VITAL SIGNS: Compulsory games

VITAL SIGNS: Compulsory games - In his wonderful short story 'The Commercial', about a black American footballer competing in the market for TV commercial stardom, Tom Wolfe described the excitement that star sportsmen provoked among captains of industry.

by PETER YORK, in his persona as Peter Wallis, is managing directorof consultants SRU, e-mail: peter@sru.co.uk

In his wonderful short story 'The Commercial', about a black American footballer competing in the market for TV commercial stardom, Tom Wolfe described the excitement that star sportsmen provoked among captains of industry. With sportsmen, CEOs felt themselves in the presence of real ur-maleness, men who'd been tested by standards more absolute than those of the stock market. Being the friend or sponsor of a great sportsman made them bigger, better people. It's this teenage hero-worship thing that makes sport such a huge business issue.

In the insecure world of commercial management, anything that makes everyday business seem more dignified, clever or sexy than it really is will command a premium in the airport business book market. These books aren't just about getting ahead, they're also about giving managers a reason to be, making them feel less resentful of artistic, media and public-sector types, who seem to enjoy greater popular admiration than most businessmen, particularly in Europe.

But there's a whole group of books that use sport as a metaphor for business, and a raft of management development techniques that use sporting celebrities and techniques to make it fun. Will Carling, for instance, makes his living from his 'motivational' consultancy, which explains business strategies as being just like manly rugby ones. And Mike Brearley, the thinking man's cricketer, now thrives as a business psychotherapist.

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