As part of our #fduCONNECT theme for 2019, our guest blog by Martin Gibbs shares his perspective on moving from the world of business to the world of sport.
While it is common for sports professionals to migrate from the sporting arena to the business world once their sporting careers wind down, my experience led me in the opposite direction, with a start in business eventually leading me into the world of sport. I had the privilege of moving from a City career that started as a lawyer with Slaughter and May and then senior roles in corporate finance to management positions in my favourite sport, cycling, most recently as CEO of the international federation, the UCI.
Along the way I have learnt a few things about the difference between a management role in an organisation like an international sports federation compared to the City.
A Big Variety of Skills to Manage
There is a huge variety of work to be found in sports federations, making City businesses seem positively homogenous. People working in the same federation will range from the those working at the forefront, responsible for knowing all the riders at a race, anticipating and dealing with a crisis at the Tour de France because they have the respect on the ground to the lawyers working in the background, responsible for highly technical regulatory work. Both roles are equally important, but have a totally separate profile and require completely different types of people, often driven by various motivations.
Politics vs Business
While the governance structures of a sports federation differ quite a bit from those of a business, a great deal of a modern federation’s work is heavily business-oriented. This disparity can often create obstacles, just as the inherently political nature of a federation running on an electoral cycle can too. Politics is, of course, not unique to sports federations but it is especially pronounced in this world. Often, a wide range of external stakeholders and the absence of discipline from capital providers looking for returns on investment can make for a complicated working environment. This requires a carefully managed approach both on a strategic level as well as operationally in people management.
Daily Contact with the Purpose of our Work
At both the UCI and British Cycling it was very inspiring having our office right at the velodrome where the elite athletes regularly trained. The proximity of the staff to the athletes and the excitement of the sport meant that everyone, no matter what their role in the organisation, had daily contact with the sport they were working for, proving to be a powerful motivator as it made their work and our strategy more tangible.
Some of my favourite moments at the UCI have been seeing the staff turn out to see events at the velodrome, simply because they wanted to. It certainly makes a big the difference from the City and has made the challenges all the more worthwhile.
About the Author: Martin Gibbs was CEO at the Union Cycliste Internationale in Switzerland, Policy and Legal Affairs Director at British Cycling and before that spent 12 years in the City in law and corporate finance. He currently works for an NGO in Geneva on human rights in business and sport.