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Lyall Gorman, Executive Chairman of the Western Sydney Wanderers. Lyall Gorman, Executive Chairman of the Western Sydney Wanderers. Featured

Up front and personal with Western Sydney Wanderers' Lyall Gorman

By Mike Walls

BRAND Western Sydney Wanderers is hot property. In its second season, the club is already selling more football jerseys and recruiting more members than popular NRL clubs the Parramatta Eels and Wests Tigers.

The club has tapped into multicultural western Sydney and is now starting to convert their on-field success into financial strength.

It is not uncommon for fans to spend more $80,000 on new jerseys, scarfs, flags and footballs at games. The club is looking to break through the $2 million mark in merchandising sales this season.

By comparison the Eels and Tigers, two of the most popular NRL clubs, sold $1.75 million and $1.2 million in merchandising in the 2013 season.

According to Football Federation of Australia chief executive David Gallop, the club’s success is due in part to its ability to reach a broad base of fans; where as other codes operate in isolated pockets.

Corporate support for the club has matched their debut season success with revenue growing by 140% to more than $4 million this season: a result only bettered in the A-League by Melbourne Victory.

Much of their appeal in the region can be sourced to their branding and the way they build that brand. They are one of few entities to actually call themselves Western Sydney and people are responding to their organic connection with the cultural values of the region.

The Wanderers had to halt ticketed memberships at 16,400 due to the current capacity of Pirtek Stadium at Parramatta and 1,000 people are on a waiting list.

The club's name, colours, values and culture were decided through supporter forums held in Mount Pritchard, Parramatta, Rooty Hill, Penrith, Castle Hill, Campbelltown and Bankstown.

Wanderers executive chairman, Lyall Gorman is on record as saying the club is community asset not just a football club.

Lyall Gorman spoke to WSBA editor, Mike Walls about the values, priorities and style that have shaped the club’s success and direction.

WSBA: Thanks for your time Lyall. I’ve been talking to a lot of people about the Wanderers and by coincidence there’s been three people just lately that have said – when I mentioned your name - yes I know Lyall very well, very well. Is that by accident that you seem to be known so well, or is it that go out of your way to ensure people know you?

Lyall: No, look, I don't. What I do is try to get out and represent our club, but more importantly put myself in forums when I think I can add – hopefully, add value with the over-arching principles here – and that is, to contribute to the greater good of Western Sydney. If it was ever about me, we’d be in trouble as a club – and you know, I’d have no value so it’s never about me trying to put my profile out there. It’s about making sure our club is visible, but in a positive way so that it’s seen to be a community asset. It’s about making a difference and adding value. And I think you know we have an obligation as professionals to be involved in forum leadership, to be involved in supporting activities that are put on by other people in the community that are working hard. I think we have, you know, a corporate responsibility to be out there critically involved in our community.

WSBA: So Lyall Gorman sees himself as a front person of this organisation and the effectiveness of how it creates relationships is depended on you?

Lyall: Look, and we’ve got a couple of faces obviously in our club. Obviously from a football point of view we’ve got Tony – Tony Popovic – and of course our players – you know, some of our players are very high profile as well. But organisationally, we do have a face here – and that’s me from a corporate perspective. I do encourage the rest of our team and do delegate the rest of our team to get out at functions as well, so they’re also visible – because as I said it can’t be just about me. And I want to encourage others to build profiles and confidence in those arenas as well, and a public presence themselves because the strength of our club is that we really talk about a club, not individuals within it. So we don’t try to narrow it down to one person. But look, from time to time in the media, and in the public presence, we need a face. And that face is me.

WSBA: Are you comfortable with it?

Lyall: Yeah, I’m very comfortable to be out there as the face of the organisation when required. I’m used to handling media. I’m used to working with Government – high levels. You know, where some people might get nervous in certain forums, it’s very much matter of fact and natural for me to do those things. So I have a great level of comfort, yeah.

WSBA: And you think that they’re skills that you’ve honed over the years? Or are you innately inclined that way?

Lyall: Look, I’ve always had the capability to be able to liaise and talk to people at all levels – you know – from Prime Ministers, down. And I’ve had the luxury of having had quite a few roles in my life where I’ve been involved where it does require, you know, significant presence and connection with people in significant roles. So it’s been a part of my DNA for quite a long time.

WSBA: You have a great culture here. I am interested in your values as a leader. Is obedience important to you?

