What can Brian Burke’s firing teach us about business

Quick reminder: The Toronto Maple Leafs (officially the Toronto Maple Leaf Hockey Club) is a professional ice hockey franchise based in Toronto, Canada. I could go on, but in short: the Leafs are a sport icon on a global scale — which has, sadly, been struggling to do its job well in recent years; namely win games and deliver good entertainment. (Image via wikimedia.org)

Moving on: the Leafs were recently sold to new owners, and they almost immediately proceeded to fire the person who has been running the franchise for the last four years—general manager Brian Burke. In a recent interview for TSN, Brian Burke said that he was not sure why was he fired by the Leafs. But one reason he could think of, as per his own admission in an interview with TSN, was likely his brash style, the fact that he likes to swear, and, again his words, is not professional. A much more eloquent and perhaps likely answer to this ‘dilemma’ was articulated by the Globe and Mail this past Sat. Here it is:

Within days of closing their $1.3-billion deal for a majority stake in Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd., top executives at BCE Inc. and Rogers Communications Inc. were presented with a stack of blue three-ring binders, each about an inch-and-a-half thick.

Inside were the secrets of the company, including its crown jewels: the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey team and the Toronto Raptors basketball franchise. The pages contained the strategies, successes, challenges and missteps – and there were many of those – for each team over the years. It was a primer of sorts, financially and operationally, for the new owners.

The problems facing the Leafs and Raptors were no secret. Anyone paying attention knew the teams were perennial losers, among the worst performers in their leagues. So when executives from each company sat down to pore through the material, several flipped directly to the sections detailing how each team planned to dig itself out.

As blueprints go, the Raptors section was a disappointment, but the Leafs strategy was even less inspiring.

After years of futility on the ice and on the court, the teams offered few solutions beyond vague promises of cultural shifts and better recruiting. If there was a road map for fixing two of the longest-suffering pro sports teams in North America, it wasn’t in these documents. (Emphasis mine—you can read the rest of the above story here.)

My 2¢:
Whether you call it strategy or a road map (or even just simply focus), the future belongs to those organizations and individuals that develop a powerful road map today. In life and in business, a lot more important than what you’ve done (even if your numbers were good) is what you can confidently show that you’re about to do in the near future. And as per the above story from the Globe, it seems that Brian Burke did not get that memo.
Jan 18, 2013