A win is a win

When your star player is your big­gest headache

Finweek English Edition - - NEWS -

If you know any­thing about For­mula One, you know that Se­bas­tian Vet­tel and Mark Web­ber don’t get along. The rift be­tween Red Bull’s two star drivers has be­come a re­cur­ring fea­ture in the brand’s re­cent his­tory and a headache for Team Prin­ci­pal Chris­tian Horner, who spends most of his time try­ing to dif­fuse ten­sion enough to pass it off as a healthy ri­valry to the press. But at last month’s Malaysian Grand Prix, Vet­tel added a spec­tac­u­lar new f is­sure to the al­ready strained re­la­tion­ship when he de­lib­er­ately dis­re­garded strict team in­struc­tions and over­took his team­mate in the clos­ing stages of the race when the two drivers were neck and neck – a move that was not only ex­cep­tion­ally dan­ger­ous, but ir­re­vo­ca­bly detri­men­tal to what now looks like a fully-fledged in­ter­nal feud. (Vet­tel went on to win the race – his third win in Malaysia and the 27th vic­tory of his ca­reer.)

The 25-year-old Ger­man cham­pion was more than happy to re­mind the press of his im­pres­sive lack of tact last week when he im­plied that his ac­tions had been some­thing of a re­venge ploy, “in­di­rectly” re­lated to past in­stances where he felt Web­ber had raced against the best in­ter­ests of the team. He also sug­gested that he would

defy or­ders again should a sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tion arise: “I would have thought about it and would prob­a­bly have done the same thing be­cause Mark doesn’t de­serve that,” Vet­tel said. “I don’t apol­o­gise for win­ning. That is why peo­ple em­ployed me in the f irst place and why I’m here.”

Ru­mour has it that Vet­tel had de­manded ear­lier that Web­ber be in­structed to move out of the way.

What hap­pened next is in­ter­est­ing. Bar a fee­ble at­tempt at re­proach by Horner dur­ing the race (“This is silly, Seb, come on,” he warned, in­ter­ven­ing over the ra­dio dur­ing the 46th lap) it later fol­lowed that no puni­tive mea­sures were taken by the Red Bull team in re­sponse to Vet­tel’s ac­tions: no sus­pen­sion, no for­mal apol­ogy or­dered, no se­ri­ous pun­ish­ment meted out. What the Red Bull bosses did do is amend their poli­cies so that no team or­ders were al­lowed to be given dur­ing the race, stat­ing that all strate­gic de­ci­sions would be made prior to the event.

“What’s wrong about this sit­u­a­tion, is that Horner ad­justed his man­age­ment de­ci­sion to avoid a team mem­ber not obey­ing him,” says Dr Frances Wright, a man­age­ment spe­cial­ist who holds both an MBA and a PhD from North-West Univer­sity. “This is a clear case of in­sub­or­di­na­tion, one that has been tol­er­ated through the chang­ing of a man­age­ment de­ci­sion to avoid con­flict, and when that hap­pens, a prece­dent is set. [Horner] has lost his abil­ity to con­trol the team, no mat­ter what he says or thinks.”

The prob­lem with the Vet­tel/ Web­ber fi­asco, and like so many com­pa­nies deal­ing with sim­i­lar con­flict, is thus not with the two in­di­vid­u­als in ques­tion, but with man­age­ment.

What most crit­ics noted about the Red Bull man­age­ment is that, given the high­stakes na­ture of the sport, win­ning has unashamedly taken prece­dence over the team mem­bers’ per­sonal needs of as­sur­ance, fair­ness and due praise, and Horner has made no at­tempt to hide the fact that there is a very vis­i­ble peck­ing or­der, if not a cer­tain predilec­tion to­wards favouritism. Ac­cord­ing to Mercedes driver Lewis Hamil­ton, it’s the key rea­son why Red Bull is hav­ing a hard time: “Red Bull have a clear one and two, they al­ways have. And that is why they have al­ways had the prob- lems they have had,” The Guardian quoted Hamil­ton as say­ing. “We don’t have a one and two at Mercedes. I have al­ways said, from the moment I was speak­ing to the team, that I wanted equal­ity (with Nico Ros­berg).”

Over­in­flated egos, of­fice ri­valry, du­bi­ous rule-bend­ing and undis­cussed risk­tak­ing – all are man­age­able sce­nar­ios that can es­ca­late to un­pleas­ant pro­por­tions if you aren’t man­ag­ing your team in the right way. David Par­nell, a US-based le­gal con­sul­tant, makes a point that if there is ten­sion in a team dy­namic, you’ll find your em­ploy­ees wast­ing their time and ‘cog­ni­tive band­width’ on “ex­er­cis­ing re­straint, mea­sur­ing words and oth­er­wise forc­ing hands to play nicely in the sand­box.” The re­sult, he says, is “shoddy work­man­ship, pushed or missed dead­lines and se­vere lac­er­a­tions to the com­pany cul­ture or your group’s sub-cul­ture.”

Even the most ex­pe­ri­enced man­agers have had trou­ble deal­ing with a ‘Se­bas­tian Vet­tel’ in the work­place at some point in their ca­reers. We spoke to three South African man­age­ment ex­perts on how to ap­proach sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tions:


Erik Ver­meulen – Busi­ness con­sul­tant, be­havioural eco­nom­ics strate­gist and key­note speaker:

I think the most im­por­tant as­pect to bear in mind is that this high-pro­file sport func­tions in a very dif­fer­ent en­vi­ron­ment than busi­ness teams. Within a busi­ness con­text though, such be­hav­iour cer­tainly im­pacts on trust in the team. Ul­ti­mately the team should al­ways rank above the in­di­vid­ual, and in busi­ness this should al­ways be the case. The best way to han­dle this in my mind would be to have a cru­cial con­ver­sa­tion with the two guys and fo­cus on the prob­a­bil­ity of risk in the de­ci­sion. What risks are there to the team, to the in­di­vid­ual and to the com­pany when ex­ec­u­tive de­ci­sions are ig­nored or f louted?

Allon Raiz – Founder and CEO of Raiz­corp:

I think there is far more to this sit­u­a­tion than meets the eye. I think we know less than 10% of what the real rea­sons are for

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