Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Changes Are In The Air

I’ve not updated this blog for some time now. Mainly because there were so many changes in my professional life that I didn’t even know where to begin. Now as I am onboard a plane en route to Kerala, one of my favorite states in India, and about to attend a press conference to announce an exciting new project I can take a deep breath, smile and comfortably share what has been and is currently going on in my world.   

The big news is that I’ve resigned from my role as CEO, DSK Shivajians FC and have joined the management team of India On Track, a Sports Management and Development agency. The transition has been somewhat seamless and while I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to run a professional football club and help my friend and DSK Owner, Shirish Kulkarni, grow his football project I’m truly happy to be back hustling for a global sports agency.     

I started my journey with DSK Shivajians in 2012 when I first met Shirish through my colleagues at Libero Sports. During one of our initial conversations, he expressed his interest in establishing a world class football Academy.  This conversation led to many meetings, international trips together and eventually the launch of the Liverpool FC International Academy – DSK in April 2014, an event that I will never forget. 

I served as an external consultant for the Academy and watched it quickly become India’s best residential football programme and was so proud of everyone involved with the project.  Then when AIFF invited DSK Shivajians FC to join the I-League and Shirish accepted, I was over the moon.  Finally, a professional football club in India with its own world class football facility and youth development programme.  I didn’t care if the I-League team won or lost all of their matches, what mattered most to me was that a system was being built which would support the sustainable development of the club for many years to come which is something that most other professional clubs in India lacked.    

Then in early 2016, just a month into DSK Shivajians’ first season in the I-League, I got a call from Shirish asking if I was interested in becoming the CEO of the entire DSK football project.  While I had never dreamed of being a professional football club CEO, I’ve always dreamed of leading the growth of a football project that could serve as a model for other sports investors around the world to emulate.  This project had the right Owner, a place in the country’s first division, the best youth academy and infrastructure in the country and a long-term partnership with global football giants Liverpool FC. Knowing that this foundation was already in place and that the Owner’s ambitions were high, the offer was, in fact, a dream come true and aligned with one of the primary reasons for me to move to India in the first place. 

I officially began my role as CEO, DSK Shivajians FC on May 1, 2016 and I can honestly share that going from being a Director of a football agency to CEO of a professional club was a big transition.  I’ve always been comfortable with the Strategy, Marketing, Business Development and Administrative areas of the sport but what was the biggest learning was getting comfortable with the technical side of the business.  Playing and being associated with a sport for your whole life doesn’t necessarily prepare you to be a sound mind when it comes to technical decision-making or even managing your technical staff. Needless to say, I had a lot to learn during my first few weeks on the job. 

It was truly an extraordinary experience serving as CEO DSK Shivajians FC for the 2016 / 17 season. There is nothing like being in the stadium with your family, colleagues and friends cheering on a team that you helped design. And watching our boys dominate teams like Bengaluru FC, East Bengal and Mohun Bagan is a high which cannot be described through words. The smile just wouldn’t come off of my face for days after a big win and I could watch the highlights of these victorious matches over and over and over. I had the same feeling when watching some of the boys that we scouted for the Academy back in 2014 score goals at the professional level years later.     

Unfortunately, as we were already in preparations for the second season, a few national policy changes were implemented which impacted the Indian real estate industry. Given the fact that DSK Group is deeply rooted in this industry and has been a funding source for the club, these policy changes as well as a few other external issues led to the decision to shut down the senior team and reduce the scope of the football project. 

It was an incredibly frustrating and disheartening time for everyone associated with the club as this was something that we could not have seem coming. But not everything is in our control and we all had to respond to the new scenario presented to us.  I chose to work with Shirish and our COO to identify ways to generate more revenue for the Academy through commercial programmes and facility rentals.  This continued until India On Track, a group I have tremendous respect for, offered me an opportunity to join their management team and work on a passion project of mine (more on this later). So with an excited and, somewhat heavy, heart I made the decision to move on from DSK Shivajians FC although the club and the people associated with it will always feel like family. 

I learned so many new aspects about management, people and life while serving as a professional football club CEO, a few points of which I’ve mentioned below:
  • Take the time to get to know and understand external and internal culture of your organization before implementing any major changes
  • It is critical to do comprehensive 360 degree due diligence before making a decision that will impact other people’s lives and the future of the organization
  • Be willing to set your ego aside and request support from your colleagues if there are areas where you require education
  • Do not take things personally and do your best not to bring your challenges home to your family 
  • Live inside of possibility but operate inside of sustainability
I’m very grateful that I could experience the highs and lows of running my own professional football team and thank Shirish Kulkarni for the extraordinary opportunity. I have tremendous respect for Shirish and his family. More about my new adventure with India On Track soon...


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