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Jogi Rippel

Recently, while watching a fantastic documentary about Formula One three-time world champion Ayrton Senna, I was struck by the eerie similarity of “The Black Weekend” at the race in Imola and the tragedies happening in today’s business environment. On the weekend of May 1, in 1994, Austrian driver Roland Ratzenberger died in a crash during a practice run and one day later during the race, Williams driver Ayrton Senna crashed and died. Up to this point, everyone had become complacent about the hazards of racing but suddenly there were two deaths in one weekend. Just two weeks later in Monaco, Karl Wendlinger had a horrific accident at the first chicane after the tunnel, leaving him in a coma for several weeks.

Usually after a series of tragedies like this you expect an expert advisory committee to be formed and to create some statement to the media about the proposed changes that will be coming. This did happen, but there was a huge difference to previous similar events. Formula One Association President, Max Mosley, appointed Neuroscientist Professor Sid Watkins to be the Chairman of the expert panel. When Watkins started reviewing the situation, he candidly told Mosley, “You know this will cost an awful lot of money to make Formula One safer.”  To this comment, Mosley replied, “You have carte-blanche just fix it.”

Now, flip to the current business world. Over the last 7 years we have witnessed highly talented executives, who were full of potential, also crash. In October 2010, the young CEO of SAP India collapsed and died. In October 2011, Sanofi’s head of the Asian business passed away during a business trip. In November 2011, a highly talented and sought after CEO of Lloyds Banking Group, Antonio Horta Osorio, took a leave of absence from the company due to fatigue and mental exhaustion. Here in 2012, after a major recession, and in the times of downsizing, cost-cutting, and constant transformation, almost every week we hear stories of burnouts, unexpected deaths, and even suicides. But what happens when these tragedies occur? Usually there’s a short period of shock that quickly passes, there’s the usual chatter in the media (unless it is hidden, which we are realizing is more common than not), the HR partner and placement firm searches for a replacement, and then it’s back to work as usual.

So what did Watkins do with his carte blanche? He changed the game. He headed a group of specialists from various backgrounds and they analyzed every single aspect of Formula One. They looked at circuit design, race car design, race rules, driver training, the mismatch of car performance to driver capacity, etc. Quickly changes were made to the tracks, the cars, and the drivers. Today, steering wheels collapse, drivers are exceptionally fit, safety is engineered into every aspect of racing, and the cars and drivers go faster than ever. The irony is that even though performance has increased, there has not been a single death in Formula One since that tragic weekend in 1994.

As we travel around the world and analyze executives, we are shocked to see that the number of executives who are Sinking and Floating is quickly increasing. We think this is because when tragedy occurs, nobody takes carte blanche. They return to business as usual without realizing that the actual result is decreased performance, decreased passion, and increased probability of another tragedy. Maybe this happens because these executives don’t have celebrity status like Ayrton Senna. We can also argue that Formula One lives from sponsor and TV money, and dead bodies are bad for business. The fact is, this is also true for corporations. Floating or Sinking leaders hurt the morale, they kill the KPIs, and they lower shareholder value.

Just like Formula One, the battle in business to keep the best talent is raging. The financial and morale cost to replace a leader is significant. Even more, the benefit of having Sustainable High Performing leaders is huge. This is why we ask ourselves, when are the boards and C-suite members going to take the quantum leap (similar to the one that Formula One made) and start innovating new high human performance solutions?

What would you do if you had carte blanche to help create the new norm in Sustainable HIgh Human Performance at your company? We would love to hear your suggestions, success stories, and challenges.  We are curious and excited to change the game.

by Jogi Rippel
CEO // Founder