Real Life

This post is long overdue.  More or less complete for weeks, it sat patiently and waited until things settled down.  Ironically, it was Real Life itself that got in its way and temporarily trumped all.  Real Life is all around us.

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The Irony of Diversion

You are not alone if you look to sports and entertainment for stress-relieving diversion.  Diversion from what?  Typically this answer involves the opportunity to cut loose, be ourselves, or do something –  anything other than deal with the pressures of the work world for just a few hours. Where we go to seek refuge from the storm, it’s an after-hours, off the clock kind of thing…a temporary breather from Real Life.

It’s often said that the entertainment industry, particularly sports and music, is a “tough business”.  As we seek our diversionary fixes, it is certainly easy to forget this.  Perhaps it’s even desirable, as we refuse to allow mere facts to contaminate our wells of enjoyment.  As you rock out or cheer for your favorite team, don’t look too closely.  Why not? Because the closer you look, the more your diversions take on familiar themes of  reality.  They begin to resemble Real Life.

“And The Cradle Will Rock”

Take the rock band Van Halen as our first example. Frequently over the years, I have referred to this rock and roll mainstay as the “ultimate family business”.  Here’s why.  Two brothers – Eddie on guitar and Alex on drums – form a band. The quartet’s breakout 1978 line-up also included two non-family members – an obviously self-assured lead vocalist named David Lee Roth and rock-solid bassist Michael Anthony. Things go quite well for many years as the family biz grows and becomes very successful financially.  We’ve seen this type of success story before. This is Real Life.

So, the two Van Halen brothers and the two non-family members rock out/on.  One of their songs, “And The Cradle will Rock” foreshadows their future as the Van Halen brothers “hit the street at an early age, eventually wind up tired with who they meet, and then they’re unemployed”.    No, not the brothers.  Of course not.  Rather, it’s the two non-family members whose employment with the ultimate family business is terminated. Ever seen that happen before in a family business?  Of course you have. The cradle will rock, does rock, and eventually someone falls out.   Usually not the family members. Again, that’s just Real Life.

Non-Family Employee Exits

Exploring the Van Halen case further, we see that the oft-described “ego-driven” lead singer Roth may have indeed been the front man who was eventually seen by the brothers as being just a little too big for his britches within their family biz. Eventually they went through a few more vocalists after Roth – not finding exactly what or who they wanted or running into the same type of thing again – before hiring Roth back into the fold to, you guessed it – make more money.  This directly relates to what I’ve seen in the family biz world where a very successful (often charismatic) Sales VP analogously is seen by ownership as being too high-profile. This is a sure-fire kiss of death leading to an ego-driven demise.  See, these  two positions really can be similar – lead singer in Van Halen or Sales VP in a family biz.   Ironically, the attributes that the businesses initially sought in hiring a lead singer or Sales VP become the exit interview scripts. That’s Real Life.

With bassist Michael Anthony, it took a lot longer for his exit to materialize.  Widely assessed as a solid block of granite underlying the band’s signature sound, Anthony was eventually replaced by next generation Van Halen progeny after 22 years of employment with the family biz.  Specifically, Eddie’s son Wolfie (Alex’s nephew) replaced Anthony on bass.   This also directly parallels what I’ve seen in family biz.  Oh you play the bass, that’s what our Wolfie plays, and we only need one of those.  We’re sorry.  You have to leave.  Anthony has said that he learned of his dismissal via the internet.  All of this is very believable.  After all, it’s Real Life.

Changing gears, we now move to a second illustration of how our diversionary pursuits mirror Real Life.

Fly Eagles Fly

Jeffrey and Christina Lurie bought the Philadelphia Eagles NFL franchise for $195 million in 1994.  This just in – it’s worth a lot more now. Don’t be fooled by these big numbers, as this NFL franchise behaves a lot like the family business it really is.  Like many family businesses who enjoy rapid success runs, sometimes they lose their way for a while.  That’s Real Life.

