“Pat Riley and Sir Alex Ferguson couldn’t make it, but we are fortunate to have with us tonight instead…”

July 24, 2011

It is every speaker’s nightmare. To be introduced to a disappointed audience as a substitute for an advertised celebrity. Worse, to step in for two advertised celebrities…

It had been a piece of accidental viral advertising. The plan had been to advertise a low-key event for Miami business people to learn about the Manchester Business School’s new programs there. To make the event more interesting, it had been suggested that the presentation should look at local hero Pat Riley, legendary coach of the Basketball team Miami Heat.

My counter-suggestion was that I would be better able to talk about Sir Alex Ferguson of Manchester United, a leader about whom I knew rather more. Eventually a creative compromise was reached, and the topic would be announced around the leader styles of both of the two great sporting figures.

Enquiries flood in

Somehow, the media picked up on the event as publicizing Manchester United’s summer tour to America rather than Manchester Business School’s tour of Miami. The MBS Miami center office started getting enquiries which turned into a flood.

Great marketing?

Maybe. Although an audience of disappointed basketball and soccer fans was not quite what the organizers were hoping for.

Here comes the substitute, to boos from the crowd

You couldn’t say that I saw what had happened as my great opportunity to come off the substitute’s bench and win over the crowd. It sounded too close to an earlier event I had been involved in. I can still picture the scene. It is of an after-dinner audience expecting to listen to Richard Branson’s thoughts about leadership. The chairman broke the news of a change of speaker:
“Ladies and gentlemen, Richard Branson could not be here this evening. But I’m sure you agree that we are fortunate instead to be able to listen to (consults notes) to our speaker (couldn’t find my name) who has agreed to step in at this late moment…” The audience did not seem to agree with the chairman. They looked palpably unenthused with the proposed substitute for Sir Richard. It was looking as if the chairman and myself were rated public enemies Nos 1 and 2.

I would like to say I won over that audience some years ago with a brilliant display of knowledge, wit and charm. But some merciful defense mechanism has blotted much of what happened from my memory banks. I can only recall the final flutter of applause, perhaps because I delivered on one promise, to be brief.

Time to fess up

Meanwhile back in Miami, the organizers had been frantically battling to deal with expectations, without wiping out the audience entirely. Maybe, I thought gloomily, I could fess up and tell the story about the time I stepped in for Richard Branson…

And remember what Pat Riley said: “You have no choices about how you lose, but you do have a choice about how you come back and prepare to win again.”

What happened next?

Maybe, just maybe, I will report what happened next in a future post.


Life of Riley

June 23, 2011

Pat Riley now of Miami Heat is a basketball coaching legend. His leadership style bears some comparison with Sir Alex Ferguson of Manchester United Football Club. What might their careers tell us about business success?

Tudor Rickards

A young man brought up in tough early circumstances goes on to become one of the all time legends of his sport as a coach of the highest quality and a great motivator. He became known as a master of press relations, and a coiner of memorable phrases. His playing career was successful enough, but he was never regarded as in the same class as the world beaters he went on to coach and motivate.

Abrasive but sensitive

He is often described as charismatic. He was to become rich and famous beyond the expectations of his early years. His management style is regarded as abrasive although showing unexpected sensitivity to a player’s emotional needs from time to time. He enjoys the good life outside his professional work.

Sir Alex or Pat?

Sir Alex Ferguson of Manchester United or Pat Riley of Miami Heat? The facts fit the public picture of both men equally well. They were actually written about Pat Riley.

Now President of The Miami HEAT, Pat Riley posted 50-plus winning seasons in 13 consecutive years, which is unprecedented in the NBA. Riley’s 137 playoff victories rank first in league post-season annuals as the only coach to secure 100 or more playoff victories. He surpassed the legendary Red Auerbach’s 99-playoff wins in 1990. Pat has won six world championships as a player and coach. His speeches before hundreds of corporations have earned him the title of “America’s Greatest Motivational Speaker.” His philosophy is based upon winning, leadership, mastery, change, and personal growth as well as understanding and controlling the shifting dynamics of a team any team, whether it is a small company, a giant corporation, a city, or a group of athletes. He worked with one of the greatest stars of his sport but the relationship went wrong. The club wasn’t big enough for both of them.

Art follows life

In one of those coincidences, executives in Miami will be studying a hypothetical case of a sports motivator who has written a book called “Leadership is for winners not for whingers”. [Probably a Brit. A whinger is someone who constantly blames others for their problems]. The executives will learn how to weigh the evidence and assess the merits of such claims, as part of a leadership programme. I am getting ready for questions about basketball …

Study note

This post was written for study by executive students at Manchester Business School’s Miami-based MBA course as part of the introductory module Global Events and Leadership.