Monday, Apr. 18, 2005

Roman Abramovich

Roman Abramovich went from orphan to oligarch and now, at age 38, is one of Britain's wealthiest men, with an estimated worth of $13 billion. Two years ago, he crowned his rise by spending $233 million on a majority stake in England's storied Chelsea Football Club, which has since spent more than $470 million on players. The Abramovich tale is one I can identify with, having gone from sleeping on the floor of friends' apartments and eating mustard sandwiches to owning a top professional sports team and having more wealth than I had ever dreamed of.

Abramovich grew up under communism in Russia, so it's hard to understand where his entrepreneurial drive came from. Or maybe the question is this: How did he hide his drive for so long without getting into trouble? People say I have great timing, but perestroika arrived just in time for Abramovich. He bought into the Siberian oil company Sibneft in '95 for $100 million, a deal eased via his apparent connections to key people in the Kremlin and elsewhere.

But no matter how smart or how rich you are, there is no template for winning championships. Money can buy you great players, but it takes more to create great teams. Things are working out for Abramovich this year: Chelsea, forever David to Manchester United's Goliath, is poised to win the league championship for the first time in five decades.

Alas, no one can win forever. So here's my advice to a fellow sports-franchise owner: Ignore the press. Follow your heart. Be accessible to the people who share your passion—the fans. And learn to live with the inevitable losses. It used to take me two days to get over a loss. Now it's down to five hours. Learning to deal with that is the biggest challenge you'll face.

Cuban, a businessman, owns the Dallas Mavericks NBA team

From the Archive
Never Mind the Goals, Focus on the Brand: How globalization has changed the business of soccer