Lyall: It’s never a word that comes into my head – obedience.  I don't know – I’m not even sure I understand what it means. And I’d hate to think that any of our staff came into here feeling like they had to obey something. I mean we do encourage creative thinking, free thinking; an environment where it’s safe to contribute and know that it’s a non-threatening environment in that regard – put ideas into the melting pot. I mean I don't know it all. And what we want to do here is surround ourselves – and we have done – with good quality people with a rich diversity of experience and so on, where we can sit in a forum and test each other and tease each other and stretch each other and challenge each other. So – you know – if I had yes people around me, this organisation wouldn’t be where it is today.  Everyone in here is very up and open for robust debate, robust contribution, but at the same time, absolute mutual respect. So I think respect’s important. I think that really is important – a culture of respect – a culture of trust – a culture of openness – a culture of integrity and honesty – transparency. But more importantly, a culture of where it’s safe to feel like you can express your views and know that we respect it and regard it.

WSBA: That’s not an easy model to build.

Lyall: Well for a start you’ve got to believe in it. And secondly, after that, you’ve got to actually act it yourself. So I have an open door policy in this office and I set up forums deliberately to tease that out and invite people – and you’ll see people growing in here. A fundamental principle for me about a successful organisation is that organisations grow when the people within it are growing – and that’s what’s fundamental to me. So I need to be able to nurture and foster the participation of everyone in here and a contributing and important and key part of our organisation.

WSBA: The club is on the market. I am curious as to how you would transfer those cultural values to a new owner. They’re buying the asset, aren’t they?

Lyall: Well then define the “asset” if that’s the case – because if you think the asset is just a football licence, then we’d have a real challenge. But the asset’s far bigger than a football licence. It is a culture, it is a vision, it is a set of values and a set of – see, for me here, it’s not what we do but it’s the how we do, what we do and why we do it. And that defines our culture. So everything we do is connected to a very clearly defined understanding of our culture and core values. So in any ownership transition – you know, I don't like the word sale – I prefer to think that we’re talking about an ownership transition. There’s got to be caveats in place that preserve the integrity of what this organisation is, what it stands for and how it goes about its business.

WSBA: What do those caveats look like? How do you contractualise that type of caveat?

Lyall: Well what are the not negotiables moving forward. So non-negotiables moving forward would be our strong community programs and engagement focus, I suspect - strongly in my opinion it should be where we play our football, who we are, who we stand up for and sing for. We stand up and sing for the Western Sydney Region. So I wouldn’t see this licence being moved to inner city, for example. You know. So that’s a caveat that protects who we actually proudly represent. I think things like our logo tell our story. So they should be not negotiable. Our colours, you know. We’re very proud of our stripes. And I think they should be built into the future fabric of the club for a long, long time to come. I think you preserve it in personnel. I mean we’re all the carriers of our culture here. We’re all the walkers and talkers of it. And I think you carry it by the continuity of, and succession planning and development of good people that come through when it’s time for others to move on.

WSBA: Are there any potential buyers on the radar that you can talk about?

Lyall: No. not right this minute, you know, we’ve been very focussed on bedding down our season. That work – that ownership transition work – has been outsourced by the FFA to UBS. And they’re just going through a process of trying to tease out the right mix – and it will be a mix – it won’t be an individual. I have no doubt that that is important – that is a mix of – an eclectic mix of you know business acumen, of community acumen. I think people who want to come and own this club need to have a really strong commitment to the region, wholistically – to football, to the club and what it stands for.

WSBA: Is it a good business opportunity, do you think?

Lyall: I’m on record saying this club will be one of the biggest sporting franchises of any code in the country. And I’ll back that statement by making just a few observations. There won’t be another Hyundai League licence given in Western Sydney. And no criticism at all to any other sporting code involved in Western Sydney, we are the only club who can truly and proudly represent the whole of Western Sydney. If you generationally source the 186 languages that are in Western Sydney, you’re going to Asia, Europe, the UK, parts of South America, Africa and so on where football’s the first or second language and a way of life in many homes. We’ve got the largest participant volume of football participants anywhere in the country right here in Western Sydney. The pride and passion and aspiration and ambition of this region are second to none. We’ve built wonderful relationships with government. We’ve got a venue that we plan to enhance and – to bring it up to a level that it needs be at. We need to work with the Government and other stakeholders to reach that level – otherwise we will outgrow it and then we would have a challenge. But I think when you bring all those things together – this, I’m on record as saying is the most remarkable region I’ve had the privilege of ever working in. I think it’s an amazing region. And we’re the only group – sporting group – who can truly stand up and represent it.

WSBA: So all that equals an investment for someone?

