Cayman and global competitiveness – lessons from pro cycling

Pro cycling is built on two things: sponsorship funding and competitive results. Think short term and you may find a big sponsor so you can buy the highest paid riders you can and get results.

This will last only until someone offers those riders more money and the sponsor turns their interest to somewhere else to spend their money.

What if, however, you finished a career as a pro cyclist with a thought gnawing away that there had to be a better way of operating a team, one with long term purpose and run as a sustainable business. You’d start with clear philosophies and goals, so making it clear to your financial backers what they were supporting. You’d start small, but focus on building, over time, a virtuous circle of better results, better funding, better riders and so on. This is today’s story.

First though, let’s put this in a Cayman context. For “sponsor”, in the short term think “mega development”, but for the long term try “global businesses of all types and sizes”. For “riders”, for both short and long term, think “high quality workforce”, but in the long term the focus has to be on developing our own workforce and attracting foreign expertise to integrate with and commit to Cayman. It is very difficult to balance short and long term needs during a global economic crisis, but Disraeli put it best: “a politician thinks of the next election, but a statesman thinks of the next generation.”

Back to pro cycling. Last month, during Cayman Pro Cycling Camp, I learned much from listening to many world class pro cyclists, but as a business coach what I found even more fascinating was learning from the owners, management and staff about the behind the scenes workings of a world class pro cycling team.

Jonathan Vaughters, CEO of Slipstreamsports, is building something remarkable. He founded the organisation only seven years ago, but from the beginning set out clearly stated philosophies and long term goals. Starting small, he now the world champion leading an enviable team roster and an organisation of top professionals in their field. At the time of the announcement of Slipstream and Cervelo joining forces, he noted that the two organisations: “share the key philosophies of developing the next generation of cycling champions and an unwavering commitment to ethical sport”.

All his managers and staff clearly understand the philosophies and goals. They work not just for the love of the sport, but also because they want to be a part of the mission. Working with such “passionate purpose” is a very powerful thing.

Once you have a motivated team working for common goals, this has real value in generating results and attracting top talent. However, you also have to pay the top talent, and the “better results” part of the virtuous circle I noted earlier plays a key role in getting “better funding”, and not just results on the road. One example outside race results of “better results” is the commitment to being a leader in ethical sport. As Slipstreamsports continue to lead their sport with tighter and tighter anti-doping rules of their own, this becomes more and more attractive to sponsors, who see both an ethical and commercial value in this.

Closing back in a Cayman context, what lessons can we take? Slipstreamsports is following philosophies and goals that are building “sustainable competitive advantage” in their field. We in Cayman need to take a long, hard look at ourselves, recognise that our global competitive advantage has been chipped away at by both our competitors and our own actions, and then look for long term solutions to build advantage where we can use our unique attributes to compete globally. This will mean some hard choices, and also much more “out of the box” thinking than we have seen to date. In fact, not to put too fine a point on it, Cayman must “Reinvent or Die”.


Reinvent or Die, by Tom McCallum, McCallum Solutions