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The Parable of Ryan Fraser: Bad Eggs & The Power of Culture

Updated: Nov 8, 2023

Guest Blogger: Stuart Carroll

The old aphorism that it only takes one bad egg to render an entire basket rotten transcends mere metaphor to a higher plane of serious organisational culture. It was the cultural titan Schien who rightly told us that espoused values must be actualised values as without that culture, in other words the very ethical tectonic plates of an organisation, will become dysfunctional. Dysfunctions of this kind not only torpedo credibility and authenticity - the idea of rhetoric and hyperbole trumping reality and substance - but will ultimately traduce the very purposeful foundations on which an organisation is built. If you say you are zero tolerant on bullying and abuse, then you better make sure you are and cut it out without delay and ensure no behaviours undermine that stated axiom. Otherwise, a bit like a pungent stink bomb, and to borrow Herzberg’s terminology, those very behaviours will toxify the “hygiene factors” that underpin the motivational dynamics of staff. And it is staff - yes people and humans - who not only define and shape culture, but are the day to day regulators of its presence or lack thereof, and its ability to succeed or fail. In footballing terms, they control the “dressing room”, the drumbeat, the feeling and perception of the terrace. Lose that and you lose your culture. In the end, you just lose and are relegated to a gelatinous entity of meaningless.

As a real gadgie emanating from the Newcastle, black and white stripes runs through my blood and so does the internal workings of Newcastle United and St James’ Park (yes the best place on earth). Like all Toon fans, a sense of optimism has swept over the club since the belated takeover from the remorseless Mike Ashley and the ingenious appointment of Eddie Howe as the Gaffer. Not only has Howe initially seen us avoid relegation, when most bookmakers had closed the spreadsheet, but moreover an extraordinary mid-table finish and then last season our miraculous qualification for the Champions League. Lest we forget, despite a few bob along the way on player transfers, Howe has signed players carefully with a real focus on culture, the dressing room and a clear identity of what it means to be a Newcastle United player. This has been personified by the inspirational Kieron Tripper as Captain and Howe’s magical ability to somehow transform Joe Linton from a hapless Row Z merchant into a world class midfield dynamo. Truly remarkable scenes. Howe has delivered a black and white purpose, which is as clear as the beloved stripes Geordies adore and cherish.

Yet Howe has also delivered another serious marker around culture, which amidst egos, stars, billions of loot and yes pressure, many organisations could frankly learn from. He has sagaciously made it unequivocal that bad behaviour, lack of team play and poor attitude will never be tolerated. Cue the now banished Ryan Fraser. For those of you who are not Toon or footy fans, let me explain. This is a lesson in culture and leadership.

Fraser’s association with Howe goes back to their days together at Bournemouth. Howe has always valued an inner circle style of leadership with Generals in the dressing room who galvanise and shape priorities. Fraser was one such trusted player - Howe was seminal to his development as a professional footballer at The Cherries - and that relationship continued when Howe took over at St James’ Park. The Scotsman was a regular first team player and received consistent public praise from his Gaffer.

Yet, before one match Fraser purportedly refused to play in a certain position and, it is alleged, then precipitously handed in a transfer request. Fraser committed the cardinal sin: he seemingly put his ego, sense of entitlement and misplaced self-worth above that of the team’s need. That is sacrilege in football and the antithesis to the likes of Dan Burn, Jacob Murphy and Jamaal Lascelles who have often played out of position or sat in the bench for the team’s benefit. Team players versus a selfish individualist. In the case of club captain Jamal Lascelles, the big central defender has hardly played, but Howe at a recent press conference made clear he was going nowhere in the transfer window and a huge part of the squad. Similarly, squad players and veterans Matt Ritchie and Paul Dummett have been given contract extensions with the manager praising their selflessness and hugely positive impact around the club.

