When Real Madrid stepped out last weekend to face Granada in a top-of-the table La Liga clash, there was the usual mix of dignitaries and VIPs in the executive boxes.
There were members of the Spanish royal family, politicians and long-time president Florentino Perez.
Also watching on, as Eden Hazard, Luka Modric and Gareth Bale strutted their stuff in front of more than 70,000 fans, were the club's three executive vice-presidents, other board members and the CEO.
And among them all, a 37-year-old Kiwi, whose first student job was in the butchery department at a Christchurch Countdown supermarket.
Meet Michael Sutherland. The University of Canterbury graduate is a senior executive at the football behemoth, recently appointed chief transformation officer.
He reports directly to the CEO, and oversees the marketing, digital and technology departments.
It's a multi-faceted role, but Sutherland, who has a decade of experience in Silicon Valley behind him, is essentially charged with helping Real Madrid improve, develop and grow all aspects of its operation, outside the football areas. He's there to help Los Blancos to adapt to and take advantage of the constantly changing environment within the sporting and business spheres. No small challenge.
"It's an amazing opportunity," Sutherland tells the Herald on Sunday. "It's a club steeped in history, with an incredible legacy of more than a century, a rich culture and strong values supported by a passionate, global fan base. At the same time it is looking forward, asking what does it take to maintain that leadership in the next decade and beyond. That's where this role emerged from, it's an organisation that wants to stay ahead of change."
Real Madrid is the most successful football club in the world. Formed in 1902, they have won 13 European Cups, including four trophies in five years between 2013 and 2018. They've also claimed seven world club titles and been crowned champions of Spain 33 times.
Many of the top players in history have worn their famed all white strip, from Alfredo di Stefano and Ferenc Puskas, to Zinedine Zidane and Cristiano Ronaldo. During the "galacticos" era of the early 2000s, a significant portion of the biggest names in football were all plying their trade in the Spanish capital; David Beckham, Zidane, Roberto Carlos, Luis Figo, Ronaldo (Brazilian) and Fabio Cannavaro.
Their popularity is reflected in more than 1200 official fan clubs, in almost every corner of the earth.
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Real Madrid is also a financial empire. They were valued at US$4.25 billion ($6.71b) earlier this year, bigger than any other football club. According to a Deloittes report, they generated €750m ($1.3b) in revenue last year, the most in world football.
But their ownership structure remains rooted in tradition. The club is owned by its members — more than 60,000 of them — who elect the president, the board and approve the spending and the budgets ahead of each season.
Sutherland grew up in Hillmorton, an outlying suburb of Christchurch. He played a variety of sports, including football, rugby and basketball, to a "competitive level".
After completing an engineering degree, Sutherland landed his first job. But he didn't last long, as his restless ambition came to the fore.
"After a couple of years working as a software developer, I basically packed everything up and said, 'I don't want to sit behind a computer, I don't want to be near a vending machine. I have a whole list of things that I want to do and I am going to chase that'."
Sutherland headed to Europe. After working and living there, he did further study in Singapore before landing in the United States.
He progressed swiftly in Silicon Valley, with a series of different roles.
"I've mainly focused on innovation, product strategy and business strategy," said Sutherland. "I've also worked with start-ups and helped to launch products that have won multiple awards."
At times it was frenetic, living up to the stereotypes around the Californian technological hub.
"It was an always on, always go environment, particularly with start-ups," said Sutherland. "I remember spending three days in the office non-stop to do a product launch, where we didn't sleep for two days. Everyone is all hands on deck for the mission; it's a very infectious attitude, a very demanding environment."
Sutherland's CV is impressive. He was a director at Hewlett Packard, looking after new product development for non-core products, and has also completed executive courses at Harvard, Stanford and M.I.T.
Sutherland started at Real Madrid during their pre-season tour of the United States in July, where the team played in front of packed stadiums in Houston, Washington D.C. and New Jersey, offering an early insight into the enormity of the club.
"It was amazing to see the level of passion and interest from fans in North America," recalled Sutherland. "It is a Spanish football club that is a global sensation."
Sutherland's role as chief transformation officer is a relatively new role in the corporate world. There are a few hundred across companies in the United States and United Kingdom, while Real Madrid is the first sports organisation to employ a CTO.
"Things move fast in this space," said Sutherland. "IBM said recently that 40 per cent of its revenue is coming from products and services that were impossible for them two years ago. We need to ask — how do we keep Real Madrid at the top? How do we create an environment so that when change comes we are ready, embrace it and take advantage of it?
"Because we are going to see a huge amount of commercial growth out of the top performing sports enterprises."
Sutherland has a glamorous role. He'll attend every home game and most away games. But he is just as focused on the tens of millions of Madrid supporters that will never set foot inside the Santiago Bernabeu.
"In terms of football, we have the largest global audience in the world," said Sutherland. "How do we establish that one-to-one relationship with fans, but do so at scale? I'm focused on how we deliver that and continue to improve."