BCFC: Replacing Dong

Less than 72 hours after the Championship season ended, Birmingham City announced that embattled CEO Ren Xuandong was to step down from his role with immediate effect. The immediate reaction online from Blues fans was of one of almost universal happiness that Ren is gone from the club.

Birmingham City FC

I’m not going to lie and say I knew it was going to happen.  

When I got a text from a friend who had seen the statement as it was posted online, I thought he was playing a prank on me; I was shocked that it was legitimate. 

Like others I felt elation; in honesty I felt some vindication too. Recent weeks have been consumed with legal issues due to Ren’s unhappiness with one of my previous articles on this site; issues that I hope have now come to an end. 

But those feelings are fleeting, and the reality of the situation soon kicked back in. 

Whoever comes in to replace Ren inherits a whole host of problems to deal with.  

The club must not only ensure repairs to the Tilton and Kop stands are completed as quickly as possible, but how to deal with the return of fans after the coronavirus pandemic.  

There has been no news on season ticket sales or ticket allocations, no idea of how a reduced capacity might work with potential social distancing restrictions and stand closure at the start of the season. 

Equally, there has been no news on how the club’s attempt to secure Category 1 status for the academy has fared; or for that matter confirmation that the academy will continue as usual next season. 

There are other senior roles at the club to fill as well.  

The departure of club secretary Ciara Gallagher means that Blues are currently without two of the most important roles for negotiating contracts for players and staff. 

Potentially, the biggest role that needs filling is the one of figurehead.  

Regardless of the perception of how Ren fulfilled his role as CEO, there is no disputing that he was a very visible figurehead for the current ownership regime.  

I can’t see Birmingham Sports Holdings Chairman Zhao Wenqing wanting that kind of attention while director Edward Zheng Gannan has already found himself at the wrong end of a fan interaction on Twitter once before. That leaves Shayne Wang Yao of the Birmingham-based directors and based on personal observation I can’t see him filling the figurehead role either. 

It’s not just important for fans to have someone who is identifiable as leadership at the club either. 

I think that it’s important for staff behind the scenes at the club to have an identifiable boss too. While it’s probably true that senior management can pick up some of the slack following Ren’s departure and that some of his tasks can be delegated downwards, I think as with any organisation there needs to be someone who is seen as the ultimate arbiter.  

Although Zhao has been physically present in Birmingham for more than a year due to factors such as the pandemic, I do wonder if he wants to tie himself to the club in that manner. As Chairman of BSH, Zhao has obligations to other subsidiaries and while Blues remains as the largest part of the company that is slowly waning. 

I guess the biggest question is if “an outsider” is brought in as a replacement. 

I’ve spoken long about how important trust is for the powers that be at the top, and I think that what happens next will help confirm just how much trust the owners have in people from outside their circle. 

If a new CEO comes in without any identifiable previous connections to the Blues ownership then it might be that there has been a realisation that not everything can be done “in house”.  

However, a replacement CEO with connections to the ownership regime, or no replacement at all would only confirm just how much distrust there is. 

We have to hope for a new CEO who is brought in thanks to what they know rather than who they know. The alternative could undo some of the goodwill felt towards the board and ownership following today’s news.