Shouty billionaires are long the preserve of the America’s Cup. For some it becomes an addiction. For most, they get spat out the back, discarded at the roadside or dumped by an unforgiving stock market. They return home bruised and battle scarred with little to show for their efforts other than a nice set of team oilskins, a polo shirt or two, a couple of unsellable carbon lumps and some over-priced tenders. The wife and kids look at them differently, mentally counting up just how much of their inheritance has just been blown and wondering how they will get by on the remainder. And now all family efforts are spent on how they will stop the old boy doing it all again in a fit of madness.
But whilst they are in the event, it’s wonderful. For a couple of months an adoring, fawning sailing media have windows into their lives of extreme luxury and glowing column inches are filled with stories of a life lived at excess. Photographers turn up to take shots on superyachts. Being the summer, they look healthy and at play. It’s all a far cry from the cool dusty air of the city boardroom. A break from driving workforces into the ground. A holiday from ruthlessness. A vacation from corporate life. It’s blissful. The best $100m they ever spent.
Whilst that is the story for some. Others do it differently and the blueprint for doing it properly has been cast in stone. Dr Matteo de Nora sits at the very apex of the apex as Team Principal at Emirates Team New Zealand and is the quiet, supportive, guiding genius behind the team and the only person Grant Dalton defers to. Period. Dalton refers to him as his ‘mentor’ and that’s quite something. Whilst Dalton obsesses about winning, de Nora sees the challenge. It’s a potent mix at the top of the world’s best sailing team.
So what do we know of de Nora? Not a lot if truth be told. His father was Italian, his mother Swiss. He was, as Springsteen’s song says, born in the USA but is a Canadian national and now lives in the playboy’s playground of Monaco. He treats New Zealand as a second home and is more likely to be found in quiet coves off the Bay of Islands (where he has a pad) than the fleshpots of the Mediterranean. In his youth he was a petrol-head, racing and crashing powerboats so the Cup doesn’t hark back to some Swallows & Amazons romanticism of a youth spent on the riverbanks. De Nora is full octane.
And in business he oversaw an electrochemical empire that he inherited from his father, grew it and has long since divested to the family. Smart man. And rather than do what most of us would do, he got involved quietly in the America’s Cup as a supporter of Sir Peter Blake’s efforts and naturally progressed on to Dalton’s.
Few would argue that without de Nora, Team New Zealand wouldn’t be where they are today. When the dust settled on the 2003 Cup disaster after all the major talent had upped sticks to the darkside, Team New Zealand was looking like a busted flush. Perfect for de Nora. He stepped up again and saw in Dalton a will to win and a talent that needed supporting. And support he did. Right up to the present day, through all the highs and all the crushing lows that elite sport brings. And with Team New Zealand it has been a rollercoaster ride. Not for the faint hearted. It’s a remarkable period of support from a truly remarkable individual.
Most men of wealth would see coming second in Valencia and again, crushingly, in San Francisco as the cue to exit the sport. Not de Nora. He sees the world differently. Remember it’s the challenge that appeals, not necessarily the winning. Leave the winning to Dalton and the boys. Let them take the limelight and bare their souls. Team Principals should be different. Have a different philosophy. See the bigger picture. Rise above the clamour. Cajole, support, lend an ear. It’s an incredible skill delivered only by those with vision and clarity. Let’s be honest, that’s rare in the Cup. Very rare.
Today, with Team New Zealand sitting in the box seat, the outright favourites (despite what the Italian media, bless them, would have you think), de Nora is the quiet man with the Cup in his pocket. He’s seen it all before. He’s walked the walk and can stroll easily in the pantheon of the greatest Team Principals ever to grace the sport. The Kiwis know what they’ve got. The rest of the world is waking up to it.
With little else to achieve, I wonder what’s next?