By Bernd Debusmann Jr
Professional sporting coach and Fine Hygienic Holding CEO James Michael Lafferty speaks at the Arabian Business Forum
A willingness to win, never resting after past successes, innovating and working to surpass expectations are among the principles that separate occasional winners from stellar champions, according to James Michael Lafferty, the CEO of Fine Hygienic Holding.
In addition to being a successful businessman with the likes of P&G, Coca-Cola and British American Tobacco, Laffery has coached national and Olympic-level athletes in the United States, Nigeria and the Philippines.
Speaking at the Arabian Business Forum in Dubai on Monday, Lafferty said that businesses can learn a number of principles from the world of professional athletes that can help make individuals – and entire firms – be “champions” in their field, rather than merely occasional winners.
Lafferty said that champions, for one, innovate and “change the game”, rather than merely knowing their field well.
As an example, he pointed to Edwin Moses, an American track and field athlete who won gold medals in the 400 m hurdles at the 1976 and 1984 Olympics and won 122 consecutive races between 1977 and 1987, setting the world record on four separate occasions. Breaking with traditional practice, Moses used 12 step strides in his events, rather than 13.
“With a bulls-eye on his back, everyone wanted to beat him and went after him, but he changed the game,” Lafferty said. “What I ask my businesses is what’s my 12th step – how can I change the game? How can I create a competitive advantage, instead of playing the game that everyone else plays?”
“Following competition doesn’t take talent. All you have to do is just follow it,” he added.
Another principle from sports with important applications in the business world, Lafferty added, is a willingness to take “enormous risks” to succeed.
“Impossible is not in their vocabulary,” Lafferty explained.
To illustrate his point, Lafferty used the example of Erik Weihenmayer, the first blind adventurer to successfully summit the world’s seven tallest mountains.
“Life is about reaching into the darkness in the hope that you’ll find a higher hand hold. You might fall, but never stay perched where you are,” Lafferty said. “You’ll never go higher holding onto the same place in life.”
Other principles that Lafferty cited include never living off post glories and mastery of the fundamentals of one’s sport, or business.
According to Lafferty, however, the most important principle is likely a “sense of the historic.”
“[That is] the recognition that at the greatest moments of our lives, we can’t fail,” he said. “There is no plan B. There is only plan A.”