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The Dockers catch globalisation

THE wreckage left after last week’s blood-letting at the Fremantle Dockers is a graphic illustration of the challenges facing a WA-based organisation trying to mix it in the big league.

Having cut Damien Drum loose, and had chief executive officer David Hatt resign, the board has the herculean task of finding replacements for the club’s two most critical positions. In the AFL, just like in any other super competitive environment, there are big rewards for getting it right and disaster if you don’t.

It is the same in any globalised, knowledge-intensive sector. And while football may not be a global game, it certainly is as competitive as any international business, and there is no doubt there is plenty of knowledge required – from a club’s marketing to game-day tactics to managing team psychology.

So, without the administrative and team leadership, the Dockers could be facing a future in which they become the most reliable selection on anyone’s weekly tipping sheet for the foreseeable future – for all the wrong reasons.

Speculation about candidates for both positions has immediately focused on interstate possibilities.

There is no real surprise in this, as there is no surprise in the realisation that, if such a move had been made a decade ago, it would have provoked parochial opposition.

It is implicit acknowledgment of the changing world we are in. In football it is accepted that, for a WA team to be competitive, it has to have leaders who have been schooled among the big boys.

And for businesses which are slugging it out in globalised markets – and if that isn’t the case today it will be tomorrow – the same situation applies.

So if you have come to the end of your playing career with the Eagles or Dockers, and for some reason you have ambitions to coach, then pack the bags and move east. Ken Judge did it, John Worsfold is over there, along with many other Western Australians.

But an interesting aspect to some of the early press speculation has been the apparent reluctance of many of these prodigal sons to return.

Obviously it is early days yet and there is plenty of horse trading that has to be done before the positions are filled, but it does raise the question about the capacity of WA organisations to attract the kind of talent they need to be competitive.

Whether that talent is home grown or not, the reasons for pulling up stakes and making the move west across the Nullarbor are not as compelling as they once were.

You would have to say that accepting a job with the Dockers in such a competitive environment would have to count as a “courageous”, possibly a (career) suicidal move.

The US economist Michael Porter says that, in any industry which is very competitive and which produces goods and services that can be easily moved, the tendency will be for the companies in that sector to congregate in particular centres around the world.

Those outside the centres will be perennially weak due to lack of contact with leading-edge research and ideas, customers, difficulty in attracting the best staff, distance from the best suppliers … the list goes on.

It is a challenging scenario. Deregulation of markets, improved distribution systems and the networking of the world are all ensuring that Porter’s criteria for greater concentration of location are trickling through industry after industry.

The myth that being connected means we can now do anything anywhere is just that – a myth.

Location matters for the Dockers. The club is rusted on to Fremantle. But for other promising companies and individuals it may be painful leaving WA, or Australia.

But it also may be the only way to get to be world class.

There are clearly many sectors where we have huge opportunities, but they will take some shrewd and insightful thinking to sustain and build. Just as with the Dockers, that will probably mean charting a different course, finding a local solution built for global conditions.

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