Relationship management: Mercedes chief Toto Wolff sets an example in F1

November 21, 2014

Formula One racing has compounded its problems this year by adding to competition between drivers racing within the same team. Toto Wolff of Mercedes has tried to address the dilemma for drivers Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg

The broader issue is that of competitive individuals who are expected to put aside personal ambitions for the greater good of the organization to which they are committed.

A universal social dilemma

This is a universal social dilemma. In various forms it has attracted considerable attention.

Just recently, the distinguished Ethnologist Edward Wilson revealed the intensity over the debate with dismissive remarks over the ideas of Richard Dawkins, particularly over altruism and the selfish gene hypothesis.

It may be relevant that Wilson has specialized in understanding the social life of the ant, a species in which individual interests of the many are utterly subordinate to the well-being of the whole colony. His work adds to understanding of Eusociality.


From Formicidae to Formula One

Meanwhile, back from ants to Formula One racing, a system has been deliberately designed to sustain interest in the competition between two drivers in each team through points earned in each race towards the driver’s championship. This captures the attention of the global audience. There is also competition among the teams, the constructors championship, which is based on the total points scored by both drivers. This is the measure which encourages financial support for the constructors.

The Dilemma compounded

The Dilemma for F1 has been compounded by several factors this year. The most obvious is the decision to award double points to the drivers of last race in Dubai. This rather crude decision was made inevitably with the approval of Bernie Eccleston whose grasp of unintended consequences of actions seems limited. He has recently accepted a stay out of jail settlement in the German courts.

These issues took place as more unintended consequences of the funding mechanisms forced two teams out of the competition facing financial meltdown.

For Mercedes, whose team had by far the most successful car this year, the dilemma was exacerbated the competition between the drivers Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg who will battle it out for first place in Abu Dabhi shortly. Mercedes has already won the constructors championship

A matter of relationship management

It was refreshing to read the mature approach shown by Toto Wolff.

Toto Wolff, Mercedes’ head of motorsport, has told both Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg that losing the world championship in Abu Dhabi next week will not be the end of the world for either of them.
The observation is likely to fall on deaf ears but Wolff has felt compelled to move into full man-management mode ahead of the final race of the season, the double-points decider at the Yas Marina circuit, and told everyone in the team to “buckle up” for a rough ride next week

“The aftermath is relationship management, which is important for the future,” he said. “But [in] the run-up [it] is important to maintain the balance, to maintain the respect between the two and to let it stay a respectful relationship.”

Points for the leadership championship

If there were a leadership championship with points awarded by Leaders we deserve, Toto Wolff would be this month’s winner. Bernie Eccleston would not get past the first qualifying session.


Image of fire ants By Stephen Ausmus [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Emirates Airlines: the Secret Story of a Successful Company

June 21, 2010


Kamel Mnisri

The continuing success of Emirates Airlines raises questions for students of leadership. In what ways have culture, location, and internal strategic decision-making contributed to the growing success of the business? Has leadership made the main difference, or is it more to do with powerful financial backing at State level?

Read the rest of this entry »

Singapore’s new Shopping-La Experience

August 12, 2009

Orchard Turn

Singaporeans love shopping. Orchard Road remains one of the world’s top retail centres. This makes Singapore an interesting case for creative marketing

Soon Su Lin, Chief executive of Orchard Turn Development has one of the most interesting jobs in the world. He has a wonderful asset, possessing the three core strengths of a marketing proposition, location, location, location. He also faces tough global conditions which impact on plans in a multitude of ways.

One of my fondest memories is walking down Orchard Road in Singapore for the first time, quite a few years ago. It is one of the great shopping experiences globally (even to a shoppaphobic like me). I still have a great pair of sunglasses from the trip, and the next-day suit acquired was only recently pensioned off.

But the global credit crunch continues to penetrate into marketplace activities around the world, even to the best-known of retail locations such as Singapore.

Economic Tigers

To understand what’s happening, global generalities have to be connected with local and specific evidence. Singapore for example, might be expected to share some features in common with ‘little tigers’ in other regions.

The term, was originally applied admiringly to the dynamic growth of Singapore and the other Asian economic growth regions.

Four of the Pacific Rim territories have been called “Economic Tigers” due to their aggressive economies.

They have included South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, and Hong Kong. Since Hong Kong has been absorbed as the Chinese territory of Xianggang, it is likely that its status as a tiger will change. The four Economic Tigers have even challenged Japan’s dominance of the Asian economy.

