There are things a business can learn from sport
Leicester Tigers CEO, Simon Cohen, swapped the Welford Road pitch to the 3G grass in our office earlier this year and joined us for a CP Talks event. CP Talks is a series we’ve created to help entrepreneurs and business owners from the Midlands connect, network and be inspired. Here’s what we heard on the night.
“When I took over Leicester Tigers, we were making significant profit. We’d won the premiership five out of seven years. And now… let’s say I’ve got questions to answer. But hopefully this evening, your questions will be lighter than those from our supporters’ forums!”
A professional life in rugby
Though Simon opened with a jibe, he hardly had to justify his position to our audience. He spent the next ten minutes talking about where it all began and taking us on the journey to where he is now.
“I love rugby. And if you love sport it’s a good sport to be involved in. It has great values,” said Simon.
“I got into rugby coaching holidays for kids for 15 years. I got a law degree by mistake. My wife did a part-time law degree and I sat in the car park for a couple of months because she didn’t have a driving licence. I got cold in the car and eventually decided to go inside!
“After working in Sports Law supporting rugby and football clubs for the next few years, I was headhunted by Tigers in 2005 as Head of Operations. Seven years ago, I was made senior executive.
“Don’t get me wrong – the more professional it gets, you lose some of the joie de vivre. But my whole professional life has been rugby and I love it.”
Dealing with the pressure
We asked Simon, how do your players deal with the pressure?
“Statistics show Premiership Rugby is the most competitive sport in the world on a points and games lost basis. You go to any ground and you know any team can win any game.”
“You have to be resilient, mentally. It’s actually an interesting concept. Up until a few years ago, we were of the view that it’s not a learned skill to be mentally tough. So, we used to get rid of players.
“But in today’s age, with sports psychologists, you can work with players to give them a mental toughness.”
“Outside of the players, on the commercial side, we become focused on what’s in our control. We lose absolutely no sleep whatsoever over the stuff we can’t affect. You have to let that go. We try an implement this across the whole organisation.”
Rugby values vs. business values
“In most of the businesses I’ve worked in, there’s office politics. People covering their own back. But in rugby it’s different because, effectively, you have an AGM every weekend.
“You have to move on quickly. Players learn to have a better attitude towards responsibility. And, if you can create this sort of environment in a commercial setting too, this is very powerful… by letting people try things, by not coming down hard on people when things go wrong. It means you cope much better with the problems.
“The values that make us a good team are taking blame, taking responsibility, being, honest and straight with people. But they’re also the things that make us a good commercial business too.
“It’s organisations like this, where everyone feels they can contribute, that are usually the ones that are successful. There are things sport can learn from business. There are things business can learn from sport.”
The characteristics of a good leader
From business leaders to team captains, Simon’s worked with lots of inspiring leaders. But what do the good ones have in common?
“Clive Woodward and Martin Johnson worked well together because Clive would come up with 95 bad ideas and five good ones. It worked because Martin could judge which ones were the good ones. Which ones the teams needed. The good captains have a good feel for the environment.
“I think people follow good leaders and captain for lots of different reasons. Martin didn’t say many words. He certainly led by example. He had a good feel for the flow of the game. His decision making was good. The good captains I’ve met are good judges of the mood off the field too.”
What I’ve learnt
A member of our audience asked Simon, “If you could go back and give your old self one piece of advice now, what would it be?”.
“Be true to yourself,” Simon said.
“I wish I’d done this earlier. We’re often reflections of what’s around us and because of the feedback we receive and listen to. But be yourself. People judge you in your most comfortable demeanour.”
CP Talks is a series we’ve created to help entrepreneurs and business owners from across the Midlands connect, network and be inspired. If you’d like to be invited to the next one, please let us know. And keep an eye on our events page throughout the year too for other things we have going on.