Three Words with ...
GamePlan A sat down with goalkeeping legend turned businessman, Edwin van der Sar, to discuss his ambitions for one of the most successful football clubs in the world.
The former Fulham, Juventus, Manchester United and of course Ajax player is one of the most decorated keepers in history, winning 27 major trophies in his career. He’s now focused on raising the game of Ajax, both on and off the pitch.
Because of the way Ajax played and Holland played, they used the goalkeeper to push forward. That’s why I always focused on making sure that everything was in front of me and I could organize and make sure that the defense and midfield was always in place”.
Van der Sar spent four years as Marketing Director of Ajax before moving into the role of CEO two years ago. During this time he’s recognized the importance of development – both for the club in terms of youth teams, and that valuable talent pipeline – and his own development as business leader.
“Initially I thought, ‘Okay, you’re going to learn so much on the job’, and that was the case for the first couple of years, but I also want to learn from others. That’s what I’m (now) getting at Harvard Business School – different ideas and perspectives. Professors who are challenging and creative. It’s opened my eyes”.
“The digital world of business, entertainment and sport is coming closer and closer. Teams want a bigger slice of the market and for Ajax that’s important. In Holland we are big. In Europe we are a midsize club, but with a fantastic history and a fantastic philosophy. Nobody forgets that, but we need to be more present, and the next two years are massively important to us”.
So, just how does Van der Sar support his team to deliver both on the pitch and in the boardroom?
“I compare my new role as a CEO to being a lot like a goalkeeper. I always led from the back, and the better the players I had around me, the more chances we had to be a winning team”.
“It’s similar now in the boardroom. The quality of the people around you and their expertise in their individual areas is what’s important”.
“Of course I need to know 65% of their job so I can steer them and coach them, but you don’t see me screaming and hitting the table. I like harmony. I’m not somebody who’d want to fight all the time. I’m somebody who wants to give confidence to the players, the team, the directors and other people around me. I’m happy to give them the confidence to do their jobs and the freedom to express themselves.”