Does Swimming New Zealand Have A Management Problem?

The previous three Swimwatch posts have discussed concerns I have with the management history of Bruce Cotterill and Steve Johns. The culmination of the discussion was the revelation that Swimming New Zealand’s plan to introduce a program of “targeted individual development” was most probably a rehashed copy of a program Steve Johns tried at Tennis New Zealand. Johns even called it the same name.

The Tennis version failed, but not before it had revealed itself as an expensive ruse to extend the Federation’s power into the daily preparation of talented players. In Tennis the program contributed nothing to New Zealand’s international results. And it certainly was not “targeted individual development”. It was Federation control dressed up in a fancy new name.

There is every reason for concern that the Cotterill and Johns’ plan for “targeted individual development” is a copy of the Tennis program and will have the same fate. When will these guys learn? Centralised, Federation controlled, preparation is a thing of the past. It does not work. It failed in Germany, the Soviet Union, Germany, Australia, France and after spending eleven million dollars it failed in New Zealand. And changing the name from “centralised high performance training” to “targeted individual development” will not change that fact.

So what are the chances that this is what Cotterill and Johns are scheming? The best way to answer that is to look into the history of both men. That’s why we wrote the previous three posts. And the conclusion, I believe, is that there is every reason to fear that we are about to be conned blind.

What is it about Cotterill and Johns that leads to this conclusion?

First of all we know that Johns is a self-confessed authoritarian. He has already promoted the idea that senior swimmers should be forced to shift to Auckland if they want to be selected for the national team. Second we know he was committed to his version of “targeted individual development” in Tennis as a way to extend Federation power.

We also know his experience of senior pool swimming is limited. He made an early choice to focus on waterpolo and surf lifesaving. It seems as if he was not particularly academic either. We have commented before on the standard of English in some of his emails. In School Certificate he managed to pass three subjects with a Grade of B2 or better.

And finally there is ample evidence in his Tennis New Zealand Annual Reports that he curries favour with Sport New Zealand. I think it is very reasonable to believe that he is acutely aware Miskimmin wants swimming to hold on to a central training program. And being as Miskimmin pays most of Johns’ wages, I suspect, that is what Johns and Cotterill are going to deliver.

And so on one side we seem to have a not particularly academic, authoritarian administrator with limited senior pool swimming experience.

On the other side we have Bruce Cotterill. He certainly seems to have the talent to manipulate events. The internet tells me Cotterill uses the expression, “It’s easy to soar like an eagle when you surround yourself with turkeys.” An employee at Yellow Pages called it “a practice he implemented to the max.” Is he doing the same thing at Swimming New Zealand?

In fact the circumstances around Cotterill leaving Yellow Pages are full of worrying events. The respected “National Business Review” reported his departure with the comment, “One well-placed insider welcomed the change telling NBR they need a turn-around person, not a blind cost-cutter, but someone with vision that can free up bureaucracy”. If vision is a Cotterill shortcoming perhaps he genuinely does not understand why a club and coach-based program yields superior results. Perhaps he should ask.

Of course we have no idea what his goals are at Swimming New Zealand. The evidence suggests communication is something he preaches but does not practice. However whatever his goals are, there is every reason for the members of Swimming New Zealand to be very cautious. Cotterill could very well be leading us into a “targeted individual development” trap.

Because there appears to be another side to Cotterill. Here is a range of comments made in the “National Business Review” article published in February 2011.

  1. Based on his performance he should resign from all boards.
  2. A right-off 1.8 billion dollars in debt! Very few CEO’s that have underperformed consistently have any reason to stay or get pushed.  Interesting where he will appear next.
  3. Sources say it is a genuine resignation, not a case of being pushed.  Sounds like a good candidate for a Tui billboard.
  4. Who has been a naughty boy then?
  5. Mr Cotterill does though have a unique way of going about things when it comes to dealing with others. Mr Cotterill, what goes around, can and usually does, come back and spank you on the arse.
  6. Brucie wasn’t up to the task.
  7. Reading this thread makes you wonder how did he ever get promoted to this level?
  8. This guy leaves a trail of destruction at every company he joins.  Look out the next sucker that takes Bruce on. He will destroy any company in the shortest possible time.
  9. Bruce resigned because he underperformed regardless of the debt restructure.
  10. Mr Cotterill was never a people’s person.
  11. The managers who deserted Yellow will end up with a level of CV attractiveness equally that of dog-shit floating in a swimming pool on a hot summer’s day.

Is it somehow prophetic that this final comment on the Yellow Pages mess should end up in a less than successful swimming pool?

It is worth stressing that I have no personal knowledge of the events that occurred at Yellow Pages. However there were serious problems and it appears that not everyone was delighted with the way Cotterill went about trying to sort them out.

Whatever the truth might be, I believe, there is sufficient evidence for us to be very cautious about the motives of Swimming New Zealand’s leadership. If “targeted individual development” is a ploy that these two have invented to con us all and keep Miskimmin happy it should be rejected before your son or daughter becomes another pawn in their pursuit of power.

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