Open House Reflections: FEA

Tuesday night saw Birmingham City hold their second Open House event which carried the theme of “Ambition”. The event was an opportunity for Chairman Tom Wagner and CEO Garry Cook to share plans for the club over the next five or six seasons including the outline of the move to the Birmingham Wheels Site.

Open House

Like the first Open House, this was mind-blowing stuff. While there were fewer people speaking than last time, the details offered were astounding and served only to show how far Knighthead believe they can take the club before 2030.

There is no way I can put all the detail into one piece on this website; the notes I took alone run to nearly 2,000 words.

With this in mind I think it’s best I share in the immediate aftermath of the event my thoughts on what was spoken about and leave the detail for further pieces to come where I can add in additional bits from my own notes and research.

Garry Cook

Garry Cook


One of the things that has impressed me most since Knighthead have come in is the sheer level of competence the new board offer and Garry Cook is no exception. As CEO it’s Cook’s job to be the guy who leads the staff at the club to implement the vision of the owners.

Tuesday has been kind of weird for me, because the Open House was the second presentation I had watched where a CEO outlined a vision for a company including a massive new acquisition.

In my day job, I work for a huge American company as one of nearly 30,000 staff worldwide.

The company I work for has a culture of communication with its staff and regularly hosts “all hands” and “town hall” meetings where staff can watch (either in person or remotely) a presentation by various c-suite level staff including the CEO about the direction of the company.

We had one of those “town hall” meetings online on Tuesday afternoon where our CEO talked about a huge new acquisition made by the company, what it meant and how it was going to take us forward.

When Cook introduced his “one pager” summarising the vision for Blues and the pillars on which it is based, it was extremely similar to the one I’d watched earlier and about as impressive in ambition and vision.

Both presentations echoed the same pattern.

They both had a big goal for the company as a vision, with benchmarked aims of progression and every single action being made by the company being able to be linked to those aims.

What makes this comparison impressive is that Blues are a tiny company in comparison to the one I work for; £18M versus £12B of yearly revenue.

Yet to be able to work to the same incredibly high standards that you would need to be to be a CEO of a multi-billion dollar company should speak volumes of just how good Cook is at his job.

Likewise, it’s clear that Cook has been instrumental in helping to bring on board partners like Oak View Group, Levy UK and Nike who will help take the club forward.

While some probably won’t ever forgive Cook for his statement when Rooney was appointed, I think there needs to be a sense of perspective about that error of judgement in the grand scheme of things.

One of the hardest things we have to do as Blues fans is to not worry about the next few weeks on the pitch because whatever happens, it’s clear nothing is going to be affected in the bigger picture.

Tom Wagner

Tom Wagner

If I’m honest, I need to be careful what I write about Tom Wagner, as enraptured as I am about the way he spoke.

It’s evident that he has got to the position he has because he’s an incredibly intelligent guy who has the charisma to make people believe in him and trust in his ideas.

It’s really weird for me personally. I’m self-aware enough to know that I’m often deeply cynical about things, yet it was hard not to feel emotion when Wagner spoke.

I know that it’s a cliché but I truly believe Wagner “gets” us as Blues fans.

When I say that I don’t mean he leads the chorus of Keep Right On or some bollocks like that.

I mean that somehow Wagner understands the kind of jokes to make and when to make them to get Blues fans laughing, when to be utterly sincere because a point is close to Blues fans’ hearts and when to be bold so that Blues fans will follow him.

I mean, imagine telling us his attitude to people who are “haters” or are overly negative is FEA – fuck ‘em all.

The sheer emotional intelligence to understand that all we want from a leader is not only someone who will try and make our club better for us but will tell the world to Foxtrot Oscar when they try to badmouth us.

And yet underneath that warm style, there remains the cold and ruthless competence underneath.

There is that single track belief that to succeed we must bring in more revenue to spend on the club, and to bring in that revenue the knowledge that they must do something to convince not only fans but business partners as well that they need to be a part of the project.

It’s clear to me Wagner is listening to what fans say online too.

He made it clear that they didn’t want to increase ticket prices because he knew that wouldn’t work.

Wagner also made it clear he knew that the club had to show fans that it was worth investing their time and money in the club.

And after the speech he gave this evening, the only way I think we can say thanks is to vote with our feet and pack the ground out.

The Q&A

The question-and-answer session was markedly different from last time in that it was a lot longer, and was open mic. No vetting of fans, no vetting of questions – just Wagner and Cook answering what came their way as they came.

I will admit, it had me slightly worried.

There were a couple of moments which were on the edge of being iffy as a couple of fans almost talked themselves into a hole they couldn’t get out of.

And as someone who asked a question, I can tell you it’s a bit scary. I can normally jabber on for England when I’m on form but I felt the words dry up when the eyes were on me.

I actually departed from the question I wrote in my article on Monday because I thought Wagner had covered it in his speech but showing that he does read what is written online he circled back to it after I asked about Academy / u21 coverage.

Wagner’s answer was about perfect too.

He said the thing he’d learned most was not to underestimate the power of forward momentum.

My inference from that was that Wagner understood why the timing of sacking Eustace was so off; that when things are on a roll in football sometimes you have to let them roll on even though you’d planned for something else.

While some fans might harp on about the same old faces being in the crowd, I don’t think that was the case.

Many questions from the near 200 people who packed out the Jasper Carrott Suite came from fans I hadn’t seen at this sort of thing before – and while there were some that I think were to be expected there was some proper insightful stuff too.

I’m hopeful that going forwards, there will be a slight tweak to the Q&A session whereby they will go to a system akin to Question Time.

By this, I mean using pre-selected questions as “discussion starters”, and then taking hands from the audience to ask follow up / reaction type questions to continue the discussion further.

That way there is some direction of discussion but fans can still pick up on things that are said for clarification and confirmation.

It’d also be great if they could set up the live stream so that people following can submit questions via a form to be asked, thus improving the overall inclusion and interactivity of the evening.

Over the next few days I’m going to write in more detail about the plans for St Andrew’s, the detail on the new stadium and the ideas for improved fan engagement.

The most important thing right now is that the club has moved forwards, and that there are exciting times ahead of us.

The words being spoken have been backed up by money – £33m spent on St Andrew’s, Wast Hills and EPIC and I believe as much as £50m on the land that will become the new Sports Quarter.

Blues are on the rise. Believe it.

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