THE INTERVIEW: FC London Soccer Club CEO Ian Campbell

THE INTERVIEW – LondonOntarioSports.com
Summer 2016 Edition

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FC London soccer club CEO Ian Campbell is just as passionate about soccer – and about his own philosophy when it comes to structuring the sport – as any other person who loves the beautiful game. But Campbell, 55, sees soccer as a victim of its own success. Majority owner of the new League1 Ontario men’s and women’s semi-pro squads, Campbell, 55, lives and breathes the game. He may wear the cap of President and CEO of iCONECT Development LLC, a global market leader in producing eDiscovery software products and services for the legal industry. But locally, his name is synonymous with soccer.
Born in Glasgow, Scotland, Campbell moved to Brantford, Ontario with his family at age 7. His father, George, a soccer innovator both in Scotland and in Brantford, founded what would become Brantford’s minor soccer association in 1969. Campbell eventually landed on the Ontario provincial team at age 16, and in 2008 became majority owner of FC London.
Campbell said most recent numbers indicate about 10 per cent of our city’s population are playing soccer, whether it be minor soccer, at the elite level or with an adult recreational side. Despite the fact Canadians and Americans don’t embrace professional soccer as do the rest of the world’s population, it is now, by far, the most popular participation team sport.
Campbell has two children: son Jordan, 24; and daughter Nicole, 22. When he’s not engulfed in the tech world or the soccer pitch, he enjoys time with girlfriend, Kelley, and time spent at his southwest London home.
LondonOntarioSports.com editor Jeffrey Reed spent a few hours with Campbell at his Bathurst Street headquarters – the former Aboutown warehouse morphed into a spacious, open-concept techie headquarters. Here’s the interview:

Jeffrey Reed, Editor, LondonOntarioSports.com: Ian, before we talk about soccer, I want to discuss iConect, because the two are inseparable, really, when you consider how iConect’s success is parallel with your involvement with local soccer. You’re a very driven individual with an insatiable appetite for advancement. So talk about the inception of iConect.
Ian Campbell, CEO, FC London Soccer Club: I had been in the advertising game for a long time, got out of that and got into the tech game. I started doing a lot of work with law firms and really enjoyed training. I’ve always enjoyed waving the flag for different things, so I started doing training and started getting involved with a piece of software out of California. On the legal side, it was a way to work with documents, so multiple parties could come in and work on the same documents – except you all had to be in the same room. I was working on a project in Toronto for the Red Cross, and they said, ‘How do we get to this information from 18 different locations across the country?’ And I said, I don’t really know. Leave it with me. And, so I went to my brother, Neil, who is actually a C++ programmer at the time. He had graduated from the University of Waterloo. He figured out a way to web-enable the database. This was in ’99, when the Internet was just an idea. We took it to a couple of bigger law firms and said, you’re already doing this whole kind of multi-party access to documents, but would you like to do it from your offices around the world? And they loved it. And that’s really how it started. We sold our first product in March of ’99 and I really haven’t looked back. We’ve done some very interesting stuff. We did that Enron case in ’03. And we’re currently doing things like the BP Gulf of Mexico oil spill. There are a lot of other major legal cases, too. If you open up any magazine or newspaper, we’re probably involved in it in some way, shape or form.
SONY DSCReed: And this is all information shared by and accessible to the legal industry?
Campbell: Yes. For the most part, the lawyers who are involved in the legal case. So, each of them gets a secure username and password. Most of it is litigation. It’s people suing each other. You look at some of the stuff in the papers these days, the Volkswagen emission case, and the NFL concussion case, and the Takata airbag case. Those are all big litigations where there are a lot of people suing a lot of people. You have very large document collections, which are really not manageable in a paper format.
Reed: Given the sensitivity of these documents, the security measures taken due to the Internet-accessible information must provide files which are virtually impregnable.
Campbell: Yes. And having done this now for 15 years, we get beat up regularly by the Big Four (accounting firms PWC, Deloitte, EY and KPMG) who come in and do security audits and things like that. We run all kinds of interesting things. We’ve had people do iris scan intrusion, and again, you can put lots of layers in front of our security, but our security has a lot of bells and whistles in it as well. Touch wood, it’s been hack tested by the best and it’s still out there. So we’re quite pleased with what we’ve been able to do on that front.
Reed: Knowing you on the perimeter of the soccer pitch, and now here at your business headquarters, it’s evident that you are a Type A personality, to say the least. I can’t imagine you wasting the day away. What’s a typical work day like for you?
Campbell:  I am hands on, and I really get involved in waving the flag for the company. I go out and do a lot of presentations, a lot of meetings with some of our higher profile clients. But my love is really in the look and feel of the software. I have an Industrial Design degree from Fanshawe College, and I’ve always enjoyed the ergonomics, the interaction with the software itself. So my desk here is filled with sketch upon sketch of how it’s going to work and what it’s going to look like, and what buttons you’re going to press and which screens are going to come up. I think that’s my true love – all the architecture of how it’s going to work. But really not from a database standpoint in the backend, but more from the user experience perspective. A good part of my day is thinking through that and coming up with new and innovative ways for people to interact with the software.