Howe, despite his long positive history with Fraser and a man noted for his loyalty, immediately dispatched Fraser to the Newcastle youth team and has unceremoniously blocked him from training with the first team or even the reserves. The ultimate exile - the footballing equivalent to Romeo being dispensed to Mantua - was enforced and remained in place until The Toon could either ship Fraser out to another club or his contract expired; the Scotsman is now out on loan. Fraser has also been without a squad number this season, which is the equivalent to a decree nisi before the inevitable gavel of decree absolute is slammed down.

When questioned by the media about his decision, the typically measured Howe made clear in unusually blunt terms: 1) he does not want anyone at the club who will not play for the team and the shirt; 2) nobody is above or more important than the team; and 3) he will not provide a running commentary on Fraser and that was that! Ruthless about ethics. Unambiguous about espoused values being actualised. Definitive about standards. And incontrovertible about culture being protected. The Toon Army faithful knows what our manager will stand for and there are no free tickets when it comes to bad behaviour. The terrace is with him and the dressing room has a marker put down. Sir Alex Ferguson did the same during his illustrious time at Manchester United. McGrath, Beckham, Keane or frankly The Pope himself were not immune from prosecution. Leaders lead and must be true to the words they state.

With his own thoughtful style - less “hairdryer treatment” and more sniper intervention - Howe has shown what leadership means and why it is so vital to culture and the climate of an organisation. No Chamberlain policy of appeasement. No Clinton policy of containment. Instead, a Churchillian policy of zero tolerance. Ethics matter. They determine values and thus the culture. The “mirror test” is everything. If you cannot get up in the morning, look in the mirror and see what you want coming back, it is curtains for culture. Howe has shown The Toon Army faithful your values are safe with me. No wonder we all cheer his name. The fans emotional credit cards for Howe are maxed to the limit; more so than the average spend on a Saturday night down The Bigg Market. And in doing so, the Gaffer has also provided us with the parable of Ryan Fraser. Protect the culture and Champions League football (success) and exciting times (going for gold) await.


Stuart Carroll is a senior health economist, epidemiologist, and health policy expert specialising in the NHS; infectious diseases, vaccines and public health; the pharmaceutical industry; and public and external affairs. His areas of expertise include vaccination policy and public health systems; healthcare funding and pricing and reimbursement; market access strategy and health technology appraisal (HTA); and industrial policy including strategic communications and government affairs. Stuart holds an MBA (with distinction) from Imperial Business School, an MSc in Health Economics (with distinction) from the University of York and a BA (Hons) in Politics and Economics from the University of Northumbria at Newcastle (1st Class).

Expertise Summary

Stuart has experience leading and managing over 50 HTA and tender submissions to a range of global health authorities; building new teams from scratch with over 12 years of line management and leadership experience; and formulating strategic and commercial plans. He has worked across multiple areas of health and industrial policy including vaccination, oncology, neurology, rare diseases, mental health and the UK Voluntary Scheme for Branded Medicines (VPAS). Stuart has been a voting member of the New Drugs Committee (NDC) for the Scottish Medicines Consortium (SMC) and the National Institute for Health & Care Excellence (NICE) Appeals Panel. He is currently a Senior Fellow at the Office of Health Economics.

Stuart currently works as Director for Market Access and Policy Affairs for Moderna UK and Ireland. He previously worked as a Senior Expert Policy and Strategy Adviser for the UK Government's Vaccines Taskforce, Therapeutic Taskforce and Antiviral Taskforce, where he was responsible for leading and coordinating interactions with manufacturers, NHS England, MHRA and NIBSC, JCVI, PHE, DHSC and BEIS, and the Northern Irish Office and Cabinet Office. Stuart was also an elected Borough Councillor for Boyn Hill in the Royal Borough of Windsor & Maidenhead (RBWM) from 2015 to 2023, having served as the Deputy Chair of Cabinet and the Cabinet Member for Adult Social Care, Health, Mental Health and Children Services. Stuart also holds a Senior Fellowship at the think tank Policy Exchange and a Senior Visiting Fellowship at the Office of Health Economics. Stuart's PhD is sponsored by the Office of Health Economics via an independent and unrestricted grant.

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