Business Lessons From The World Of Rugby

If you are as passionate about rugby as I am, it is difficult NOT to write about last Saturday’s World Cup Semi Final between Wales and France. Having worked so hard, and waited so long, the Welsh team managed to lose despite being the stronger team. It is a good lesson for students, professors and managers alike.  Knowing that you are better just isn’t enough. Results are what count.

If you were Welsh, it was heartbreaking. Believe me! Having waited 24 years to get into a World Cup semifinal and having worked nonstop for nearly a year (including giving up alcohol…we’re talking about rugby players here!) the Welsh team managed to lose a match despite clearly being the stronger side. From a Celtic viewpoint the match couldn’t have been more demoralizing. Despite being a player short for most of the game, they had the ball 65% of the time and 65% territorial advantage. They lost by one solitary point having thrown away 11 including one kick that hit the post and one that dropped just a metre short. Most of my French colleagues have told me generously that France didn’t deserve to win the match. They are kind, but they are wrong. If one team didn’t deserve to win, it was Wales.

«However good your strategy » once declared Winston Churchill, “You should occasionally look at the results.”

Learned words indeed and one that rugby teams, students & managers would be wise to follow. Knowing that you are smarter than the student sitting next to you in class is no doubt very satisfying. This means nothing however, if you don’t do what is necessary to get the grades you think you deserve. In the end, that is what your future recruiters will judge you on. Knowing that you are more intelligent than your colleague in the next office is just as comforting until they get the promotion you longed for.

History is littered with examples of the superior product or person losing out. When the railways were invented in the 19th Century, broad-gauge was deemed to be technically better than the narrow-gauge that we ride on today. All business students will have been told about the vastly superior Betamax recording system losing the consumer war against VHS.  This logic follows for political battles as well. Bill Clinton was considered to be something of a joke candidate by fellow Democrats when he threw his hat into the ring. He was President for 8 years. Similarly Hilary Clinton had as good as won the party nomination when Barack Obama began to campaign in earnest. I have seen business schools in France praise the beauty and the wonder of their academic programmes while the number of students fall by 50%. What good is a great programme if nobody wants to listen to it?

Young graduates setting off on their careers may also find that there are times when they are in the right and yet end up being in the wrong. They may come across a boss that doesn’t want them to succeed, they may be misaligned with the corporate culture. There are only two solutions to this; change or leave. Being a minority of one is a dead end street.

Sports are entertaining because there is such high drama. Sudden death matches such as last Saturday’s semi-final give us an intensified, theatrical version of professional life. Such matches are a good lesson for students, professors and managers in the business world. Wales were by far the better team, but what good is knowing that? Knowing that you are better, knowing that you are right; this is all very reassuring, but in the real world it often means nothing if you cannot provide the results to prove it. France didn’t cheat their way to victory. They had an awful lot of luck which they accepted gratefully. They deserve their place in the final.


Mark Thomas

Grenoble EM

ESC Grenoble




Global Ed

International Affairs in Higher Education

Business School


Filed under Business, France, Higher Education, Management, Strategy

4 responses to “Business Lessons From The World Of Rugby

  1. I find this parallel very interesting ! Vivement la finale !

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