals – of all levels- a refresher in the “long-tail” of statistical analysis and caveats such as ceteris paribus offered little solace to their turn in fortunes. With lowered compensation outlooks many former bankers, management consultants and other business professionals have been ushered in less satisfying roles. Unfortunately some have been forgotten. Stay relevant – regardless of title or prior success.

Three take-aways on how to be remembered:

  • Develop separate pools of relationships and resources. The diversification principles of mutual funds are applicable to your career;
  • Keep your skills sharp. Injuries and bankruptcies unfortunately happen. This again is an investment in time and capital; and
  • Remember failure is a temporary set-back. We all face our own crucibles. Your reaction to your crucible is an opportunity for you to remember your creativity, strength and determination.

The take-aways noted in this article are not exhaustive and like all recommendations are contextual. Finding the mix of tactics that work for you in particular is part of the excitement of discovering your game plan. By merely giving some thought today about this topic you’ve gotten a head start to creating a more resilient and rewarding career.