“I am hands on, and I really get involved in waving the flag for the company.”Ian Campbell, on his post as President & CEO of iCONECT

Reed: Like your FC London women’s soccer star, Jade Kovacevic, you’re always thinking two or three steps ahead of the competition.SONY DSC
Campbell: Our mantra is to understand the client and anticipate what they’re going to need – not today, but tomorrow – and then simplify it into such a way that it doesn’t take a manual or a rocket scientist to run our software. It’s intuitive.
Reed: Speaking of mantras, you have a sign on the wall at your home that says, ‘Inhale.’ You look at it every day before leaving for work. And it helps you focus on the tasks in front of you each day.
Campbell: Yes, it’s just inside my back door. It reminds me to take a deep breath. It’s a new day. Every single day is another adventure. I think everybody gets caught up in the drama. But as Mark Twain is quoted, ‘I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.’ That’s very true. I think we all have stress in our lives and we all worry about what the day is going to bring.
Reed: Let’s talk, then, about your early days and how they helped create who you are now – someone whose morning mantra borders on a Zen-like peacefulness when surrounded by chaos. You moved to Canada from Scotland at age 7. What memories do you have of the old country?
Campbell: Not a lot. You know, grand-parent visits and one of them is actually going to Hampden Park in Glasgow with my dad, George, and watching a soccer game. I remember it was extremely cold, I said, out of the blue, can I have some tea? He looked at me strangely and said, ‘You really want tea?’ I said, yeah, I really want tea. So he got me a tea, at which point I promptly poured it on my rubber boots to try to get my feet warm. My dad was a big soccer fan. He actually was a football historian. He wrote a couple of books about teams in Edinburgh and Inverness. There’s actually a shelf devoted to his work in the Scottish Football Hall of Fame. And at Hampden Park, you’ll see his name all over. He was an engineer. The idea was to come to Canada, stay for two years, make some money and go back home. But he never left.
Reed: Your family settled in Brantford, where your father remains as soccer legend.
Campbell: Yes, so we came to Canada when I was 7, and a year later in 1969 my dad started a soccer program in Brantford, in conjunction with the Boys and Girls Club. There were eight teams in Brantford minor soccer that year – four junior teams and four senior teams. In 1970, they became the Brantford Minor Soccer Association. I moved out of Brantford in ’78 and I’m sure since then it’s probably blown apart into a competitive stream, and a house league stream and a few other random leagues, but back in the day it was the Brantford Falcons and the Brantford Ex-Imperials. The Falcons ran out of the German Canadian Club, and the Ex-Imperials ran out of their club. Growing up in Brantford, my dad was pretty instrumental in soccer’s growth. There’s actually a park named after now – the George Campbell Park in Brantford. He passed away about 22 years ago from asbestos poisoning. At age 16 he was chipping asbestos out of rail cars, and it finally caught up with him.  He died on New Year’s Day, and New Year’s Day, as you may know, is always a big soccer day in Europe. It’ a day when you go to the field and watch a game. It doesn’t matter who is playing. The day he passed away was the very first George Campbell Memorial Game, because he passed away about half an hour before the game. And every year since then, I travel to Brantford and play in a snow game on New Year’s Day.
Reed: That’s a great tribute to a man who, like you, felt so passionately about soccer.
SONY DSCCampbell: Yes. So at the George Campbell Memorial Game, anywhere between 20 and 40 guys show up, and we all get our boots on and our woolies on and go out there to play a game. It’s very exciting for me. So, now my daughter Nicole has come to play. My son Jordan comes every year. There’s a whole new crowd of players in there now, but every single year they hold this game. I’ve only missed two. I’m pretty excited about the fact that that’s been going on for over 20 years now.
Reed: Your dad was a great man, obviously beloved in Brantford, and in Scotland, to this day.
Campbell: There was a rumor at one point that he was going to go be an engineer with Mattel, which, of course, to a 7-year-old was the coolest idea ever. Instead he ended up at a pump company in Brantford. Wayne Gretzky and were about the same age, and Wayne lived four or five blocks from our house. I played some hockey with him when I was 11 years old. I remember me and my teammates were passing the puck back and forth, and he was alone up against the boards, standing on one skate with a stick between his legs flicking the puck off the boards. And of course, at 11 years old, you’re going oh, what a hot dog. How come he doesn’t have to do what we’re doing? But even then, you couldn’t knock him over. He was like one of those clowns with the weighted bottom. He just sort of came back up again.
Reed: As a soccer aficionado, I am sure you can appreciate his great footwork. It was his skating, and his vision that set him apart.
Campbell: His balance was off the chart. I played two or three games, and then I went and played house league for the rest of the year. But I will always remember going out on the ice with Wayne Gretzky.

