May the true King Power, the One who created the universe, who has power over life and death, have mercy on the soul of V.S. and grant him eternal rest.
As a writer, I have always believed in a good headline as a precursor to anything I write — be it a book or a newspaper column such as this on the cruel and horrendous death of the Thai billionaire whose helicopter crashed shortly after watching our man Wilfred Ndidi rescue his football club Leicester City from a home defeat.
A headline gives you a sense of direction. A good headline elevates you to sublime heights, there to give you a “helicopter view” of the subject matter in its majestic panorama. A headline allows you to see the big picture, to see the end from the beginning and the beginning from the end. A headline is what would attract readership. It is what would draw the fans to the football stadium of the mind.
In choosing a headline, sometimes you are confronted with two difficult choices, each of them good. My first headline for today’s column was: A Helicopter View of Death. It’s a headline borrowed from business management. In strategic thinking, you talk of “helicopter view” of the business. A helicopter view allows you to see the business from the sky in its entirety. A helicopter view allows you to see the big picture, to see the elements of the business, the parameters and the interconnections. A good leader first takes the helicopter view and zooms in.
It’s a business concept first implemented by the Royal Dutch Shell Company. I first heard about helicopter view when we were writing our bestselling book 50 NIGERIA’S CORPORATE STRATEGISTS: Top CEOs Share Their Experiences in Managing Companies in Nigeria. I heard it from S.I.C. Okoli, the then CEO of National Oil and Chemical Marketing Plc. Okoli says in the book that helicopter view is an attribute of leadership. It is what distinguishes a leader from a manager. “A leader creates a global or a holistic direction for the business — in the case of corporate business — and the manager operates a particular segment of that objective. The manager ensures that all the details in the package are implemented. Whereas the leader is somebody who looks at the total picture from a helicopter point of view and then keeps telling the man doing the details: ‘This is your terms of reference, where you are going, what you are aiming to achieve, the targets we are expecting from your department.’ The leader provides the priorities and directs so that the priorities keep steering the company for maximum benefit.”
I also heard it from Tonye Ofuani, the then MD/CEO of Red Star Express who said: “Some of us are good in financial management, some are good in sales and marketing while others are good in operations. But as a manager, you grow to a level where you take a helicopter view of the business before you can run it successfully. Quite frankly, if you bring a marketing manager from the big multinationals to run a small business, you will be surprised that he probably can’t do it successfully because he has not had a ‘helicopter view’ of a business.”
Leicester city owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha (V.S.) was one man who enjoyed the power and glory of flying and viewing life and business literally from a helicopter viewpoint. I can imagine the relief, the joy and peace of mind he enjoyed after Ndidi scored that last minute cliffhanger of a goal. I can picture his ascent on his helicopter in the last ride to death. I can picture him looking down on his King Power stadium for the last time and not knowing that death would soon strike and consume him in a bonfire of death in the sky. It’s so sad. Very sad.
Ah, the helicopter! The rich man’s freedom toy for beating the traffic, flying high in the sky and watching the Lilliputian world below where ordinary people ply and compete for space on the road. Up there, it’s freedom. But for Vichai and his four-man crew, this freedom had come at a heavy, deadly price.
In writing about this tragedy and choosing a headline, I think of Wole Soyinka’s play Death and the King’s Horseman and I found myself a good parody: Death and the King Power Horseman. In Soyinka’s play, the king dies and his horseman, Elesin is to commit suicide as tradition demands to accompany the king into the otherworld. But the British colonial authorities wouldn’t allow Elesin to kill himself. A conflict ensued. It is a drama based on a true story of the colonial era. Soyinka wrote the play during his time in exile, on a fellowship in Cambridge University. Unlike in Soyinka’s play, the horseman of this ‘sky horse’ along with his girlfriend the co-pilot both died, heroically steering the horse from killing hundreds of people in the stadium. Even with death lurking, the pilot had the presence of mind to save lives other than his own.
In the story of V.S., we see a visionary Thai leader, a game-changer and a groundbreaking guru who saw the big picture. He bought over a small middle-power club, turned it around and shocked the world by winning the prestigious English Premier League against all odds thereby immortalizing himself and his King Power brand in the annals of football and Leicester city. It’s a beautiful fairy tale which is one of a kind. Who will forget the man’s winning smile and his generosity as attested to by those who benefitted from it? Part of the things he would be remembered for as I read somewhere is that he “cleared Leicester’s debt of 100 million pounds, donated one million pounds to Leicester University, one million pounds to Leicester Royal Infirmary and two million towards a new hospital. He helped Leicester to a 5000/1 Premier League title. He united the entire city.”
As a football writer and a writer of books on business icons, I join the world in mourning the passage of a good man, a humble man and a man who brought joy to the world through buying a mediocre football club, reengineering it and infusing it with a winning mentality. May the true King Power, the One who created the universe, who has power over life and death, have mercy on the soul of V.S. and grant him and the other departed souls eternal rest. I have watched the horrendous footage of the helicopter taking off at night, from the heart of the empty King Power Stadium, going up slowly, elevating in eerie solitude, amidst shimmering lights, into the night sky and coming down shortly after, spiraling out of control, in a blaze of fire, bringing death and destruction to the King Power Horseman and his “Hollow Men” in death’s dream kingdom. I am quoting T.S. Eliot and his famous poem The Hollow Men: “Between the essence/And the descent/Falls the Shadow/For Thine is the Kingdom/ For Thine is/Life is/For Thine is the/This is the way the world ends/Not with a bang but a whimper.”
The lesson for me in this tragedy is that machines and systems are built by human beings and no matter how perfect, they are susceptible to failure. Anything man or man-made can fail. Only God does not fail, cannot fail, and will not fail us, even here in Nigeria — if we trust in Him enough to pilot us on this turbulent journey in a turbulent country filled with God’s manifold blessings and opportunities.