Business

Leicester City's business secrets

Danny Simpson, Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez Image copyright PA
Image caption Leicester City's achievement is an inspiration to business underdogs everywhere

An indie taking on the majors. A small start-up challenging the corporations. Leicester City's Premier League title win could hold lessons for companies at large.

The football club's remarkable rise to glory shows that even a firm with a 132-year history can behave like the new kid on the block.

And as a chief executive who has turned around an ailing brand, manager Claudio Ranieri has earned the right to be respected as a business leader.

So, as the Foxes lift the cup, what's the secret of his success and how can it work for others?

1: You don't need to throw money at the problem

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Image caption Leicester City's squad only cost about £54m - that's cheap by Premiership standards

As Deloitte's annual Football Money League regularly reveals, the game is dominated by big-spending teams.

And that spending usually pays off, with a small group of clubs exercising a virtual stranglehold on football's top trophies.

It is 21 years since any team other than Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City or Manchester United won the Premier League.

But Ranieri has flown in the face of financial logic and managed to build excellence on a budget.

The entire Leicester City squad cost about £54m to acquire. By contrast, Manchester City spent that entire sum on just one player, midfielder Kevin De Bruyne.

2: Get the right people around you

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Image caption Claudio Ranieri brought in Paolo Benetti as coach, but kept the club's existing staff

Ranieri might have been expected to make a clean sweep of the club's existing staff and bring in his own men - especially given his nickname of "the Tinkerman" that he acquired while at the helm of Chelsea.

But instead, he kept them in place, with the addition of fellow Italian Paolo Benetti.

Lee Biggins, founder and managing director of CV Library, the UK's third-largest jobseekers website, says it is very pleasing to see Leicester and Ranieri be so successful without resorting to simply spending a fortune on star players.

"You don't need the biggest names in either football or business to create a successful team, as Claudio Ranieri will tell you," says Mr Biggins.

"CV Library as a business is built on connecting people and employers, so it's something I take very seriously within the company itself.

"From finding a business partner who complemented my weaknesses when starting out in 2000, to filling an entry-level position in the company today, I believe it's critical to focus on what a business or football club needs, how that individual can contribute to the bottom line, and how well they'll work with the existing team.

"I whole-heartedly believe superstars are created from within."

3: Create the right culture

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Image caption Midway through the season, Claudio Ranieri changed the set-up of his team's defence

Ranieri has had the right staff, but his own personality has made a big difference. Sports pundits are forever observing that unlike many football managers, he is actually a very likeable man.

And as management experts have noted, he got the big decisions right, adapting tactics to suit the occasion.

"[Leicester's] start to the season was notable for cavalier football, winning matches despite conceding goals, and they found themselves towards the top of the league," says Kieran Maguire of Liverpool University's management school.

"When Ranieri realised that success for Leicester was a possibility, he made a tactical masterstroke, and converted them from cavaliers to roundheads.

"He changed the set-up of the defence, and a team that didn't have a clean sheet in its first 11 games of the season has had nine of them since the start of January.

"This is an example of management identifying issues before they get out of hand and finding solutions so that they don't impact upon the goals."

4: Do the maths

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Image caption Leicester have been using data analytics to improve their performance

The facts and figures surrounding Leicester's win are fascinating in themselves. Much has been made of the fact that at the start of the season, their odds of winning the League were quoted at 5,000 to 1.

But data analysis is also something that the Foxes use to improve the team's performance.

Players are given individual summaries of how well they played after each match, including the number of tackles, the amount of distance they covered on the pitch and other number-crunching nuggets.

They are also monitored in training sessions by means of wearable technology, providing information about their general fitness and levels of stamina.

But Ranieri is obviously careful not to react too hastily to the data, since he has largely avoided micro-managing his squad.

Another key piece of data: Ranieri has used the same players in the same positions more than any other Premier League team this season. So much for his Tinkerman reputation.

5: Create the right incentives

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Image caption Claudio Ranieri promised his team pizza if they stopped their opponents from scoring

Part of that cavalier-to-roundhead shift in tactics was about trying to stop the team conceding so many goals.

As a means of giving the players a reason to tighten up their defence, Ranieri promised them pizza if they could get through a match without letting the other side score.

After they achieved that aim by beating Crystal Palace 1-0 in October last year, he treated them to an afternoon at local restaurant Peter Pizzeria. He repeated the trick at San Carlo Pizzeria after the League win was confirmed.

In fact, the pizza paradigm is an important part of Ranieri's management style. As he recently said: "A little bit of luck is important. Luck is the salt, the fans are the tomato - with no tomato, there is no pizza."

Ranieri has worked to boost team morale in other ways too. His reluctance to chop and change the line-up has given players greater security, as has his determination to enforce rest days.

In March, he even allowed them a week off to travel anywhere they wanted - an unheard-of luxury in the middle of the season.

Fortunately, the players were sufficiently motivated not to abuse this goodwill gesture and continued to wear their monitors, so that club staff could tell they were still in peak form.

6: Don't forget your mum's birthday!

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Image caption Mr Ranieri made sure he was in Italy for his mother's 96th birthday

No matter how high-pressure your job is, always make time for your family.

As Leicester's chances of clinching the Premier League title remained in the balance, Ranieri jetted off to his native Rome to have lunch with his mother Renata on her 96th birthday.

On that Monday, the Foxes' success was sealed when Tottenham Hotspur failed to beat Chelsea, with the match ending in a 2-2 draw.

But he managed to get home in time to see the outcome and enjoy the thrill of the team's achievement.

"The job is good," he observed to reporters - something of an understatement from the man whose success will doubtless prove an inspiration to businesses everywhere.

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