Erick Thohir spoke to the Italian chamber of commerce in Singapore after accepting a business award for the year. Below you can read his words in full as he discusses a wide variety of topics relating to Inter.
President, why did you choose Italy and the Serie A over Europe’s other top leagues?
“As you know I not only have an investment in Italy but also other countries such as the U.S., the football or ‘soccer industry in the U.S. is not the same as that of the European. Italy is one of the biggest football industries in the World. The way I look at this investment is that soon the Italian Serie A will be back to compete with the other big leagues around the World. I believe this investment was made at the right time. Many owners of Italian clubs now have become more and more business wise, in many of the clubs we are onto the second generation of presidents. So for example at Inter Angelomario is the third generation of the Moratti family. Thw will and atmosphere is there amongst the clubs to develop a strategy to compete with the other leagues. I met other presidents, other owners, I feel more comfortable. We are going to have a good challenge together to show that the Serie A is still one of the best leagues in the world.”
How do you feel about investing in what essentially is a family business with the Moratti’s?
“With all my businesses I have partners, I really believe in true partnerships. When you have a partner it is good for checking and balance. The Moratti family is one of the most well known families in Italy. They have a good track record, after discussing with Massimo and Angelomario for 1-2 hours we felt we shared the same vision, some chemistry and agreement in how we would compete with other teams around the world. We realise at the end we need to grow the clubs, become professional and that even a family business must be run professionally. With two families you could lose the professionalism. In the new football everything is now about numbers, about statistics.No longer about feeling, no longer about decision made by just two people. This is the way we run the new Inter with our partners with collective decisions. With data, with a target, with reward and punishment. We review all the management, not only the team but everyone on the business side together. Back to the issues about family, that is where there is similarities, as many in Italy and Indonesian businesses grow through the family. In the last 10-15 years in Indonesia more and more families become very professional. They are hiring good professionals to run their companies but at the same time as an owner and partner we sit side by side with our professionals to achieve our target. That’s what we discussed with Mr Moratti, as a professional there is no way you can compete with us because we own the clubs, we own the companies. From the other side why do we need to compete with our professionals? There is nothing to compete about. If you don’t trust your professionals why are you giving the jobs to them? Who don’t you just do them? So there is a balance between entrepreneur’s, professionals and families. It’s a good way to run companies in the future.”
What aspects of Asian business can you bring to an Italian football club?
“The good fundamentals in Italy are already there, you produce good players, a lot of good players every year. Italy is one of the most successful teams in the World Cup. If you look at the Italian market and clubs, most of the income is coming from within Italy, TV revenue, sponsorship and ticket sales. So the fundamentals are there but right now the most important question is how you compete with the other clubs in the world. Most of the football teams in the world right now have large income from abroad, this is is a good thing in Italy as a reason why to invest. The big three (Inter, AC Milan and Juventus) already have the brand and the history. To bring these three sides to compete with the big clubs around the world, we have that opportunity. If Manchester United, PSG and the other clubs can do it, why can’t we do it? As long as we have a business plan and work hard to achieve the goals. These three clubs can’t survive if the league itself doesn’t share the same vision. Inside the league you have 18-20 clubs, to create a good product you need to produce a good quality of game. The kick off times can be more friendly to other countries, if you look at the other leagues around the world decided Asia is the biggest market. If you see kick off times in the English League it is very friendly to the Asian time zone. For example they kick off games at lunch time which is around 19:00 in Asia. Most of the top Italian games are at 3-4 in the morning. We have an earlier game on Sunday but the majority of the time it’s not a top game. As a league we need to transform the business plan, AC Milan, Juventus and Inter already have an opportunity as we are in the top 15 brands inside football in the world. We at Inter can no longer think ‘I’ we must this as ‘we’ and work with Serie A. In the end, we are part of the league so we need to discuss with the rest of the league. How we can penetrate the other markets together. How we can give good time slots for Asia, how we can give a good game to watch, how we bring the refereeing quality up, how can we get a game to Asia. Baseball has already played in Australia and the NBA plays regular season games in London. South-East Asia hosted the NBA and Serie A should be looking to do the same. A Milan derby in Singapore or Jakarta, why not?”
How do you find travelling and life in Italy?
“It’s not a problem, it’s a balance, you must give your best and be focussed. So then we can enjoy the next two years when we’ve turned the club around. I didn’t do this deal because of glamour, I did this deal because I love Inter. I love the game and at the same time it’s my job to work hard. You have to face the reality that you will be recognised across the world because this is a very big deal. Sometimes you have to lose some privacy but you become the ambassador and you must enjoy the job. You can’t complain. When you stand at the top of the mountain it’s very high.”
What is the goal for you and Inter?
“The vision is clear, at the press conference in Milan I was very transparent to the the shareholders to the fans. The most important thing right now is to make Inter healthy. That’s the transition in the next 2-3 years. The same with the team, we started building the team in January with Hernanes. We signed Vidic who is a strong leader in the defence. We are going to have more players this June. We want to have the same vision as the management, the coaching staff and the players. The minimum target is to reach Europe. In 2-3 years we need to play in the Champions League. We will also balance the age of the squad at 26.5 years, with this we have to balance the formation. We can’t leave ourselves short. In Eurpe we will have double the amount of games. We need 22-24 players of almost the same quality. Lastly we want Inter to be inside the top 10 of global football brands. Also the team to be in the top 10. Right now brand wise as a club we are 15th-16th but this is the aim in the next 2-3 years. It’s not easy it will be hard work.”