Leadership

It’s snowing in Madrid. In America, a 78 year old is about to become, this week, the most powerful man on the planet. Vast swathes of Europe are under the strictest stay at home lockdown. The postponed Tokyo Olympics is looking like being cancelled. And in this banzai crazy 2021, the British Team is leading the standings in the America’s Cup. A writer of fiction simply couldn’t make it up.

© Sailing Energy / American Magic

So whilst this week should all be about the remarkable, unbelievable almost, turnaround of Ben Ainslie and Team Ineos, it’s the Americans that have stolen the headlines. The ‘Comeback Cup’ as this cycle is now being nicknamed is breathless drama. Blink and you miss everything. The re-build of American Magic is now the story and it’s a race against time.

As crisis communications goes, the Americans have played a blinder. Their onshore communications have been peerless – that’s what happens when you hire brilliant comms experts who have been this way before, really know sailing and totally understand the Cup.

And their Team Principal has just delivered a masterclass of a press conference (see below) that should be shown to aspiring CEOs doing MBA courses at every Business School in America. Terry Hutchinson fronted the media, clearly shattered from the events of Sunday, and showed why he is held in such esteem not only in the sport but also by his billionaire backers and the New York Yacht Club. It was pure class.

© Sailing Energy / American Magic

Terry is the model CEO. No nonsense, gave it straight and true and direct from the heart. The raw emotion was there for all to see when he talked about the sportsmanship that the Magic Team had been on the receiving end of and his gratitude to everyone that helped was real and heartfelt. We also got a fascinating insight into the levels that Grant Dalton is willing to go, to get the Americans back on the water. In short, the horses are not being spared. Those Team New Zealand boatbuilders who had been stood back from the front line are right back at 24 hour shifts to get Patriot back in business. Brilliant.

©Ricky Wilson / Stuff.co.nz

And the Magic team must be thanking their lucky stars that the Cup is in Auckland. One of the by-products that is oft-overlooked of Kiwi success in the event over the years is the incredible boat-building and specialist carbon fibre companies that have sprung up around the Cup. Auckland was always known as a super-yacht town but in recent years the pivot towards carbon componentry and high-spec carbon works has produced world-class specialists. It’s a beating, thriving hive of specialism right on the doorstep. Magic will be boosting the local economy significantly in the next few days and the Kiwis will support them every step of the way.

And as for the under-fire Dean Barker, who has received a barrage of online abuse, Hutchinson was quick to support and offer his total confidence. Whilst the onboard microphones picked up Paul Goodison warning of the complexity of the tack-peel off at that top mark just ahead of the capsize, what we didn’t hear was the collective decision taken onboard by Terry, Dean and Andrew Campbell.

Rushing to hang Deano out to dry is harsh. Demanding that he’s replaced is just idiotic. Replacing a helmsman at this stage of the game would not only be foolhardy but reckless as these boats are totally unforgiving and it would be akin to gambling with the lives of the other crew members. In short, it ain’t happening. And Terry gave it straight. Both barrels on that one. Full confidence in a man that he describes as having “ice in his veins”. Good to hear. This is a team effort. They win as a team, they lose as a team and they come through adversity as a team.

Patriot is now, thankfully, safe in the shed and undergoing surgery. And the message from the Magic crew is essentially that it could be a lot worse. It’s going to be a gargantuan effort to get back on the water and racing at the highest level in the Prada Cup semi-final but with a guy like Terry, who quite frankly you would run through walls for, there is every confidence that not only will they be back out there but mark my words, they will be as competitive as hell.

The story of this America’s Cup is yet to be told. Can you imagine if they won it from here?

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6 thoughts on “Leadership

  1. Are the Ineos and American Magic scenarios that different ? I agree with everything you have said about Ineos. But they were able to progress their performance over Christmas and give a much improved showing,both in terms of speed and race craft, in the Prada Cup. American Magic has clearly had speed all along. Do you think they moved forward much in the same period ? In the Prada Cup they have been very poor on the race course, culminating with an incredibly poor decision, and then execution, at the last mark. It turns out that it was a collective decision which probably makes things worse. The press conference was a master class. The sort that we rage about when delivered by a politician. Terry stated clearly that he had complete faith in Dean and Andrew. He repeated this later, and then as an afterthought added Goody. Wasn’t he the only one doubting the wisdom of what they were proposing ? When you take into account the reference to the traveller and easing of the mainsheet it makes you wonder what he was actually saying. It has not been just one unfortunate thing that happened in the blink of an eye. It looks a bit like a very avoidable accident.

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    1. I think Terry gave a good account. Goodie on was saying how tough the peel away would be. Campbell was saying that it was light to the right. Dean had 3 seconds to make the call. Interestingly Prada, despite having a very long time to observe the situation made the same call for the left hand gate. I think the fact that Dean made the call is testament to his trust in their crew work. They must have done that move a thousand times. They all know it’s the toughest to execute but he had faith and was racing at the upper limit. Top sportsmen don’t tend to make conservative calls. I actually admire Dean for what he did and the call he made. It’s the call that us amateurs would chicken out of. How many times have we gone around the windward mark in big breeze and not hoisted our spinnaker until half way down the run? I’ve done it loads. Too scared, I just want to get around in one piece. Dean is racing the America’s Cup with the best sailors on the planet and 99% of the time there would have been no problems. It just went wrong this time and just when it mattered. That’s a racing incident to my mind.

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  2. Top level sport is all about split second calls. That’s the difference between champ and chump. Pradas non foiling tack while discussing that the race was over after the capsize is not exactly a vindication of someone else’s choice.

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    1. No that’s a fair point but was the fact that they foiled tacked due to 25 knots of breeze which only arrived when AM rounded. Terry said it was 12 knots, about 10 seconds before the mark! Then it went banzai. We’ve all been in rising conditions like that around marks and it’s a frightening experience. Just that our boats go 7-10 knots, these boats are hitting 47 knots! Gulp…

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  3. Off topic, I know but I hugely enjoyed the tension and suspense when the foilers became displacement monohulls while they vmg’d towards the next mark at about the same speed a lead mine might have achieved in days of yore. No, actually a lot faster. Then the breeze and who’s smart enough to get it first and get up and going. In the AC 75s we have two boats in one: blistering speed vs old style displacement. A lottery? That’s what the losers always say.

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    1. Sadly I am always the loser in those situations. I just don’t have the patience of these guys. Light airs frustrates the living hell out of me…!!! I much preferred the spectacle of those boats in 20 knots but I can see the tactical attraction that you allude to. In the Ineos race, fortune favoured the lead boat. In the Prada/Magic race it favoured the trailing boat. I think it was a bit of a lottery – but I would say that!! Haha.

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