Tom Hicks: In the Business of Winning

When I first started researching into the background of Tom Hicks, I was more than a little concerned about the character of the man who was to become co-owner of Liverpool FC with George Gillett. The majority of stories about the man concerned his ownership of the Texas Rangers of Major League Baseball. How could a baseball man have any knowledge of running a football club? If that wasn’t bad enough, it gets worse when we learn that his purchase of the baseball club was from a group headed by George W. Bush. Yes, the same Mr. G. W. Bush who also received millions of dollars of Tom Hicks’s money toward his campaign to become US President. That’s two strikes against him, and it’s not looking good. But maybe, just maybe, there could be something positive in the man’s background if we look further.

Liverpool FC were on the verge of a takeover by a group of investors from Dubai, when suddenly a previous bid from George Gillett was once again on the table. The difference between Mr. Gillett’s previous bid and the new one was not just a matter of the valuation of the club and the amount of money that would change hands, it was more to do with a renewed commitment to the future of Liverpool FC; and to reinforce this renewed commitment he had brought in a partner. This proposed new co-owner of our club was Mr. Tom Hicks, another American investor in sports teams and in whom we had plenty of reasons to be suspicious. But, we soon found that George Gillett’s record of non-interference with the Montreal Canadiens, combined with his obvious understanding of their past success and proud traditions, was enough to let us relax and not worry about drastic changes to be made in the running of our club. That was fine for Mr. Gillett, but what about this new partner?

Tom Hicks, the son of a Texas radio station owner, was born in 1946. In his younger days, he was the co-founder of Hicks and Haas, a partnership that concentrated initially in media companies and then later went on to buy companies such as Dr. Pepper and 7 Up. From these beginnings, his investment interests changed to larger companies including life insurance, equity funds, and securities. As the co-founder of Hicks, Muse, Tate, and Furst, he was chairman from 1989 to 2004, after which time he announced his retirement from the firm after a few years of losses in investments in telecommunications.

The retirement was extremely short as he started up Hicks Holdings in January of 2005. Under this company, he expanded his billion dollar sports and real-estate interests, and began buying up and investing in diverse companies including DirecTV, and others involved in pet food, electronics, landscaping materials, etc.

That’s the official story of Tom Hicks the successful business man, but what we want to know is what about Tom Hicks the owner of sports teams? Nobody can predict the future, but we can look to the recent past to get a good idea of how Tom Hicks’s co-ownership of Liverpool FC will affect us.

See also: Vive La Différence
Keith gives us the insight into the other half of the partnership, and in particular George Gillett’s Montreal Canadiens. [Read]

Once upon a time (1967 to 1993) there was a hockey team called the Minnesota North Stars. They were a moderately successful club, with a Stanley Cup final appearance in 1981, losing to the New York Islanders who won their second of four consecutive championships. After a decade of seasons, with the club in decline, they made it to the finals once again in 1991. Success eluded them for the second time, losing to Pittsburgh Penguins who went on to take their first of two consecutive Stanley Cups. That was not so much the beginning of the end for the Minnesota club, but more of a last hurrah before the franchise collapsed. However, under threat of bankruptcy, the club asked for a better deal with the local authorities, and when this was refused the club moved to Dallas, Texas, in 1993. Two years later, in December 1995, the club was purchased by Tom Hicks. This was the beginning of a new chapter in the club’s history.

The Dallas Stars were first in their division from 1997 to 2001. They were Conference Champions in 1999 and 2000. From the conference championships they went on to win their first Stanley Cup in 1999, and finish as runners up in 2000. Since then, they have been Division Champions twice. They have also won two Presidents’ Trophies as the team with the best regular season record. That’s an amazing turnaround in fortunes in the eleven years since Tom Hicks took over the club.

tom hicksAs the new owner, he was not content to sit back and watch the club continue in mediocrity. He went after and signed a number of big-name players as free agents, and traded for several more, including Joe Nieuwendyk who won the Most Valuable Player award during the Stanley Cup win in 1999. In 2001, the club moved into the newly built American Airlines Center which was built at a cost of $325 million. The naming rights for the new arena were purchased by American Airlines for $195 million. The new arena is part of a revitalisation program for the area, encompassing 70 acres with 6 million square feet of entertainment, retail, residential, and office space. The center won a long list of awards from ‘œEngineering Excellence’ to ‘œBest Sports Venue’, ‘œBest New Major Concert Venue’, and ‘œ2003 Employer of the Year.’

At the first press conference after the completion of the transfer of majority ownership, George Gillett and Tom Hicks answered a lot of questions and calmed the fears of many of us. These are two men who intend to be involved with Liverpool FC for a long time, and are showing their commitment to the club by putting forward the money for the new stadium. Tom Hicks has been through the building of a new venue recently, and I’m sure his experience in that will be extremely valuable. It’s a strange coincidence that both Dallas and Liverpool are combining the building of a new venue with local revitalisation. Messrs. Gillett and Hicks have also said that there will be adequate funds available for transfer market dealings this coming summer. Again, this should not be a surprise seeing the way that Tom Hicks opened up the accounts for the Dallas Stars to bring in the necessary players to win their first Stanley Cup.

A successful business man such as Mr. Hicks is a very competitive individual who wants to win in any of his business interests, including his sports teams. His attitude is definitely long-term as evidenced from a couple of quotes. When asked why he would allow one of his (highly paid) star players to leave, his answer was, ‘œWhat you don’t want to do is to hang on to the aging superstar past his prime and take resources away you can otherwise use to build a better team.’ As to how you build that better team, the answer is, ‘œThe best thing we can do is develop our own.’ That is fully in agreement with Rafa’s policy, whereby he is bringing in talented young players and allowing them to develop slowly for the future.

Tom Hicks loves to win. He talked about the sheer joy of success in a recent interview: ‘œThe reason any businessman goes into sport is because they have a passion for winning. Despite all the success I’ve had in life, nothing has given me more satisfaction on an emotional level than winning the Stanley Cup in 1999 and being able to get my hands on the trophy. At that moment, my smile touched both ears.’ He’s also known for his modesty in success and how he expects it in others. ‘œWe work real hard not to get an attitude of arrogance or haughtiness, which you see in this business all the time.’ I wonder if he was thinking of anyone in particular.

Naturally, we were all apprehensive over how the new owners might come into the club and try to make changes. We have seen that George Gillett has not interfered with the running of the Montreal Canadiens, but what about Tom Hicks? He has answered this question before when he took over the Texas Rangers and the Dallas Stars, with the simple explanation, ‘œMy style is to keep folks in place who are good managers and want to win.’ He made it clear that he is happy to keep all of the current management at Anfield, especially after talking to some of the players such as Steven Gerrard who insisted that Rafa must stay as manager. That’s exactly what we want as well, so there’s no disagreement there.

It very quickly becomes crystal clear that Tom Hicks is not just concerned about making money; he’s equally concerned with winning trophies and providing excellence for the players and the fans. If the past eleven years with the Dallas Stars are a fair representation of Tom Hicks’s attitudes to his sports enterprises, then we have nothing to worry about. This is a man who wants what’s best for Liverpool FC, which is simply to put us back at the top where we belong.

Keith Perkins