I Don’t Want to Win

It’s good to be back – and I have to tell you, I missed the blog. This was the longest break since the blog began and somehow Fridays weren’t quite the same…

If you don’t mind, I’m going to hark back to the Olympics, because there was a discussion in the BBC studio on the final Saturday of the Games that I’ve been thinking about for the past two weeks. It goes right to the heart of my thinking, and right to the heart of everything that TAB is about.

It’s the final of the Women’s 800m final. South African athlete Caster Semenya comes from a long way back to take second place. “A poorly judged race,” says Steve Cram. “She left it too late.”

One of the pundits takes a slightly different view. “I just wonder,” muses Colin Jackson, “With everything that’s gone on in her life, did she prefer to finish second?”

Michael Johnson almost explodes. Gold medal winner, world record holder, he simply can’t conceive of anyone wanting to finish second.

John Inverdale asks Jackson to elaborate. “Absolutely,” he replies. “In my time in athletics I knew plenty of athletes who had it all. Who could have won gold, but they settled for silver.”

Inverdale is astonished: but then Denise Lewis chimes in. “Winning brings pressure,” she says. “It’s high profile. Publicity. The demand to do it again.”

Those discussions in the athletics studio were one of the highlights of the Games for me. Full marks to Inverdale for taking the discussions into sometimes-murky waters. And full marks to the BBC for letting him.

The parallels between business and sport are well documented – and ‘what an Olympic gold medallist can teach you about business success’ has become a well-worn path. If one of us isn’t eating rubber chicken and listening to Jess Ennis in the next six months I’ll be astonished…

But maybe there’s another parallel here: maybe there’s an interesting parallel with the athletes Colin Jackson knows – the ones who were prepared to settle for second place.

Do I know people in business who’ve achieved less than they’re capable of? Absolutely. Do I know people who could have been the MD of a PLC or run their own businesses and made a fortune? Yes – how long do you want the list to be?

Do these people think of themselves as failures? Are they unhappy? Almost without exception, no.

There’s an old saying, ‘Take what you want from life – and pay for it.’ While I was in France with my family and while I was in Denver without them, I realised how much they mean to me – and how precious the time with my boys is. Not long now and Dan will be a teenager: Rory is growing up fast. Dav and I are already noticing that we have more time on our own than we used to, and that’s only going to increase.

So yes, I’m determined to make TAB York a huge success and I’m determined to help you all build your business – but there’s something else that I’m determined to help you get right, and that’s your work/life balance.

That’s not to say I’ll sit idly by in a 1:1 while you say, “I think I’ll miss all my targets this month, Ed.” But it is to say that ‘take my children camping’ is every bit as valid a target as ‘double our sales of widgets.’

So yes – I know plenty of people in business who didn’t achieve as much as they could have done. By the same token, I know plenty of people who have achieved every bit of material and corporate success they ever wanted. But in far too many cases it’s come at too great a price. All too often they’ve reached the summit – only to look down on the wreckage of their family life.

Business is great – but on its own, it’s not enough. By all means climb the mountain – and decide how high you want to go. But take the people you love with you. And if I can help, I will.



  1. Neil Huntington · August 31, 2012

    Nice blog Ed. I agree with your point. Money and status are generally a poor measure of success in my opinion. When I look back on my life, I am unlikely to think “I wish I’d worked more”. It is the personal relationships and simple pleasures that add most value for me.

    As an aside, sometimes we miss targets for other reasons, which also lead to personal fulfilment. It could be turning down a piece of work because we know it isn’t right for the client, or reducing a fee because we haven’t done as much work as we thought, essentially, a moral code, sometimes missing in business thinking.

  2. Anya Mathewson · August 31, 2012

    Ed, I couldn’t have said it better myself!

    My boys have been away with their dad for the last two weeks whilst I have virtually lived in the office. So now I’m taking most of next week off to be with them until they go back to school.

    I’m taking that time off despite being short-staffed and having an overflowing Inbox! My staff expect nothing different as we all agree how important family time is – to all of us. Conversely my children also understand how important work is to me but not as important as them.

    Ben, Adam and I will end the summer holidays with good memories…..even if it does rain!

    And my work will wait…..for a few days.

  3. michael shakesheff · August 31, 2012

    Hi Ed, I remember the footage very well. I thought Michael Johnson’s reaction was spot on – he couldn’t believe what he was hearing! Certainly in his mind second place is not an option!

  4. Cath Blakey · August 31, 2012

    Great blog Ed, and i agree with Neil 100%. Business is very fulfilling, running your own business even more so. BUT family is surely what we are all doing it for? and Morals as Neil pointed out – its not about making the most money out of every job, its just nice to help a client so they can fulfill their dream and support their family. Wonder what people who don’t have children think?

  5. Andrea Hall · August 31, 2012

    Very true Ed. The trick is knowing how far up that mountain you want to go though, and when to stop without being tempted by the promise of a better view the higher you go. Not easy.

    Reaching the top is in someways easier, because it’s an easily recognisable target.

    How many of us stop work at 5pm, because it’s the end of the day? Very few I would think. And how many of us would criticise that for being merely an ’employee mentality’?

  6. Simon Hudson · August 31, 2012

    I’m not much good at settling for second place. Whenever I have I’ve been disappointed in myself. I can’t ‘compete’ without aiming for gold, even if I know there are people more likley to get it than I am.
    But, and this is the important bit, I’ve learned it’s really all about deciding which race I want to run in. Most of the time I’m not bothered about taking gold in the “all work, no life” race, nor the “top dog, but complete arse” race or the “we’re making shedloads of dosh at the expense of our clients” race. I do find myself running well in the “being good to people, having fun, spending time with frends and family” – that’s an event I want gold in.

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