Last week saw the start of Leg 2 of the 2017-2018 Volvo Ocean Race and my thoughts immediately turned to what business leaders can learn from one of the world’s toughest ocean races.

While the start of a big race might see the emergence of a new strategy or tactic, it is a slightly more obscure area that provides some crucial learning. The Onboard Communications Team – otherwise known as the OBR. While they won’t determine whether a team actually wins the race, they share the live ‘raw’, unedited and unscripted content (from the boat) that helps tell the story of an ocean race. So how do they do this? The simple answer is trust!

To set the scene, each boat has an independent OBR whose role it is to capture, upload and share the inside story of life onboard, while at the same time being subjected to boat speeds of up to 30 knots (56km/h), waves crashing headlong over the boat and a focussed and determined crew who are far less interested in the latest media update! However, the biggest challenge, for the seven OBR’s working on this year’s race, is not the external forces (which you can do very little to control), but gaining the trust of the skipper and the crew to convey and share what is actually going on onboard.

So far, we have seen glimpses of the talented OBR’s work including: breathtaking aerials, shot from onboard drones and beautiful still images. However, what I really want to see over the coming weeks and months is for the filter to come off fully. This will undoubtedly require trust – on both sides – and a journalistic instinct and ability to forge deep relationships with the teams. But, the rewards will be massive and enable those on land to get a true understanding of the extreme highs and lows of racing in some of the most hostile and unforgiving parts of the world.

Brian Calin was the OBR onboard Team Vestas Wind and kept the cameras rolling during the night when Vestas dramatically ran aground on a reef in the Indian Ocean. ©

So what can business leaders learn from this? Ultimately, like the skippers and their teams, in today’s turbulent world a willingness to be open and transparent can play dividends when it comes to transforming organisations. Time and again we see examples of the need to share information and lead with authenticity – key traits that most self aware leaders understand. For some leaders, who are not anchored within, openness is not a natural trait. Some believe that being too open is a weakness and prefer to maintain control by keeping people in the dark. Equally there are times when being too open might “spook the herd” and cause unnecessary panic when calm composure is needed.

In the latest “raw” update from the Volvo Ocean Race, the much under pressure* Skipper, Simeon Tienpont, onboard AkzoNobel gives a real insight as they lose ground to their next competitor. Every six hours the position updates from race headquarters are shared with all the teams meaning poor performance is ruthlessly punished. Simeon struggles to keep his feelings in check on camera, but ondeck – how can he use this information to spur his team on and improve performance. Learning to cope with this level of openness and scrutiny is something that all business leaders can benefit from and it will be fascinating to see how these moments unfold over the duration of the race.

Danny Etheridge and Sam Brown where the two onboard cameramen for Mutiny, Channel 4. Capturing the raw emotion and honesty required complete trust. Not always easy in the world of TV! Images © Channel 4


To book Conrad as a speaker contact Michael Levey at Speaking Office

email: tel: +44 7970 170848

Download a copy of Conrad’s speaking biography here