Lyall: I think it’s a great investment. I really do. I think investing in Western Sydney is a wonderful investment - not just into football. I mean I’m an advocate of Western Sydney and a passionate one as you know. And I think that the sooner we can start to put in place programs that look at job deficits and look at retaining our intellectual property here and removing some of the social issues of people having to travel into the city to go to work, then so I think we can change the dynamics of our region. We need to add more fabric to it in terms of jobs, in terms of culture and arts, in terms of you know qualities – football stadium, for example, in terms of some infrastructure and give people a chance to enjoy it here by being able to live and work here rather than having to commute an hour into the city each day or, you know, an hour there and an hour back. I think it is starting to become a voice, I think it is starting to get a sense that it’s got a unified voice and identity that is Western Sydney, instead of 14 fragmented local government areas. I think for once we’re starting to actually talk about Western Sydney. I think the Wanderers have been able to contribute to that. We certainly don’t own the outcome. But I think we’ve been able to make a difference from a branding and profile point of view. We’ve already taken our branding to Japan and China, this year – you know, proudly Western Sydney, not just the Wanderers.

WSBA: You’re an experienced executive. What person or situation stands out as a defining inspiration for you?

Lyall: Look, I’ve always looked for role models across a range for forums. Steve Waugh – I mean I really love his sort of slogan of No Regrets. You know.  And how you get to that point – that whatever you do, give it your absolute ultimate and just make sure there’s no stone unturned in anything. So I think in sport he’s been a great. Neville Wran was a very strong mentor for me Anywhere I go I listen, and it doesn’t matter what forum I’m in. And you’ll see me just write down a little something. I always try to hear a core message no matter where you are and no matter who’s talking. I mean I don't live in a bubble. I don't think I know it all by a long shot – and I try to learn something every day. I do go and do professional development programs and so on, to try and stretch and test me. And I make sure we’ve got that in here as well. I think, you know, staff development is really important. You know. People development is really important.

WSBA: Talking about people, I’d like to ask you to define your likes and dislikes. If we look at two sides – one side you’ve got three qualities in a person you most admire or are attracted to and on the other you’ve got the three qualities in a person that repel you, which you don't like. So let’s start with the positive first.

Lyall: Well on the positive side for me, “can do” is important to me. I really respect and admire people who look at something and go:  Oh yeah, we can do that.  I’m not sure we know how to just yet.  But I think a “can do” attitude is really important. I think a sense of contribution – see, for me, level 5 leaders – if you go into some of the work that Collins does – you know – Good to Great and those sort of books and so on – level 5 leadership – the really good level 5 leaders – the distinction between them and level 4 is a space where they’re there for the greater good, to contribute and make a difference and leave a legacy – leave them richer for you having been there and having touched it. So I think that is really important as a leader.  It’s not about me. People who think laterally and then get outside the square, I think really excites me as well. So, you know, if I come across somebody with those sort of sets, I’m drawn to them.

WSBA: And what about the qualities you don’t like?

Lyall: I don't like loud; people who are all about me – you know, about them. I just don’t like that. I mean I’m a team player. So I think team – if you went back to your top three, I think team you know fits in there somewhere as being really important. A sense of team and a sense of the sum of the parts being the key – and not one of the parts; I never ever can operate in a world that’s not transparent. So I need transparency.

WSBA: So politics isn’t for you?

Lyall: Look, it’s interesting you ask that, because I’ve been asked quite a few times about politics. I have been asked quite a few times. Yeah, I’ve got the belief and the confidence; I could have been a good politician. But I would have been one who was in there seeking to create real change. And probably the challenge for me would have been always – you know – being coerced to toe the party line rather than just do what’s right and best for the economy. So it’s the same here when we talk about the other sporting codes out there. My simple view is rising tides raise all ships. And if we’ve got a great Giants and a great Eels and a great Panthers and West Tigers and Thunder and all those sorts of things, we all grow – you know – our region grows. They still compete though – throughout the years.

WSBA: So you would not rule out a transition to politics?

Lyall: No, I never rule anything out in my life. I’ve learnt not to. I think the day we rule things out is the day we stop growing and, you know, contributing. I’m here to make a difference for as long as I can and no matter what I’m doing.


Michael Walls
0407 783 413

Access News is a print and digital media publisher established over 15 years and based in Western Sydney, Australia. Our newspaper titles include the flagship publication, Western Sydney Express, which is a trusted source of information and for hundreds of thousands of decision makers, businesspeople and residents looking for insights into the people, projects, opportunities and networks that shape Australia's fastest growing region - Greater Western Sydney.