The business acumen and brilliant (yes, brilliant) management style of Jets owner Woody Johnson teaches America (and the world) how to survive, persevere, prosper (and eventually triumph) when dealt with a really bad hand. It is truly a shame that the man was never offered a job to deal with the Great Recession.
But wait! How can one say that the billionaire scion of one of America's leading families was given a bad hand? Well, if your football team is located in a city with the apparently historically designated role of playing little brother to the much older and storied Giants franchise and Tom Brady is the QB of your major divisional rivals who are coached by none other than Bill Bellichik, then yes, you have been dealt the absolute worst of football cards; and yet, Woody Johnson has refused to quit. He will simply never give up. The Jets have reached in recent years twice the AFC championship game, have a knack in dominating headlines, employ one of the most interesting and inspiring coaches around (most recently see: running the bulls) and are, indisputably, a financially successful team (sixth wealthiest in the NFL).
So what can we learn from Woody Johnson that can help America and possibly other countries in trouble? Here are what appear to be his five fundamental rules of leadership:
1) Invest in Infrastructure.
Great players come and go but stadiums tend to be far more durable centers of pride and gathering--not to mention that they help generate the funds that bring great members to an organization. Under Woody's leadership, the Jets seized being mere "guests" to GIANTS stadium. They are now co-owners on an equal footing of a billion dollar stadium; and Florham Park has state of the art facilities--something that is extremely important to players.
2) Take Risks and Shake Things Up.
Everyone condemns the Jets for signing (and failing to utilize) Tim Tebow. True, no one can argue that this was a wise trade. Still, it is indicative of a Woody Johnson tendency that is responsible for far more successes than failures. Rex Ryan is a case in point. Not conventional in any sense of the word (indeed, Webster's should put his face in lieu of an antonym) he has brought both success and excitement at a consistent basis. Woody did take a major risk, shook up more than the Jets (the NFL really) and was mostly vindicated.
But doesn't the fact that this is supposed to be the season of Rexodus negate all of the above? The answer is a resounding no, which brings us to the next of Woody's rules.
3) Reward Success, Fire Failure.
By all accounts, Woody really, really likes Rex Ryan; and by all accounts, Woody was also very fond of Mike Tanennbaum, the former Jets GM; when his CAP planning and trades failed to deliver, he was unceremoniously fired. It is a tough world out there folks, and there is no room to play favorites or let sympathies cloud judgment. Everyone ought to be simply judged by their performance. Rough but fair and just to its very core. Rex has received his notice.
4) Be Very Patient and Play the Long Game.
Fans want their team to win every week and certainly desire the experience of going to the Super Bowl. Long-suffering Jets fan want a SB now, thank you very much. But success cannot (and should not) be achieved overnight; and it is certainly not about dominating the next news cycle or even just the next season. Apparently, Woody truly understands this. He realizes that the Brady/Bellichick team rule the AFC East but this will not last forever (and probably not even for very long--Tom is 35, Bill 61). So he has shrewdly began the process of rebuilding the Jets now, complaints and losses in the short term be damned.
5) Instill Hope and Boost Morale.
Long-term, cold blooded, rational planning will eventually bring results but people have feelings and Jets fans have unusually passionate ones. They need hope, they need a boost in morale, they need a reason to keep on following Gang Green. Well, Woody has always given them something to live for (and of equal importance: argue in sports bars). The list is long and includes Favre, Sanchez, Tebow, Ryan, Geno Smith (and perhaps Johnny Manziel in the future). Before every season begins, hope reigns supreme by design.
So there you have it. Instead of accepting an ignominious fate in the depths of NFL Hell, Woody is fighting back hard. He has built great infrastructure, is not afraid to take risks, judges people fairly based on performance, unfailingly provides a reason for hope and never seizes patiently planning for the future. By doing so, he is setting up the Jets for success, regardless of whether this season proves dismal.
If the leadership lessons of Woody Johnson can help fix them same ol' Jets, one can only imagine what they could have done for the economy.
Dr Aristotle Tziampiris will be this Fall Visiting Fellow at New York University's Remarque Institute and a full-time follower of the Jets.