I remember a milionaire I knew who, when asked why he was so glum replied that, thanks to poor investment advice, he was down to his last couple of million.
Not a “problem” most will ever have to contend with and not a problem at all to many I would warrant but I suppose it’s all relative.
I am reminded of this when I look at Mike Ashley’s current plight – if plight it could be called.
Here is a man making millions hand over fist thanks to his undoubted business acumen and decision-making. Yet he is also under fierce attack on several fronts – football, media and political, both in Scotland and England. Arguably he is one of the most vilified – if not hated – men in Britain.
A consequence of success in this backward-thinking country, some might argue and thus a price to pay for it. There is even a case to be made that the millions offer much greater comfort than the negativity provides discomfort, affording Ashley the luxury of largely ignoring his detractors and even laughing at them.
But disdain toward all the opposition he now faces could be the little fox that spoils the considerable vine that is Ashley’s business empire.
Let’s look at the problems Ashley faces on the footballing front. Or we should say fronts plural because at both Newcastle United and Rangers, the sports billionaire faces prety stiff opposition.
A well-orchestrated propaganda campaign virtually blitzed what was perceived to be a Mike Ashley-controlled board out of Ibrox. This campaign preyed on latent distrust of billionaires in the Scottish psyche and was encapsulated by the notorious “Spivs out!” catchphrase. Use of rat masks and other props demoinised Ashley in the eyes of many susceptible fans. The vehicle created as a populist group to make Ashley toxic to the Rangers fan base was the Sons of Struth.
Now Newcastle United fans are following suit, with Sons of Struth founder Craig Houston “advising” Toon supporters on how to eject Ashley – a far more difficult task at a club where Ashley dominates the shareholding and has the club in a vice-like grip thanks to a massive loan.
The militancy that is being demonstrated towards Ashley is not accidental – and only the most gullible of Rangers and NUFC fans would accept it is entirely justified. It is, after all, Ashley’s millions that are funding Newcastle and, despite waging a vicious media war against Ashley, the new regime at Ibrox has spectacularly failed to pay him off as a major creditor. This makes the coup against him seem petty and spiteful and indeed the new bioard has been mocked for drinking coffee Big Mike paid for.
Mike Ashley has many detractors. But the old adage of Money talks, Bullshit walks is still his strongest defence. It is easy to decry the rough way he does business but it is not so easy to come up with a credible alternative; credible being something that includes matching Ashley’s substantial wealth.
Interestingly, Ashley is being derided by frustrated Newcastle fans for demonstrating a distinct lack of ambition, while at Ibrox he was targeted for being too ambitious. The prospect of a serious billionaire with wealth that dwarfed Celtic’s Dermot Desmond was just too much to take for a Celtic-dominated Scottish football. This curiously included the “Real Rangers Men” who wanted Rangers for themselves and their supporters. It aapears that many in the Rangers support would rather settle for the mediocrity of sharing dominance with their arch-rivals than seeing the club go to a whole new level funded by a proper multi-billionaire.
There are those who will say that Ashley showed no such intent and to a certain extent they are right.
There is no hard evidence to suggest that Ashley bought into the original Green Consortium vision of Rangers becoming a European giant. Indeed, it could reasonably be argued that the sportswear tycoon only ever wanted a decent-sized platform in Scottish football to enhance his business in Scotland and that a partnership with Rangers was all he really sought.
I know that Ashley only ever got seriously involved after other investors were scared away so perhaps it is unfair of those Rangers fans who saw his millions as a path to domination to expect so much of him.
The problem is that nobody knows what Mike Ashley is thinking.
This is maybe something that works in other industries and can actually be a strength. In football, however, it is not just a weakness; it is a disaster.
There are few people who can tell Mike Ashley how to do business. And you cannot argue with the man’s ability to run a football club as a going concern.
However, Ashley is a massive fail in an area where it really does count. He is failing miserably at getting fans onboard with his plans – entirely because he doesn’t appear to have any discernible plans.
Ashley and his businesses are PR disasters. He – and they – fail to communicate effectively with supporters. Supporters are, of course, consumers and when consumers turn on a business, that is when the brown stuff really does hit the fan.
To a great extent, Ashley’s ability to sell sportswear at affordable prices and make a fortune doing so has made him immune to criticism elsewhere. But if that criticism and negativity grows until it hits his core business, then he could be in a world of hurt. There is no doubt that what has been going on at Rangers and is going on now at Newcastle United is a hole in the hull. The question is will this hole grow to a point where it can sink the whole ship?
Ashley and his advisors now have to grapple with the very real issue of whether what is going on at Ibrox and St James Park is just the tip of a very big iceberg which could turn Ashley’s empire into a business Titanic.
A man demonised by the media, lambasted and hounded by politicians and despised by a growing number of football fans does not have his troubles to seek.What is remarkable about Mike Ashley is that many of these troubles are self-inflicted and easily solved.
The man dubbed Britain’s Howard Hughes must find a way to engage with the wider world beyond branding everything that moves or doesn’t move.
As the old Chinese proverb says, Man who wants to open shop must learn how to smile.
In the 21st century, we could add an addendum and modify this to:
Man who wants to open shop must learn how to smile. Or hire good PR.