Even the most partial observer cannot fail to have been impressed by the inexorable rise of the South West rugby team, the Exeter Chiefs.
Over a decade that I have supported them, the club has risen from relative obscurity to being Premiership finalists, an achievement that has baffled the rugby cognoscenti, expecting a more predictable “boom and bust” result.
The fact is that business has much to learn from the Chiefs, who despite another highly successful season, will be continuing to plot and plan improved performance for the next season and, indeed, the ones after.
Top 10 lessons for business
- Have a vision, and make it a big one. The far sightedness of Chairman Tony Rowe, was expressed early on in the Chiefs’ journey, viewing the move from the County Ground to Sandy Park, as an outstanding opportunity to create a destination for rugby, built on community values and a sound business plan.
- Leadership, and not always the shouty type. Breaking free from the stereotypes of professional sport, the key leaders at the club, epitomised by Head Coach Rob Baxter, are shrewd man managers who understand that the best leadership comes from quiet motivation and cool heads, supporting individuals to flourish.
- Invest for the long term. In developing Sandy Park from the proceeds of the County Ground sale, the club has invested sensibly in an accessible and exceptional stadium that can be improved over time. Crucially the internal space is designed as a business venue, with a wide range of uses, with ample parking.
- Create a secure income stream. The club’s sustained success could not have happened without a consistent and predictable revenue stream drawn from conferencing and venue hire. Without a consistent source of income, no business can have the confidence to invest in the future.
- Know your worth and haggle hard. The club’s reputation as a confident negotiator has grown with suppliers, partners and sponsors. As success grows their negotiation strength increases.
- Build a Community. The following of the Chiefs has been cultivated across the SW peninsula, through youth rugby, their Charitable Foundation, business networks and a passionate rugby following.
- Select the right team. Selection of players is based as much on “fit” with the culture and values of the club, as well as a willingness to improve. A significant proportion of players are home grown with a innate passion for the club, bolstered by careful recruitment of experienced professionals seeking the chance to be part of the journey. No matter how good you are, if you don’t fit the criteria you won’t become a Chiefs player.
- Focus on the inputs. In a world where results are all, the coaching staff consistently focus on the elements that they can control. Data is collected on everything in the player sphere and beyond, every piece providing an opportunity to improve.
- Be positive! Even after losing the Premiership final, Head Coach Baxter continued to focus on what the team had done well. Future planning would pick up on the areas to improve but enjoying the moment with the wider team creates high morale and loyalty.
- Celebrate success. Critical to developing a high performance team, enjoy the good times, it can provide the glue when times aren’t going so well.
Chris Lorimer is a Director of South West Growth Service Limited. For further information contact Chris at firstname.lastname@example.org