The West Coast Eagles is a complex business and the AFL is not just about winning, says chairman Russell Gibbs.
Gibbs, who is also the CEO of property management company Hawaiian, spoke exclusively to The Guide in the lead-up to his appearance at the CCI Lighthouse Leadership Series on 23 March.
On the club’s board since 2011, and chairman since last November, Gibbs is also a director of St Ives Group, a director of Satterley Property Group and on the Murdoch University Foundation board.
He will share insights into how the club operates as an organisation and its wider impact on the community.
“Even though you do all the homework, you can’t really understand how big the organisation is and how impactful it is on the community,” he says.
“One of the key drivers for me joining the board was that, while I played footy, love watching footy and like being on boards, it was the fact that when you walk around the ground sitting altogether are male and female, young and old, black and white, Asian and Caucasian, abled and disabled, rich and poor . . . they’re all gathered together to watch this funny little game called football.
“If any other organisation or political group could have that cut-through in the community, they’d absolutely wish they could.
“To me it was like, this is an amazing organisation that actually can speak to all of those people and have a positive impact on them, not just by winning games of footy, but how we present ourselves as an organisation.”
Now into his sixth year on the board, Gibbs says he’s sat with some “interesting characters” such as Alan Cransberg, Chris Wharton (Seven West Media) and Maryna Fewster (iiNet).
He says the club ranges from stalwarts to teenagers and admits you can’t always get it right when selecting who will present the best image for the organisation.
“I see the football club as everyone, everyone who is a supporter or a sponsor or a member, we are all part of one,” he says.
“Within the executive group—the people who are paid by the club, bear in mind you’ve got young guys who are living for the first time out of home that at 17 years old—probably never been paid money, and they come to the system.
“They don’t get paid a lot when they come into the system, but in two to three years they might be earning 200,000 to 300,000 bucks.
“As a club we do look carefully at not just their skills but also their character. I’d trade off, to be honest, skills for good character. But you can’t always get that right. And they’re young and they’re learning.
“So it is a professional organisation, but we can always do better.”
Gibbs says with the AFL Commission striving to strengthen competitive balance between teams in the competition, the chances of winning premierships is decreasing.
“So winning three premierships in 30 years is more than our fair share. Fremantle obviously haven’t won anything.
“Part of sustainability is us understanding what we do. You are always striving to win and be better, but the nature of how the game is controlled, and I don’t in any way criticise it, is very much about equalisation.
“We have to think about that as an organisation more than purely winning games of football. You’ve got to be part of the family and feel like you’re engaged or have a sense of ownership. We’ve got to give people that opportunity to have that sense of ownership of the club.”
He says the new $60million training facility now being built at Lathlain Park will bring the team closer to the community.
►Register to CCI’s Lighthouse Leadership Series to hear Russell Gibbs share his leadership insights and vision for the club.