More recently, other regions have been identified as economic tigers. No longer, however, is the term associated with unfettered economic success. Ireland (the Celtic Tiger), and Iceland (the Nordic Tiger) have had particularly severe economic setbacks after a period of growth.
Dubai, the Gulf tiger, also has had to cope with the wider global issues influencing its economy.

The Singapore situation

Reports from around the world confirm shared experiences.
One prosperous professional in Singapore [Johann, a public relations consultant] typified the pressures on the economy in 2009, telling the BBC.

“I am looking for on sale or clearance items. I am not even contemplating any big ticket items, he said.” Retail sales in Singapore have continued to drop, but shops are reacting by continuing to offer huge discounts. During the renowned June sales period price cuts of 90% were common. It is a risky tactic that reduces inventories, but can undermine revenues. Food in Singapore is relatively cheap. But alcoholic drinks are not. Recession has not stopped people going out, but bar owners note that drinking habits have changed.

“You see a different trend now,” said JR Wong of BQ Bar in the city’s Boat Quay area, “People who used to drink a lot of wine or spirits are now going for beer.”

India’s Tigerish growth

From India a similar story can be heard. One professional in North Delhi noted:

We used to visit only exclusive stores ..and spend [thousands of rupees] on branded clothes. I don’t like wearing anything locally made, I want international brands. I work in a place where all my clients and colleagues wear smart clothes and it would hurt my confidence levels if I’m not dressed like them. But it is a huge burden on my pocket. So now I look for discount offers where I can buy two or three items of clothing for the price of one”.

In Dubai

Dubai, the Gulf Tiger, has also had to adjust to a period in which growth by earlier standards had suffered.

Tigerish responses

Tigers when threatened fight back. Dubai, Ireland, Iceland, are finding their own ways of recovering from the global squeeze on their economies. That will be some comfort to regional economic leaders.

Singapore and its location

Singapore’s economic strategy has always been linked to its location, and will continue to be so. The term Location location location is widely attributed to the British property tycoon Lord Samuel although it may have been in use earlier in American business argot. Recently there has been a popular TV show of the same name and implying the same link between property value and location.

New marketing thinking

Changed conditions call for new thinking. What insights, for example, might be taken from books such as Herd, which seek to rethink contemporary marketing? According to the author of Herd,

[Mostly] things don’t start with special individuals – it is the rest of us and our willingness to adopt something that we see around us that really matters in the spread of behaviours and ideas through populations. Cultural Change is co-created. Individuals including project directors and their marketing strategists have their parts to play in that process.

Social media have helped generate new products and new markets. The up-market resort of Punta del Este in Uruguay has strengthened its business through parties of young rich Europeans and Americans organized on Facebook, and flying in on privately commissioned jets.

Many social commentators have been reaching the conclusion that leadership has also changed, and that again it is changing to deal with complex projects involving a range of leadership responsibilities.

What Tigerish responses might be expected in Orchard Road as Soon Su Lin’s new project unfolds?

Davydenko dumps Murray just like Federer predicted

March 7, 2008

When Federer lost to Murray at Dubai this week he said Murray had not developed much in two years. When Murray then lost to Davydenko, Federer’s harsh judgement seemed quickly justified


The remarks made by Roger Federer about Andy Murray were repeated by the media as the two prepared to contest The US Open final six months later.

Original Post

Fededer’s post match comments on losing to Andy Murray at Dubai caused a bit of a stir. He made his views clear. Murray had not developed a great deal despite his climb up the rankings in the last two years. Was the great man in denial after a rare loss?

Since his win over Federer, Murray’s performances seem to back up the Fed’s remarks. In the second round there was a scratchy performance against Fernando Verdasco which he could easily have lost. In the third round there was another lack-lustre effort against Davydenko in which the young Scot was comprehensively bullied off the court.

In both these efforts the most obvious characteristic of Murray’s play was a style that in essentials has characterised his play since his days as a promising junior. The style has often been described as that of a counter-puncher. He has always been a counter-puncher. It has survived changes in coach. But even after a time with Brad Gilbert he has remained a counter-puncher, albeit a much improved one.

It’s largely a matter of comfort zone. Under stress we all retreat to the most habitual responses to the pressure of the situation. Champions lose less, which is what we mean when we talk of their mental toughness. But under pressure we all now pretty much how an Andy Roddick will fight his way out of trouble. It will be different to how an Andre Agassi used to do it, or a Johnnie Mac. Murray’s way has been to stick even further to defense, reducing advances to the net even further.

Grooving and flexibility

Every player knows the importance of being grooved. How getting feet and body lined up just right to deal with as many different shots as possible. But grooving can come at a cost to flexibility.

