DHR International’s Rugby World Cup event – what can business learn from elite sport?

DHR Rugby Event

The evening of October 14 saw one of the major events on our calendar: the DHR International Rugby World Cup event in London.

Hosted by Alex Bennett, managing partner and global leader of DHR International’s Medtech, Devices & Diagnostics practice, the event featured two of the rugby world’s most decorated professionals as speakers – former Australian captain Michael Lynagh, winner of the World Cup in 1991, and Kyran Bracken, a World Cup winner with England in 2003. Kyran even trusted the audience enough to pass his World Cup winner’s medal around the 150 guests in the room!

Apart from being teammates at London’s rugby club Saracens in the 1990s, what Alex, Michael and Kyran have in common is that they have all now successfully transferred their skills from the rugby field to the business arena: Alex at DHR International, Michael in commercial real estate, and Kyran in residential construction (as well as winning UK TV show Dancing On Ice in 2007).

The theme of the discussion centered around what business can learn from elite sport in three areas: team-building, leadership and organisational culture.

With the event taking place shortly after England’s disappointing early exit from the Rugby World Cup on home soil, all the speakers had strong opinions on how the all three of those factors have affected England’s performances.

Michael suggested that teams reflect the personalities of their coaches, and that England coach Stuart Lancaster’s low-key personality might be the driver behind the team’s unpopular low-risk approach to the game.

He added that the best leaders surround themselves with experts who can challenge them to improve, and questioned whether Lancaster had only succeeded in surrounding himself with people he could control, leading to regression throughout the group.

Kyran said that in any organisation, the CEO must take responsibility when there is a failure of strategy, meaning that the position of England’s Professional Rugby Director Rob Andrew must now be in question. He also suggested that the organisational learnings of England’s World Cup win in 2003 had not been retained due to a lack of continuity in leadership since then.

Both Michael and Kyran spoke glowingly of Eddie Jones, the Australian coach of rugby minnows Japan, who shocked the world with their unexpected 34-32 upset win over powerhouse South Africa – sure to be the tournament’s most memorable moment.

They highlighted how Jones – who has a Japanese-American mother and a Japanese wife – had used his knowledge of Japanese culture to blend his natural coaching style with the expectations of the players in his squad, and maximise their potential on the world stage. Alex said that the best leaders, both in sport and in business, are those who can adapt their approach to the existing culture of an organisation.

Finally, both Alex and Michael both spoke emotionally of how the rugby community had rallied around them when they suffered serious health problems. At almost exactly the same time in 2012, Michael suffered a stroke, while Alex was paralysed in an on-field accident. Happily, both have now made inspiring recoveries, with Michael detailing his story in his memoir, Blindsided, published last month.

We at DHR International would like to thank both Michael and Kyran for sharing their views on elite sport and business, and hope that everyone who attended gained some insight into how success on the field can translate into organisational success in business. We also hope everyone who attended enjoys their complimentary copy of Michael’s inspirational autobiography.

And finally, we hope everyone enjoys the rest of the Rugby World Cup – even disappointed England fans!

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