I’d never really imagined working in football - the idea just seemed too good to be true.
My journey to Arsenal took in many locations and experiences. After growing up in Germany, I was a social worker with holocaust survivors in New York for a year and a half before deciding to study international business. After gaining my Bachelor’s degree in Holland, I lived, worked and studied abroad in several places: spending a year doing internships in Asia, working towards a Masters, learning a lot about different businesses and cultures. Eventually I returned to Germany, working for Boston Consultancy Group (BCG) in Berlin, and had three happy years there before moving to London.
BCG had a relationship with Arsenal already, and the Club had identified a need for a consultant with experience in project management and strategic analysis to work on various schemes alongside the head of business development, Hendrik Almstadt. Arsenal asked BCG for someone to take on secondment for six months, and I was very lucky to be offered the opportunity. Once I was here, six months became eight and the workload became greater - so the Club offered me a position, and I was thrilled to accept.
I love working on the Tour. I’ve been involved with it since its inception and it’s fantastic that we can bring the Club to its fans in AsiaGero Kahlen
I’d describe myself as a kind of in-house consultant, using the experience I’ve gained to support projects across all areas of Arsenal. In the early years of a career in consultancy you work on projects across various industries. You’ll specialise later on, but initially you’re thrown into all kinds of different waters and need to swim pretty quickly. I worked in sectors such as telecoms, financial services, the automotive industry and biochemicals - and it’s funny how a lot of the things I learned back then re-emerge in some shape or form at Arsenal, even though I’m working in a completely different environment.
I’ve been involved with many different parts of the Club’s operation: working on Financial Fair Play, international marketing strategy, corporate social responsibility, ticketing projects, you name it. The spectrum is very broad. Around this time of year, though, a vast amount of my time is taken pulling together the different elements of the Asia Tour.
I love working on the Tour. I’ve been involved with it since its inception and it’s fantastic that we can bring the Club to its fans in Asia. It’s a complex operation and I enjoy it tremendously - there is something very satisfying about returning to a project each year, refining it, developing it and learning from what happened last time. There are always things you can try and improve, or do differently.
I’m only a small part of the team that organises the Tour. Essentially, I’m there to facilitate things for the many different parties involved - internal departments, promoters and partners, for example. They will all have their own first points of contact, but my role is to make sure that all pieces of the puzzle are aligned and fit together, ensuring that we run as successful and efficient a set of events as possible.
Work on the Tour is a year-round affair - initial talks begin for the following summer’s destinations as soon as we return each year. The intensity is far greater at this time of year though; with Asia being several hours ahead of us I’ll wake up to a number of emails, so it’s a long working day and you’re kept right on your toes!
We’re in for a very exciting summer, and there will be some notable firsts. Arsenal will be the first English team to play in Jakarta since the Premier League’s inception and the first Premier League team to play a match in Vietnam. Added to that, we’ll be visiting Japan - where one of our opponents will be Nagoya Grampus, who Arsène Wenger used to manage. I know that the supporters there are absolutely over the moon about it!
We’re in for a very exciting summer, and there will be some notable firsts. Arsenal will be the first English team to play in Jakarta since the Premier League’s inception and the first Premier League team to play a match in VietnamGero Kahlen
The local fans are what make a Tour special. Their excitement, love and intimate knowledge of the players and club is remarkable, and even surprises people who are experienced in the Asian market. Our fans there regularly get up in the middle of the night to watch Arsenal matches live on TV – even on weekdays. The crowds at the hotels and airports, the atmosphere in the stadia, the chanting and the warmth of our hosts – it all gives you goosebumps and a real sense of reward. Besides giving back to the local fans, the Tour is also commercially very important. Taking advantage of the global brand that Arsenal has become is vital in order to continue to compete at the very top of the game as a financially self-sustainable club. New partnerships like the one with Telkomsel in Indonesia already prove this strategy successful.
Only when I started working at Arsenal did I appreciate how professional and sophisticated a business this football club is - there are only a few like it around the globe. I can honestly say that there is nowhere I would rather work – not only because the projects here are so exciting, but because it is a real privilege to work in a setting like this. We are all responsible for helping preserve a long, valuable legacy in an emotionally-loaded environment where, whatever your role, it is important to maintain a unique relationship with the fans.
My colleagues are remarkable. I sit next to club historian Iain Cook, who has worked here for decades and has an Arsenal brain that I find incredible every day, and there are many others like him. Coming from a different country and a different set of industries, I have learned such a lot from some very special people. Arsenal has a history full of amazing stories, full of angles and quirks that you don’t expect.
Growing up in Germany, I was an avid fan of FC Koln - probably with similar heroes to Lukas Podolski, who was a big player there of course. Pierre Littbarski was the star when I was growing up, and I loved watching him. I was a blank canvas where English clubs were concerned when I arrived here, though, and I can genuinely call myself a big Arsenal supporter too. Those two interests don’t currently look like colliding, with Koln trying to get out of Germany’s second division!
We all know what a special club this is, and how it has been at the core of shaping the sport we love. It’s humbling to be working here, and I can say with confidence that Arsenal’s future looks very bright indeed.Copyright 2014 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source 5 Jun 2013