Play To Win
Even when they battle the competition for fun, CEOs don’t like finishing second.
January 1 1992 by William F. Stasior
We knew going in that we faced an uphill battle. A key competitor held a better position. But, with the odds against us, our team came from behind to win-it was an extraordinary performance.
No, a major consulting assignment wasn’t on the line. It was the local finals of the Corporate Sports Battle. Booz, Allen was three points ahead of Mobil going into the last event, the tug of war. The giant oil company had just moved corporate headquarters to Fairfax, VA, bringing thousands of employees-formidable sports battle opponents, as we saw it-into the Washington, DC, region. Nonetheless, we won four straight single-elimination tugs to edge Mobil for the local title.
The similarities between competing against Mobil, MCI, and Westinghouse in track and swimming-and competing against Arthur Andersen, BCG, and McKinsey in systems and strategy-are striking.
When I stand on the sidelines to cheer our team and compete as a member of the team in the
Xerox Corporation, then the local sponsor of the Corporate Sports Battle, contacted Booz, Allen chairman Mike McCullough seven years ago to inquire about the firm participating. The
Over time, the
In the Corporate Sports Battle, teams of 20 men and women compete in a series of track and swimming events, ranging from traditional relays to balloon races. The top finishers in each local competition advance to the national competition. In the past seven years of competition, our team has racked up two local titles and five top-three finishes, and placed in the top-four three years in a row at the ESPN-televised national competition. Colleagues from other companies press me for our secret to success. It’s not that we hire star athletes. MBAs, engineers, and computer scientists make up the majority of our workforce-not exactly disciplines rich in athletic scholarships. Rather, we train hard and smart, and use technology for advantage.
The technology we bring to the
Our coaches and computers had, of course, tabulated results of all the events and calculated standings of the teams. And, judging from the line at our van, everyone assumed we had the right figures.
Technology aside, I believe the key reason we win is because our staff is driven to excel. In the highly competitive consulting field, our people-at all levels-are on the line every day, helping to deliver results for demanding clients. There is no doubt in my mind that this drive carries over onto the athletic field.
It is important for companies to provide a way for staff to learn, work, and play together. Ideas, relationships, and achievement grow best when not contained by office walls. Sports offer that, which is why Booz, Allen sponsors teams and events in golf, tennis, volleyball, bowling, and softball, and underwrites charity events.
My feelings on this subject are hardly unique. Mobil sponsors intramural-type sports for employees and underwrites a number of professional and amateur sports events. According to Joe Cooper, executive vice president for
Xerox is of a similar mind. “In the Corporate Sports Battle, comraderie, competition, and charity add up to a great experience for our employees,” said Larry Brown, manager of government and community relations for Xerox and a former NFL all-pro running back. Xerox sponsors a range of sports events for employees and charities including the Cystic Fibrosis Celebrity Golf and Tennis Tournament.
At a time when “corporate battle” conjures up images of hostile takeovers and huge legal fees, it is gratifying to compete on a playing field where everyone wins. The prize is much greater than medals and an afternoon of fame on ESPN.
William F. Stasior is chairman and CEO of Booz, Allen & Hamilton, an international management and technology consulting firm based in