With no background in professional sports, the Luries made some good upfront choices. First and foremost, whether on purpose or via lady luck, they made their investment in a city with an extremely committed fan base that was starved for improved product after many years of at best mediocrity under former owner Norman Braman’s regime.  Hiring Joe Banner (think CFO, not football) to handle all things business and Andy Reid (think COO, think football) as Head Coach set the investment up well for its upward trajectory on the field and in the owners’ equity scorecard.  Things really went very well for a while, but then the same old formula stopped producing stellar results.  Things were changing, but the people running this particular business kept doing the same things.  Yep, all too often, that’s Real Life. 

Mistakes Made on the Blind Side

To their credit, the Luries appear not to have meddled in football matters or micro managed as their investment value has grown. They avoided this classic entrepreneurial trap and bestowed great trust, power, and authority in Banner and Reid as key hires.  In the case of Banner, he quickly became known as a salary cap guru as he tightly negotiated all key player contracts, managed merchandising to new levels of success, and ultimately was set forth as the face of the franchise.  Oops, there’s a mistake.  Extending beyond Banner’s seemingly natural propensity to rub customers (fans) the wrong way, he really never ever really recovered in a PR sense from using 9/11 as the timing and security justification to ban outside food items from the stadium on game day.  This became known as “Hoagie Gate” and really defined Joe’s relationship with the fan base.  With more exposure as the face of the franchise, it only got worse.  Extending a talented employee’s roles and responsibilities into a customer-facing role that extends beyond the employee’s capabilities and skill set is a very bad move.  We see businesses do this all too often in Real Life.

As time marched on and the NFL changed, it seems that the Eagles began to always know better than anyone else and see things that eluded the intellectual capacities of mere mortals.  Self-declared by Jeffrey Lurie as “the gold standard”, they knew better.  Not just about one thing, but about everything.  With assumed impunity, they made moves that ran counter to football logic.  One was to take the offensive line coach and make him the defensive coordinator.  Logic goes like this…Sure, we have a very good inventory control manager, so let’s promote her to VP of Marketing,  Experts and fans alike said it wouldn’t work, and it didn’t.  Another mistake was to let a new defensive line coach bully his bosses into employing the “Wide-9”, which again, predictably did not work well at all for the team.  Also fueling the team’s uncharacteristically terrible on the field performance was placing lawyer turned football GM Howie Roseman at the helm of drafting and talent evaluation. So if these mistakes were so obvious to everyone else, why did the Eagles make them if they really new better than anyone else?  Unfortunately, the Eagles do not have the monopoly on having these blind side issues. We see it all the time in Real Life.

The People Side of the Game

Eagles Head Coach Andy Reid suffered enormous tragedy during the team’s most recent training camp.   Andy’s son Garrett died while working as an assistant in the team’s strength and conditioning area.  As has been widely reported, the death was drug-related.  Ever the work-focused NFL coach that he is, Andy soldiered on and definitely did not take a step back or apparently reprioritize how he viewed his bigger picture life’s portfolio.  He dove right back in for what ultimately became a disastrous season that cost him his job.  Being an established and respected NFL coach, he landed a new job within days after being terminated by Jeffrey Lurie.  As Jeffrey Lurie spoke at the press conference announcing the firing, it sounded more like a gushing eulogy than a termination announcement.   Lurie was the guy who fired Reid and he’s going on about how great Coach Reid’s 14 years with the team had been?  If you’ve been around awhile, you’ve seen this one too in Real Life.

Former Eagles coach Andy Reid is a football man through and through.  He works very hard at what he does and has enjoyed more success, occupationally and financially, than all but the smallest slice of the world’s population.  By all appearances, he is a solid citizen with many more functional values than most of the folks who work for him and than many of his peers.  While Andy takes all this good stuff with him to his new job in Kansas City; one  cannot help but wonder how he views the tragedy and adversity within his family in relation to the 24/7 – 365 demands of his job and attendant lifestyle of being an NFL coach.  Success at what cost? Some things aren’t worth all the money in the world, and that’s Real Life.

Real Life is everywhere.  It’s all around us.

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