Date: 14th January 2021 at 6:42pm
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In his article earlier, Phil Mac Giolla Bhain quoted one of my favourite films; Margin Call.

I am going to expand on his ever-excellent work, because I thought the central point of that piece was important and should be explored further.

Phil and I have talked a lot about that movie, so I know it well.

We’ve discussed its writing, its acting and the tremendous dilemma at the heart of the story; what do you do if you know that the business you’re in is about to collapse?

What’s the right course of action to take?

The man who provides that answer is played by the always magnificent Jeremy Irons.

The part of the movie which Phil quotes is the bit where Irons announces to a hushed, awed board meeting why he is the highest paid person in the room, the guy at the top of the table.

What special skill does he have, this man who tells the young analyst who’s figured things out to “speak to me as if I were a young child, or a golden retriever … it wasn’t brains that got me here, I can assure you of that”?

Once the analyst has told Irons what he thinks, the powerful CEO gets to his feet and using a simple analogy about musical chairs, he delivers a monologue which leaves them stunned.

“I’m here for one reason alone,” he tells the board. “I’m here to guess what the music might do a week, a month, a year from now. That’s it. Nothing more. And standing here tonight, I’m afraid I don’t hear a thing. Nothing. Just silence.”

And that’s the ball game.

That’s where his value lies.

He sees, in that moment, when no-one else can, that the music isn’t slowing down, as his young analyst, and his entire board of directors, believes; it has stopped entirely, and because he is that one step quicker, that one step ahead, they have a short window in which to act, if they are prepared to be ruthless.

As Phil pointed out today, Lawwell talked yesterday about the benefit of hindsight.

But this is where a man like Lawwell is useless in his role.

Because Lawwell doesn’t possess that uncanny skillset of being able to see where the road is leading. He doesn’t have the talent to recognise a crisis before it hits us over the head. A man in his position, on his salary, isn’t being paid for hindsight; you could get the average guy off the street to work on that basis.

Lawwell is paid to have foresight. And he doesn’t.

And in case anyone thinks that “oh this is just a movie, what are you on about?” and believes it has no greater relevance, the film is based on the historical fates of two firms, Goldman Sachs and Lehman Brothers.

Irons’ name in the movie, John Tuld, is a not very well disguised reference to Richard Fuld, the top man at Lehman.

They went under because Fuld didn’t move fast enough.

Think of Fuld as the Peter Lawwell of our story.

Fuld was too slow out of the gate, misjudged his company’s strength and ended up seeing it all crash to the tarmac.

Irons’ character’s actual real life counterpart is Lloyd Blankfein, who was the head boy at Goldman.

What he did is even more important to understanding where Lawwell falls short than the idea that a great CEO is one who can read the lay of the land.

Irons’ character is not joking when he tells the boardroom that brains aren’t what got him to the big chair.

The great CEO’s are the ones who know they don’t know everything.

They are fantastic at delegating, and they listen to the people around them.

They are not great at putting together information but they synthesise it superbly, and most importantly they act on it without reservation. They are decision makers, brilliant decision makers.

Blankfein knew the markets were in big trouble, and when two of his best analysts presented him with a plan to dump as much toxic debt as possible before the rest caught up, he didn’t waste time trying to come up with a better idea or procrastinating on the unfairness of it all.

He swiftly put their plan into action and his company survived whilst Fuld’s collapsed.

Lawwell thinks he’s the smartest guy in the room.

He doesn’t believe any idea is valid unless he comes up with it.

He interferes in areas which are not his purview and where he has no expertise.

I don’t use the word arrogant when I talk about him as an insult; I use it because his arrogance is a fact and it is a big, big problem for us.

Lawwell’s inability to spot problems before they arise is evident everywhere.

His appointment of Lennon is one example, but even within the example are other examples.

The announcement that he was appointed in the shower room, after a five minute “board meeting” conjures up a visual of such crass unprofessionalism it blows your mind. The throwaway comment about the club not bothering about the other candidate’s applications is astounding, when we realise that those people will certainly not want the job in the future.

Or not whilst Lawwell is there anyway.

Nobody in his position would ever have uttered such stupid words, nor the ones he uttered last night when, in the midst of his excuse making video, he said our club had probably suffered from the virus crisis more than most.

On the same day, as it turns out, that lower league clubs had convened a meeting to beg for their share of government funds.

You could not make that up.

Lawwell worked with Lennon before, and he would have had to study his weaknesses at Bolton and Hibs.

Apparently he never realised those problems could emerge at Celtic.

Lawwell watched one club from Ibrox spend money it didn’t have, and thus win titles it otherwise would never have challenged for; it didn’t dawn on him that the same mind set was apparent at Ibrox again and might have the same result?

This blog and others have been screaming about that risk for the last five or so years in our articles about the need for Financial Fair Play.

They say that hindsight is a wonderful thing; that is an ironical statement, not a straight up one.

Because hindsight is useless.

It changes nothing.

What you want is someone who can recognise the dynamics of a given situation and act on them.

Top CEO’s would never have allowed us to flail around like this, embroiling ourselves in one crisis after another, one PR reversal after another, one disastrous turn of events after another.

Lawwell doesn’t even seem to realise that Lennon has shot it and needs to be replaced.

This guy has run out his string.

Phil’s piece this morning was excellent because it found the perfect analogy to explore the crucial skillset which the last few months have shown Lawwell doesn’t possess and it’s a skillset which no major CEO should be without.

Lawwell’s reputation has always been far greater than his capabilities.

Those who doubt it should watch Margin Call and note the difference.

Celtic is in the kind of crisis that football clubs cope with every single day. You have a failing manager? Replace him. You are messing up on the PR front? Bring in people who know what they are doing to handle it.

We are like a rabbit caught in the headlights.

Even when he went on camera to answer softball questions the other day he managed to make matters worse and ensure another day of disastrous headlines. I wouldn’t even have thought that was possible.

At Celtic, this season has unravelled in spectacular fashion. Before the club can send out season ticket renewal forms, the music is going to have to stop. When it does, Lawwell will almost certainly find himself without a chair.