“At t 11 years old, you’re going oh, what a hot dog. How come he doesn’t have to do what we’re doing? But even then, you couldn’t knock him over.”Ian Campbell, on playing minor hockey with Wayne Gretzky

Reed: You turned to soccer, though, and at 16 played on the Ontario provincial team.
Campbell: Yes, we would drive from Brantford to Cambridge to pick up a couple of kids, and we’d make our way to Toronto. I played on a team that won the Eastern Canadian Championship. There were a couple of significant players, including a guy named Branko Segota who ended up going on to a pretty good career in the NASL. And Gerry Gray who actually went on to captain the Canadian national team. It was an interesting time, and an opportunity to play at a very elite level with some very, very good players. And it certainly gave me a perspective of politics in soccer.
Reed: That’s a topic I want to dive into head-first, but talk briefly about your experience at Fanshawe College.
Campbell: When I was done high school, I knew I wanted to get into design and marketing and art, and ended up at Fanshawe. The bonus at that point is the year before, they’d won the Canadian College Championship. So, I went there and made the team. I was one of the few rookies who made the team. Then, about five or six games in, I think we had a game scheduled in Sudbury but we didn’t have enough guys, so we didn’t go. A couple of weeks later, we had a game in Kingston and we didn’t have enough guys so we didn’t go. The next practice, the coach showed up and said, ‘We’ve been suspended from the league for the year.’ For whatever reason, it was never appealed and we were suspended for another two years. So, my varsity soccer experience was about five games.
Reed: But you seem like a guy who turns lemons into lemonade. You focused on academics, and actually launched your own marketing company while at Fanshawe.
Campbell: At age 18 or 19, I started doing logos and brochures for family and friends. To this day, some of those skills learned, and that entrepreneurial mindset is what drives me every day. I enjoy creating. I enjoy seeing the end result of something that starts with a blank piece of paper. That’s very exciting for me.
Reed: You were heavily involved in advertising and marketing for about eight years, and then the tech world was exploding, as did your interest in it. Let me jump ahead a bit. Use of the Internet and control of your message via social media is paramount to any sports team’s existence. FC London soccer has embraced it wholeheartedly.
Campbell: It’s interesting because in advertising, back in the day, when someone came to us with a marketing issue we would try to solve it with some good photography, a brochure, a billboard and some radio ads. Now, when someone comes to you, it’s about Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and a great webpage presence, and then optimization of that webpage through Google analytics, SCM, SCO, to get good rankings.
Reed: Given your techie background, it’s no wonder you know how to use social media and web presence to market your team. And even before your team hit the pitch for the first time this year, you fully embraced Internet marketing. A lot of local teams, like the London Majors, for example, still have not jumped on that gravy train.
Campbell: We were smart way back on day one. We got the trademark for the name, FC London. And then we got FC London on Instagram, and on Twitter and Facebook. We own all of those now. That gives us a lot of continuity throughout our message.
SONY DSCReed: Before we jump into the politics of soccer, let’s talk about your early success, in particular the women’s side (8-1 with their first loss 2-0 against Woodbridge Strikers July 3). I can’t go on without first talking about your superstar, Jade Kovacevic – 15 goals through nine games. She’s the Mitch Marner of local soccer. She’s that much better than the competition – explosive during her first steps. And she has what all star athletes have: unwavering concentration.
Campbell: She’s very focused. Before the game, she’s not looking around. She knows what she wants to do. And she wants the ball, but she’s not greedy about it. I’ve seen a number of goals this year where she could have easily taken the shot, but she passed it off because she knew someone else had a better opportunity. But yes, the focus that she has is really what drives her. She’s also extremely strong. She’s quite small, but I remember when we were doing all the shirts, and she asked for an extra small shirt. I’m like, seriously? So, she’s not a physical presence, however she’s tough as nails. I’ve seen her go into tackles with girls who are a lot taller than she is and probably have 30 or 40 pounds on her, and she comes out with the ball. And she’s got little magnets on her feet! She uses them well.
Reed: How much of your women’s squad’s success is owed to Jade’s dominating presence? It is, after all, a team game. And I’m sure with Jade drawing much attention on the pitch, her teammates benefit. Not to take away from them, but Jade is Jade.
Campbell: The game, for the most part, is not played at the front. The game is played from the back. You’re feeding it up. But when you get to that final third, you have to put the ball in the net. You can play all the pretty soccer you want, but ultimately it comes down to, did you score more goals than the other team? And I think the one thing that she can do very well is, she can finish. And she draws attention away from other players. So, when she gets the ball and she beats one player, the next thing you know, two of their players come on to Jade. Now, three of them are out of the game and that’s when she can lay the ball off to someone else who is now open.

