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The Dark Side of Innovation | The Juergen Klinsmann Story

By Felix Ludosan
December 1, 2022

FC Bayern is the most successful club in German soccer history, having won a record of 32 national titles, 20 national cups, along with numerous European honors. Even those with little empathy noticed how proud Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, Chairman of Executive Board of FC Bayern, and Uli Hoeness, president of FC Bayern, were when they presented Juergen Klinsmann as the next coach during a press conference at the Munich Sheraton Hotel in January of 2008. In 2006, Klinsmann had sparked an incredible euphoria in Munich as the head coach of the German National Team during the home World Cup. Rummenigge and Hoeness saw in Klinsmann (“Klinsi”) the new Messiah, the savior of their (at that time) battered Bundesliga mega team.

The Hip Californian From Huntington Beach

Everyone was convinced that Juergen was the right man for the future and thought: “FC Bayern will be back on track soon and won’t lose any more games.” Klinsmann was determined to turn everything upside down and create a new image for the FC Bayern; more casual, hip and Californian, inspired from Huntington Beach, where he had his first residence.

Like top US clubs from the NBA and NFL, he installed many innovations in the Bayern headquarters; player lounges, family rooms, even an e-learning room for language courses. In the players’ lockers, message boards showed the pros the course of their eight-hour day. Klinsmann had a cinema built with 39 seats, a screen diagonal of 2.8 meters, and five booths for simultaneous interpreters. There was also a library with books by Amos Oz, Oscar Wilde, Kurt Tucholsky, and Thomas Bernhard. It was just cool. Klinsmann wanted to create the complete professional, not only with the ball on his feet, but also with knowledge in his brain. And it all went down very well with the players at first.

On the roof there was a terrace with rattan furniture and an awning, with white and gold Buddha statues lying, and cross-legged. They ensured a certain flow of energy. A river that soon dried up.

The Magic Was Gone Soon

One of the biggest problems was that Klinsi’s assistant coaching team was perceived as too big, too bloated, and above all, too overwhelmed. They came from the 3rd League in the US and couldn’t cope with the Bundesliga. There was noise on all fronts, personal issues, players were demotivated, but most of all, club bosses became angry because there were no results and a really sophisticated tactical concept could not be identified. It has been reported that players had to meet short before kickoff to discuss strategy. So, Klinsmann’s magic soon wore off and he got fired at the end of April 2009.

Long-Term Foundation

One might think that nothing is left from Klinsi’s era in Munich, but it was the exact opposite. Many facilities are still being used, some have been modernized, and some Huntington Beach spirit has slowly spread through the club headquarters.

The Scoreboard Counts

But what was the decisive reason as to why Rummenigge and Hoeness stopped the adventure?

It’s as simple as it is merciless: In professional sports, results are key for business success. More wins, more business – full stop. Besides being in amateur sports, where sponsors (either from public or business sector) have no major focus on financial return, FC Bayern is an extremely successful company. Results on the scoreboard are vital for this success. Otherwise, big sponsors will look around for other clubs.

The scoreboard is what counts in the end for every other business too. Financial results determine the future of the company and the mood of the sponsors (aka shareholders). As innovation is so close to adventure, the human factor plays a significant role in this game. That is the playground of one of the most underestimated business roles in history, the Change Manager.

Innovation, Investor Patience, and Change Management

Innovation is key for any business to survive, and that is what sparked the excitement around Klinsi during his inauguration in 2008, thus explaining the excitement of investors worldwide for innovative companies like Tesla, Amazon or Google. Some or rather few of these companies are able to score on their financial board in their first years, but only a large number can keep their financiers happy despite negative results over years. While suffering losses overtime, the financiers of these innovative companies did not lose faith, but rather increased their investments. FC Bayern could have been more patient with Klinsi’s innovations, but they were not, due to short-term success being a priority for them.

Klinsmann and his team could finally survive for one year before FC Bayern sent them away. Certainly, because basketball coaches are not the right choice for a top European soccer team like FC Bayern; or because media has been handled undiplomatically in some cases, in the end the lesson to remember for any innovator is:

Either you achieve a fast return on investment, or you install a great team of change managers who can keep your back free for years.

Felix Ludosan

Felix Ludosan was a professional basketball player before he joined IBM Germany as a Computer Science graduate in 1995. When “Big Blue” established the Project Management Center of Excellence in 1997, Felix decided to pursue the project management career, as he discovered early that his sports experience was extremely beneficial for this profession, which became a passion for life. He has worked in numerous industries including Automotive, Financial services, Insurance, Government, and Manufacturing.

The 6.5 ft. PMP certified project manager is currently one of the Project Management thought leaders at BASF in Germany, the world’s no. 1. chemical company.

He is also supporting and coaching large initiatives as a Change Manager.

Felix was a speaker at the IIL International Project Management Day 2021.

Felix Ludosan


Disclaimer: The ideas, views, and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of International Institute for Learning or any entities they represent.

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