Nicola Cortese gave a rare public appearance when he was a guest at the Leaders in Football conference.
Saints’ executive chairman was part of a panel which also included Chelsea chairman Bruce Buck and Peter Siemsen, president of Brazilian side Fluminense.
Cortese wasn’t given extensive time to talk but here is what he had to say...
On his arrival at Saints...
I remember the first day very well.
When we got in there there was basically all the staff group in a room and they were depressed.
They came out of administration and went through some horrible moments and a situation of uncertainty and then obviously we came in as the new owners with a plan.
I remember that when we addressed the staff we wanted to get back ASAP in the Premiership and some of the plans we would want to implement.
One of the staff reminded me that we were in League One with minus ten points in 24th position.
Obviously it’s good to have nice bright plans but you need the staff who believe in what you are doing and the way you’re doing (it) and in particular we came up with some plans that maybe were not traditional in English football in how we wanted to be structured in the club.
On the company he inherited...
We wanted to do a bit more the continental approach in terms of the company structure.
The manager has an important role but actually just becomes a department head like others and we got to build the company again.
Whilst I know we are talking about a football club and it’s all related to football, there was more that needed rebuilding at that very moment.
There was basically needed a company structure and a company culture.
There was absolutely no company culture in the club at that time, there was no plans, no vision, no ambition.
Using the word ambition was a problem for some people because we were living down in the south coast. You can have ambition but you shouldn’t show that you really mean we should be ambitious.
It was a bit more psychological. We nearly had to be psychologists in that moment to get people on board.
I remember there were about 90 members of staff and today there has been a lot of changes and so on and we grew as a company. Obviously we came up the leagues but we grew as a company, we have a culture today.
On those first seasons...
We didn’t get promoted in the first season. Those minus ten points weighted at the end and we couldn’t get into the play-offs.
The plan was actually to get promoted in the first year and then to spend three years in the Championship but we had to accept that we had to do it the other way round – two years in League One and then one year in the Championship and it worked out.
On financial fair play...
I think the word on its own ‘fair play’ is wrong. It’s financial regulations.
It will be virtually impossible even though we are a club that believe a lot of things are possible to close that gap towards Manchester United which I believe has somewhere around £190m just commercial income.
We are very very far away from that.
We will in the next three-five years grow our commercial income by around 70-100 per cent which is high but we will still be very far away from that.
It doesn’t mean we feel disadvantaged. You have to give them credit for the great work they have done over the decade. They did a good job and they deserve credit for that and if they get advantage through that they deserve it.
What we’ve got to do is first of all not to feel disadvantaged, just apply brighter ideas.
While commercially we can’t close the gap, when it comes down to other aspects that’s where we need to try to be better in order to close that commercial gap we have, and definitely is going to stay, probably for always.
On salary capping...
We have this salary cap and that’s something we have fought against because it would leave me in a situation that we have a sustainable business and make profits but can’t use those profits to potentially maintain a player with a higher salary because we are capped quite low.
On changing managers...
You don’t just change managers for the sake of it. Ultimately we all want the best for the club and if you plan a manager change it’s because you have hard facts, insight of what’s going on in your club – facts which are not known to the public who ultimately make the judgement if it’s a good change or not a good change.
For them it’s easy because they can wait to make the ultimate verdict whilst you have got to take a decision.
For us it’s coming through different leagues and you needed somebody who fulfils a role in certain situations and when you are in League One it’s a different situation to the Championship and coming to the Premier League is again different.
Those two changes we made is always a cause of the progression we had as a club because I think the worst thing for any company and not only football clubs is you have a stand still. You need to keep on progressing.
When you take a decision and change a manager we are of the perception that maybe progress has stopped. You have to take a decision whether it’s popular or unpopular.
On the changes he made...
I remember when we did the change with Alan Pardew we took about three weeks to bring a new manager in and from the first day everybody said it was a stupid decision to make that change if you don’t have anybody lined up.
And then two years later you do the change and have somebody lined up and that was seen as controversial and a cruel decision.
I think in our case what also had an impact is that we changed the manager on the back of victories and people say ‘why do you change when you win’, and in Nigel’s case we came back from 2-0 down to 2-2 at Stamford Bridge.
This is a process and especially when you have somebody lined up it’s a process which is going on so the decision has been taken beforehand and maybe a lot of people would think maybe we should wait but we thought this was the right time to do it. This was planned in advance exactly the day we were going to do it. That’s why somebody was lined up.
I think to be honest looking at those two scenarios if one day I would be in a similar situation I would do it the same way again.
I think it’s important that you can address issues that you have potentially in the club to the team, they obviously need to respond and to accept the change at the end, and you have somebody lined up that they can immediately start working with.