” I’ve seen her go into tackles with girls who are a lot taller than she is and probably have 30 or 40 pounds on her, and she comes out with the ball. Ian Campbell on FC London star Jade Kovacevic

Reed: The men’s side are having an outstanding season, too (8-2 as of July 5).
Campbell: I’m very happy with them. I think there’s a lot of enthusiasm there. One of the key things is, we have local kids, and that’s never been the case before in organizations I’ve been involved with, where we’re bringing in so many imports that the local players really never get a shot. That’s one of the exciting things about League1. They’re sticking to their guns: they want to promote Canadian players. They want us to showcase London players, both on the men’s and women’s sides. We’ve already had a number of League1 executive members contact us about players who are within our program, and having them come to participate in national programs.
Reed: Let’s recap what the OSA is moving forward with. Semi-pro League1 Ontario now has men’s and women’s under-23 teams. The association’s mandated development program aims to have Canadian teams play in Canada, while concurrently developing Canadian players. As of 2017, FC London would not have been able to play in a league outside of Ontario. You were proactive, getting the jump on this mandate one year in advance.
SONY DSCCampbell: It was important for me to anticipate and then simplify. We wanted to anticipate the fact that we don’t want to be doing this at the last minute. I wanted to build some momentum. Now was the time to do this. We spent a lot of time and energy re-branding the organization to make sure that it was in line (with OSA’s mandate). And then we did open trials. And the players offered us a very strong selection – a big surprise.
Reed: You’re very passionate about soccer, to say the least. Soccer fans, more than any other sports fans, are passionate about their game. They live and die with their clubs, in particular everywhere around the globe minus North America. What about local politics of soccer – why does this sport see more political games than any other local sport, and at every level?
Campbell: Sheer numbers.

“When you get to more of a micro level here in London, Ontario, I think you have a lot of people who feel they are doing the right thing – a lot of people with a passion for the game, a lot of people with a passion for trying to ‘fix’ it.”Ian Campbell on the politics of local soccer

Reed: You’ve indicated about 10 per cent of our city’s population are playing soccer, whether it be minor soccer, at the elite level or with an adult recreational side. Despite the fact Canadians and Americans don’t embrace professional soccer as do the rest of the world’s population, it is now, by far, the most popular participation team sport.
Campbell:  I think there’s a ton of passion for the game – but it’s a ton of passion for the ethnic game. If you were to have a game between the Italian national team and the Canadian national team, you would unfortunately have more people in the crowd in Toronto cheering on the Italian national team. When you get to more of a micro level here in London, Ontario, I think you have a lot of people who feel they are doing the right thing – a lot of people with a passion for the game, a lot of people with a passion for trying to ‘fix’ it. A lot of people with passion for thinking that their way is the right way. And when people don’t agree with (your way) and they’re passionate about (their own way), then you start to fracture out different groups with different philosophies.
The InterviewReed: You also have stated that local geography can divide the game. For example, an hour’s drive from northeast London to Lambeth for a 6 p.m. game will only divide local soccer into separate groups. What else hurts the local game?
Campbell: I think some of (local soccer’s problem) is a coaching issue, with some key coaches here in the city – you can probably name six or seven of them. They all have some level of notoriety. They have their way of coaching – their own philosophy of coaching: what they’re doing is the ‘best solution.’ They’ve built a camp around that. Others who share that philosophy start to build in and around (that) philosophy. And then you get some of the academy programs. I don’t envy the position of the Elgin Middlesex Soccer Association (EMSA). They’ve sat on the sidelines for a long time and watched it unfold. They’ve tried to, in a number of occasions, fix it themselves. Unfortunately you end up kind of competing with your own clients at that point, and again causing even more friction. The challenge is, everybody has an opinion. And there’s a lot of passion for the game.
Reed: Ian, you’re one of the game’s biggest proponents, and I know your father would be proud. Thanks for taking the time to chat with me.
Campbell: My pleasure Jeff.

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About jeffreyreed

A leading Canadian communications professional. Corporate office http://www.JeffreyReedReporting.com established 1989. Publisher/Editor of this website and https://londonontariogolf.com.

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