The worst kept secret in Scottish football was confirmed yesterday with a Stock Market announcement that Peter Lawwell would take over from Ian Bankier as chairman of Celtic on 1 January.
There are libraries of academic literature written on corporate succession. Bob Iger was president of Disney from 1999, a post he held until 31 December 2021. His replacement Bob Chapek was confirmed almost two years earlier, but Chapek didn’t cut it and was sacked last month. 71-year-old Iger has his hand back on the tiller.
It is famously difficult to ‘follow Sinatra’. When decades of unique experience, influence and learning leaves a corporation, the new guy and management in the tiers below are fighting the same battles with one less significant resource.
Peter Lawwell had done his time and more as chief exec. It was right for him and right for Celtic that he stepped down last year. Whatever went wrong with Dominic McKay, brought in to replace him on 1 July and released three months later, the club and Dom have kept their counsel. A tumultuous few months saw two CEOs and over a dozen players leave, more still arrive, a managerial recruitment saga that was outrageously successful despite being far from smooth, ended with inhouse candidate, Michael Nicholson, taking over as chief exec.
Still, there were enormous gaps, not least of all in utilising the influence Peter has in the wider European game. It is unlikely that we will ever again have an executive with as much influence as him. For this role, he was asked to stay on as director of the Football Club subsidiary. Without being retained in this role, European football would be a small bit different today.
He went straight to work on one of his pet subjects, Uefa Financial Fair Play regulations, and played a pivotal role in ensuring the lessons we learned in previous years were addressed in the new code – a code which inhibited Newco from spending after their Champions League group stage qualification.
Celtic took the recommendation of Peter’s son, Mark, and appointed Ange Postecoglou manager 18 months ago. This was the pivot point for the Lawwell legacy. He did not get the CEO successor right, but his last act in finding a permanent replacement for Neil Lennon led to the league title last season. If that appointment failed, he would not be back as chair. Looking in from the outside, although you can see the imprint of Peter Lawwell in our current football operation; Michael Nicholson, Mark Lawwell and Ange Postecoglou are fundamentally different than any CEO, recruitment head and manager combination we have ever had. They are technical first, asset management to their core and unhindered by legacy battles.
I know the cost the job had on Peter on a personal level. The disruption to normal life, not to mention the very serious incident he and his family recently had to contend with. He carried ‘a greater responsibility than you can possibly fathom’. I doubt he shared the whole picture with anyone, not even those closest.
A friend cautioned him on becoming chairman with, “Why should you get to enjoy your retirement?” He doesn’t need the money, the hassle, or life under the spotlight. It’s Celtic, though, and there is always another challenge. For many of us, that’s enough of a reason.