BT's deputy chief executive, Dr Alan Rudge, is preparing to take part in the BT Global Challenge round-the-world yacht race. Here he talks with race founder and yachtsman Chay Blyth about the satisfactions of sailing.
'One of the things I find most satisfying about sailing,' says Dr Alan Rudge, 'is the immediate feedback you get from your decisions. It's rare in management that you make a decision and can see clearly that it was the right one straight away. In sailing, if you get it wrong, you know immediately - but if you get it right, there's a great sense of satisfaction that you've done something well.'
Rudge's enthusiasm for sailing runs deep. From early days spent learning in dinghies, his love of the sport has grown to the stage where he is now the owner of a 45-ft yacht. He has logged more than 15,000 nautical miles and taken part in three Fastnet races.
We first met in 1992 through his involvement with the Whitbread round-the-world yacht race. In one of our early conversations I commented that, rather than being involved in a race with someone else's name on it, BT should have its own. This chance comment seems to have sowed a seed in Rudge's mind. 'The company was making plans for its global expansion at this time, and a round-the-world yacht race seemed to be a suitable vehicle for promoting our endeavours,' explains Rudge.
For Rudge, the businessman, the commercial opportunity the race provides is the main reason to invest in such an event. But for Rudge, the sailor, it's also a wonderful chance to get involved in the sport he loves. The event began at the end of September and is due to finish in Southampton in July 1997. Rudge is preparing to take part as a crew member aboard the yacht Global Teamwork during the third leg of the race from Wellington, New Zealand, to Sydney, Australia, early next year.
'You can't be a sailor and get mixed up in this without wanting to take part,' says Rudge. 'Although it's the shortest leg of the race, I doubt if it will be a doddle because it's the southern ocean. It's going to be very exciting and a challenge.' A challenge indeed. I well remember that leg from my first Whitbread race. We had left Sydney bound for New Zealand and, after just three days, were hit by a southerly burster and French yachting ace Eric Tabarly's 74-ft yacht was dismasted!
Rudge emphasises the development of human potential to be gained from such an event. 'Obviously no company does this sort of thing without looking for publicity benefit,' he explains. 'But the race is about more than just publicity - it's also about ordinary people doing extraordinary things.' And it's this people element, this passion, that I come across a lot in sailing too. When I was selecting crew members for this race, it wasn't sailing experience that was the most important factor - it was enthusiasm.
If someone has a burning desire to do something, it shows, and it means the difference between an average sailor and a great one.
Rudge agrees: 'It's the same in the business world. When you are looking for someone to fill a job, those with a burning desire to get it will be way ahead of others from the start. When we advertised within BT that we had 30, one-leg places to offer in the Global Challenge race, 2,000 people applied. I believe there's an inbuilt sense of adventure in people that's just looking for an outlet, and when you draw that out, they change - they become different people.'
This idea of people development through sailing is not something new to BT. Its Teamwork project, which involved co-sponsoring a yacht with six of the company's key suppliers in a series of ocean races, took staff from a variety of areas and let them work together. 'It was a good project for us because not only did it involve managers, but we also crewed the boat with ordinary guys from the company,' says Rudge. 'And we learned an interesting lesson - if you have a project, you pick the best person to lead it rather than the most senior person. That was a new concept for a big company, but a valuable one.'
And what about his plans for the future?
I was keen to learn whether the sailing bug had bitten so deeply that Rudge would one day disappear over the horizon in his beloved yacht. 'I do have plans in the future to at least sail the Atlantic if not around the world,' he says. 'Sailing is such a total change, physically and mentally, from what I spend most of my day doing. That feeling you get when the sails are up and the boat is cutting through the water - it just all feels right.'.