Murray is still in search of grooving his now formidable serve. He does not bottle it on critical points. But it still needs more grooving, more consistency. He is more than flexible enough at a tactical level. Maybe too willing to try the low probability option that has commentators gasping in admiration when it works, and frustration when it doesn’t.

So the master has got a point about the apprentice. In some very important ways Murray has a signature to his play. Too often still he does not find the flexibility to depart from his comfort zone. That is sometimes concealed by brilliant improvisation that goes with the basic style.

Federer also said that maybe Murray will surprise us all over the next ten years. Maybe by winning slams. Let’s hope so.

Murray v Federer: A Glimpse of Momentum

March 3, 2008



Wimbledon 2008. Murray beats Gasquet in the third round [Monday 30th June 2008]. The match had similarities in momentum swing to his victory over Federer in Dubai, earlier in the year

The Original Post

Andy Murray defeats Roger Federer in Round one of the Dubai Tennis Open. I never really understood momentum in sport, but this afternoon I glimpsed how it might be a matter of filling in the dots [Sense making].

I have difficulty with concepts such as motivation, empowerment, and momentum. The terms are used often when no more specific explanation can be offered, in sport as well as in business and politics.

This afternoon [March 3rd 2008] I watched a thrilling tennis match. It was transmitted from Dubai, where Roger Federer was widely expected to confirm his status as World number one. He was playing in the first round against the improving young Scot Andy Murray. Murray indicated in advance that he was likely to learn a lot from the game, which is not the most positive statement ever made before a sporting contest.

The first set lived up to expectations. Murray is a promising but volatile young talent, likely to improve beyond his ranking at present. He kept pace with Federer in the first set, which went into a tie break, with neither player dropping service.

Murray grabbed a lead in the tie-break, then dropped it, and Federer as smooth and cool as ever, won a tightly contested first set.

That’s it, then. Federer to go on to win. He had won twenty five of the last twenty seven matches he’s played at the Dubai tournament. During that first set he played to the high level expected of him, also finding exceptional shots from time to time.

Murray survived the Federer onslaught, and even showed some flashes of improvised brilliance himself. His service has been improving in fits and starts as he made his rapid climb up the rankings over thr last two years. Today his serve was as solid and as powerful as I have ever seen it.

What happened next?

What happened next was very unexpected. The near- immaculate style of Roger Federer began to seem less awesome than usual. His was still finding those brilliant winners. But he was also playing a few shots slightly off-balance, and making unforced errors.

I don’t watch tennis with a notebook to hand for blog posts about sporting leadership. But something rare was taking place here. I found a scrap of paper and scribbled a few notes. Here are the unedited scribbles which began at the start of the second set:

F has changed the way he played. Indication of a drop in intensity. Got to 1:2.
Lost serve for first time. Momentum lost by RF. Murray keeps his cool and wins set.

Momentum now lost by RF. Still a bit down [in intensity]. If it wasn’t Federer [playing] you’d expect M to win now.

Murray gets to 4:2.

Will Murray win? Still not totally sure …

Murray 5:3

RF is out of gas.

Wins his serve to 5:4 but Murray is not going flat out. Willing to take it to his serve.

Wins serve. Wins match. He didn’t get down on himself at points lost, even ‘unlucky’ line calls.

Momentum, intensity, or what?

Here’s what I think. Momentum is difficult to pin down because it is a process not a single event. We may be jolted into awareness by a single surprise event, and quickly ‘fill in the dots’ of other events close in time to the ‘tipping point’, and anticipate what will happen in the near future.

I think the tipping-point for me was a clumsy missed backhand by Federer, accompanied by what I described as a drop in intensity.

I didn’t write it down, but I even formed the impression that the great man was, well, a kilo or so visibly over weight.

That’s the sense made of what I was seeing. If I observed anything that could be corroborated, it was those loose shots, evidence of a Federer not in complete balance and control.

Murray played to his best, and several outstanding points. These were particularly noticeable as he was closing in on the win in the third set.

A tentative conclusion

Andy Murray won a closely contested match in which Federer seemed to lose momentum that he might have been expected to maintain after winning the first set. The result seemed to have come about because a great player had a dip in intensity in his play, and another potentially great player who didn’t.

At the time, spectators make sense of what is happening as if they have figured out the plot in a movie. As the oracle might have put it … ‘And a great man will taste defeat’.

In other words, momentum is a story created in the minds of the observers, based on our ‘filling in the dots’ of what we have observed and remembered.

All this is a lot less exciting than the actual match was. By maybe, just maybe, it offers a clue into that elusive process of momentum.


Image of Andy Murray from wikipedia commons