Axel Schuster becomes Whitecaps CEO, as Mark Pannes departs

Pannes was appointed as CEO in January

Axel Schuster
New Vancouver Whitecaps CEO Axel Schuster joined the club in November 2019 | Glen Korstrom

Vancouver Whitecaps FC announced an executive shuffle June 16 that will elevate sporting director Axel Schuster into the dual role of sporting director and CEO. Mark Pannes, who was hired in January to become CEO, has left the club, the soccer team said in a statement. 

The team had previously divided duties where Schuster was in charge of on-field operations while Pannes took control of business aspects of the club. The plan moving forward is to merge those two roles.

"Could we continue to have run it the way we were running it?" club co-owner Jeff Mallett asked during a June 16 Zoom call. "Yes. I don't think it would have been as efficient and effective. There would have been potentially times where there were lags."

Mallett thanked Pannes for his contributions but said that he has no doubt that the new structure is better for the club. 

"Because Axel has been overindexing and doing great ... it was sitting right there in front of us," Mallett said. "Not an easy decision. Don't take it lightly. A lot of value from Mark but this was clear. It was clear. As tough as this is, it was clear for all of us to make this decision."

Schuster will report directly to Mallett and the ownership group, which also includes former National Basketball Association star Steve Nash, Seagate chair Steve Luczo and technology executive Greg Kerfoot. Kerfoot owns the largest stake in the club. 

"[Axel] has overperformed and brought more to the club than we even anticipated," Mallett said.

"Since joining the club last year, Axel has proven to be a thoughtful, professional, and highly effective leader who has not only laid the foundation for a best in class sporting environment but also has been a key contributor on the executive team overseeing all aspects of the club."

Mallett said that with the club returning to play MLS games, with the upcoming MLS is Back Tournament set for July 8 through August 11, this is a good time to make the executive change. 

Schuster joined the Whitecaps as sporting director in November, 2019. He had been actively involved in the business operations at FSV Mainz 05 and FC Schalke. Schuster earned his law degree at Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz and is fluent in German, English and Spanish.

This isn't the first time that the Whitecaps have said goodbye to an acclaimed soccer executive who they brought in to be CEO. The team's first CEO, Paul Barber, left Tottenham Hotspur to join the club in early 2010, and he lasted until December 2011, when he resigned.