When two worlds collide

June 2, 2018

Can the application of motivational techniques from the world of sport help a leading North East financial business as it embarks on the expansion of their senior management team? Dan Sheridan investigated the theory when he spoke to Fairstone CEO Lee Hartley and sporting consultant Steve Black last month

In the past, sports of all shapes and sizes have often knocked on the doors of business and finance in an effort to raise profiles, spring new ideas and maximise commercial opportunity.

These two domains often run parallel, and as ten-year-old chartered financial planning company, Fairstone looks at ways to build its management team and integrate the old and the new, its CEO Lee Hartley has looked to sporting mentor and motivator Steve Black.

Prompting the partnership…

Lee Hartley: We’ve grown significantly in our first ten years, and we find ourselves at the stage where we’re no longer a small company, but we need to establish some of the attributes of a big business before we get there.

Included in that are a lot of things surrounding our team, our skills and the senior management structure that we have.

We’re bringing a range of new people into the team – all of which have experience of running their respective functions at a much, much larger business.

We started our relationship with Steve around three months ago. One of the benefits of sport is that you can see results on a weekly basis and see the impact of a team that is closely bonded together with a strong culture and a common purpose.

Steve’s CV is hugely impressive, and you can see that the skillset is highly transferable. If you can transfer your skills from boxing to rugby, you can undoubtedly transfer from sport to business.

Assessing the business…

Steve Black: People have asked me many times precisely what it is I do, and I have to say I’m probably a catalyst. I try to listen, bring suggestions, build relationships between people and find out what people themselves want to achieve, what role they play and how valued they feel. I try to make things bespoke to their environment, and you almost have to become chameleon-like. For every company you work with, you change to become the best possible support that you can be.

The challenge…

LH: “We’ve got a group coming in that have different skill sets, and we want them to gel with the existing management team, who have taken us from zero to where we are now.

I’m a huge believer in the power of ‘team’ and making sure that the culture that got us from our starting position to here is maintained going forward.

There are lots of parallels between the worlds of business and sport, and we are effectively a people-based business. Our assets are our staff and our clients, and making sure that the staff element performs as best as it can is vital to our strategy.

When we looked at how best to build a highly-functioning team, motivate those people and instil a positive culture, we looked at the sporting arena.

We were aware of Steve and what he’s done, and the opportunity to work with him and get that crossover into the business world – which he does as part of his day job – was a very attractive proposition.”

Transferring practical knowledge… 

SB: “On any given day I could be at Wembley Stadium working in football, across in New York at the John McEnroe Tennis Academy, at Wimbledon with Heather Watson or working in rugby with Danny Cipriani.

It’s a cross-pollination – I don’t just cross-pollinate from sport to business, I do it from sport to sport and business to business. I often look at what is happening in any given sport, such as baseball or basketball, and I bastardise what I find for use in rugby or football.

In business, you tend to find that people who are ambitious and talented want to pull their team closer together.

Whether I’m giving a talk for the British Lions before they play in front of 80,000, or in a boardroom with a small team of people, you’re trying to get the same thing – to stimulate a positive response to bring out the best in them.

LH: Entering in to a mentoring programme with Steve Black was one of the easiest sells I’ve ever had to do. I asked ‘who’s up for it?’, and all of the hands went in the air at the same time.

SB: It was an easy sell on this side of the table too I was eager to come on board because it’s a fabulous team and success is infectious. I want to be around successful, ambitious people who are full of integrity.

Delivering the goods…

SB: “Reputation aside, you have to deliver. That’s something I have taken directly from sport. You’re only as good as your next game. Look at football today – win three games in a row and you’re talked about as the next England manager. Lose three and the same person is sacked.

That’s where sport can learn a lot from business, because there’s value in longevity. Lee and the Fairstone team have been going for ten years and they’re still going – they’ve done all of the groundwork and they’re looking to maintain their momentum.”

LH: “That long-term aspect is key to us. We launched the business right before the global financial crisis, so for the first three years we came up against challenges we never expected.

But that builds a certain type of resilience, and we want to grow and push the boundaries to take advantage of a massive market opportunity.

The challenges will be different, but they’ll be equally as large and testing, and that’s the measure of what we’re trying to do here.”

Fairstone Group incorporates Fairstone Financial Management, which is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority – FRN: 475973

Steve Black Enterprises

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