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Learnings from a soccer club

Berlin, March 1, 2013

An interview with Urs Müller, program director at ESMT and co-author of the study "Defining the purpose for Borussia Dortmund GmbH & Co. KGaA". Together with Ulrich Linnhoff (ESMT faculty member) and Prof. Bernard Pellens (Ruhr-University Bochum), he won the ECCH Case Writing Competition 2013 in the category "Hot Topic" for this study.

Urs Müller

Urs, you have just published an award-winning case study on the soccer club Borussia Dortmund– did you choose the BVB to inspire the soccer fans among managers?

Urs Müller: No, no, that was not my main motivation – although it certainly helps to discuss basic management challenges by using examples which you find particularly interesting. But I can’t imagine writing a case study about another soccer club. For our purpose we needed the unique situation of the BVB in Germany.

What is so special about the BVB then?

Urs Müller: It is not only the very interesting history of the BVB: At the centenary of the club in 2009 it was the only German soccer club whose shares were traded on the stock market - and still the only one today. Despite this fact the identity of the club was strongly rooted in the working class of Dortmund and actually very down to earth. In the first nine years on the stock market the club had amassed a cumulative loss of more than 145 million Euros and the management was faced with important decisions.

What did they have to decide about?

Urs Müller: The questions were very essential: What were the identity and the goal of the BVB? Should they focus on making profit – and was this even possible? Or was it more important to keep the fans and the tradition of the club in mind? And more specific: What should they offer the disappointed shareholders?

Aren’t these very specific questions? Not all managers who work on this case study will manage a soccer team in the future…

Urs Müller: But the whole set of problems which is shown in the case study is not restricted to soccer clubs. These are fundamental questions which every organization should ask itself: What is the higher purpose? Which legitimacy do the wishes of the various stakeholders have? And how should this be reflected in the structure of the organization and the decision-making process?

And did the BVB finally solve the problems?

Urs Müller: The whole complex can probably never be “finally solved”. The definition of the main purpose of an organization – whether business, association or any other institution – is a permanent management challenge, which requires a continuous adjustment to the potentially conflicting interests of different stakeholders. But concerning the economic situation it can be said that the BVB stands on solid ground today – and they have won not only the last two German championships but also the last DFB-Cup.