SAIL OF THE CEN­TURY

One of Aus­tralia’s great­est sport­ing achieve­ments still has plenty to teach us about suc­cess and in­no­va­tion three decades later

The Australian - The Deal - - Front Page -

THIRTY YEARS AGO, ALAN BOND’S

Amer­ica’s Cup chal­lenger, Aus­tralia II, had come back from the grave. Af­ter six races, the score in New­port, Rhode Is­land, was three-all. On Septem­ber 25, the eve of the de­cid­ing race for a tro­phy Amer­ica had held for 132 years, US pres­i­dent Ron­ald Rea­gan told defending skip­per Den­nis Con­ner that “Nancy and I are root­ing for you”. Con­ner, and the US, lost by 41 sec­onds.

Per­haps Con­ner was un­able to get the pic­ture of Nancy and Ron out of his mind. Or maybe Aus­tralia II skip­per John Ber­trand and his crew had worked out No­bel Prize-win­ning psy­chol­o­gist Daniel Kah­ne­man’s equa­tion for vic­tory: “Suc­cess = tal­ent + luck; great suc­cess = a lit­tle more tal­ent + a lot of luck.” In sport it’s very clear who wins. There

are first, sec­ond, third and then who cares? Cham­pion teams such as Manch­ester United and Fer­rari can go on win­ning, but few com­pa­nies do. Of our top-50 com­pa­nies in 1983, 42 have fallen off the list, 34 were taken over and eight of them sim­ply un­der­per­formed.

There are sev­eral rea­sons Bond will be re­mem­bered more for his con­tri­bu­tion to sport than to busi­ness. He was per­sis­tent — it took him four at­tempts to win the Auld Mug. He picked the best peo­ple for the job, even if he didn’t like them. One per­son he did like wasWar­ren Jones, who ran the cam­paign, the peo­ple and the bat­tle against the New York Yacht Club, which tried to ban Aus­tralia II’s Ben Lex­cen-de­signed winged

keel. As with many suc­cess­ful busi­nesses, the chief ex­ec­u­tive role was a part­ner­ship, with Bond do­ing the so­cial side and Jones the tech­ni­cal.

And Bond was pre­pared to in­no­vate — not only tech­ni­cally but in the way he used his peo­ple. In busi­ness, it’s not so sim­ple. For a start, you have thou­sands of peo­ple and you race ev­ery day. Most ex­ec­u­tives will never pick some­one who threat­ens them. They also have a shorter life span than an Amer­ica’s Cup cam­paign, so the next leader can take de­liv­ery of a poi­soned chal­ice. And for most com­pa­nies strat­egy is an ad­jec­tive.

So how do you judge win­ners? Short-term mar­ket cap­i­tal­i­sa­tion is not much of a guide. In one of our many min­ing booms, shares in nickel miner Po­sei­don went from 80c to $280 and back in

less than five months. Be­ing ad­mired doesn’t help much ei­ther. Thirty years ago For­tune mag­a­zine’s list of the most ad­mired com­pa­nies in­cluded Ko­dak andWang. In 2001, En­ron was near the top; a few months later it was bank­rupt. And who

be­lieves in profit re­sults any more?

For pub­lic com­pa­nies, that leaves long-term growth in mar­ket cap­i­tal­i­sa­tion com­pared with other listed com­pa­nies. And that en­tails a fo­cus on pro­duc­tiv­ity, growth and adapt­ing to change.

New­port has plenty to say about those three drivers — and it has great food. I spent a lot of 1982 and 1983 re­port­ing on the Amer­ica’s Cup and hav­ing a gen­er­ally dis­so­lute time. I re­turned ear­lier this year. The Gilded Age man­sions still over­shadow any­thing con­ceived by Baz Luhrmann. While the Black Pearl and the White Horse Tav­ern kick on, Restau­rant Bouchard is the place to eat. But the best and most ironic place to stay is the New York Yacht Club’s “Re­nais­sance Nor­man-style man­sion” on three water­side hectares in Hali­don Av­enue. De­spite 1983, the club wel­comes Aus­tralians, the rooms are sen­sa­tional and you can un­der­stand why its mem­bers thought they would never lose. Cel­e­brateAus­trali­aII’shis­toricwina­talunch to­beat­tend­ed­byJohnBer­tran­dandAlanBond onSeptem­ber26atSyd­ney’sHil­tonHo­tel.To at­tendthelunch,host­ed­byYacht­ingAus­tralia, TheWar­renJonesFoun­da­tio­nandTheS­port Hallof­Fame,call(02)93562900or­book­ings@ hur­ri­ca­neevents.com.

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