A Great Leader: A Crew Member's Perspective

9 Pages Posted: 9 Jun 2009

See all articles by Alexander Horniman

Alexander Horniman

University of Virginia - Darden School of Business

Drew Freides

affiliation not provided to SSRN


This case describes the creation and performance of the America's Cup team and the leadership of Dennis Conner.





What makes a great leader? How does he bring a group of individuals together to create a unit that is capable of achieving far more together than would ever be possible if the abilities of the members were simply summed up? Leaders that have the uncanny ability to do so seem to consistently conquer goals that would seem almost impossible otherwise. As author and world class sailor Peter Isler wrote recently in an article, “The teamwork and leadership required to win yacht races at the highest level can be easily transferred to the business world.” He goes on to add, “It is no coincidence that some of the most prominent and prosperous CEOs and executives in America are extremely successful yacht racers. In both business and at the highest levels of competitive yachting racing, only the best-led, best-trained, and mostly highly motivated teams win!”

In my career as a professional yacht designer and yacht racer, I have been fortunate to experience both extremely effective and ineffective leadership. From a cursory point of view, the leadership style of both the successful and the unsuccessful often seemed quite similar, yet the results were dramatically different. Why is it that some leaders have been and continue to be successful, while others have not been able to breed success? These are the questions that led to the creation of this material.

In the America's Cup, leadership has constantly proved to be the difference between winning and losing. Great teams have been unsuccessful because they have not had the appropriate guidance, support, direction, and leadership, while teams with less raw talent have risen to the occasion when led by a true team leader. An America's Cup team is an interesting phenomenon to study. It is essentially a short-lived startup venture that lasts for only three to four years. In its infancy it is similar to an entrepreneurial startup, with big plans and little money. As the campaign matures it takes on the appearance of a high tech research and development program. Not only does the campaign share many attributes of a medium-sized business facing the competitive pressure of the real world, as it strives to bring its product to market, on budget and on time, but it is obviously also a professional sports team aimed at a world championship. It is begun from scratch, but is usually built around a leader whose vision is taken on board by the teams. His goals become everyone's goals, and his vision becomes the team's vision. A great leader/skipper will attract the most talented sailors and designers and lead them to success.

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Keywords: leadership, team formation

Suggested Citation

Horniman, Alexander and Freides, Drew, A Great Leader: A Crew Member's Perspective. Darden Case No. UVA-BP-0425, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1416538

Alexander Horniman (Contact Author)

University of Virginia - Darden School of Business ( email )

P.O. Box 6550
Charlottesville, VA 22906-6550
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.darden.virginia.edu/html/direc_detail.aspx?styleid=2&id=4329

Drew Freides

affiliation not provided to SSRN

No Address Available

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