Thriving at the Head of the Peloton: Key Lessons for Finance Professionals from Tour de France Sprint Legend Mark Cavendish

From the Editor

In cycling the “peloton” is a heaving mass of energy, aggression and power that forms when the main group of riders combines to exploit their collective power. Riding in the peloton takes skill, strategy and teamwork and finance professionals can learn a lot from what it takes to succeed. As in business, the ultimate goal is to get over the line in first place. The current rider with the most experience of doing just that is Etixx-Quick Step’s Mark Cavendish – sprint king and winner of 25 Tour de France stages. In an interview with the BBC, Mark considers what life is like at the head of the peloton and the leadership and teamwork it demands have striking parallels with what leadership in the financial industry demands. He judges that the most dangerous element in this environment are competitors who think they are fast, but aren’t. They can maintain the pace needed and become a risk to all around them. So, what else can business leaders take from the Manx Missile?

1. Endurance sprinting is different than sprinting In the peloton, the middle of a stage is the calm before the storm. This is the time to plan, to strategize and to adjust. It is when you determine whether this is the stage to sprint. The same applies in the finance industry. Our field moves in waves, reacting to market changes and client trends. In down times, it pays to observe and strategize the next big move. It's not about being the first mover, but the right mover.

2. Draw on experience Mark doesn't see himself as a powerful, aggressive sprinter. Rather, he says: "I'm not so powerful. I rely on -- and always had to -- on my road craft and instinct. So it's ingrained in me. I know what I have to do… There's a certain procedure, a certain algorithm inside me for every scenario. Going through a set of patterns to get the best possible result." Mark's experience and training allows him to calculate outcomes of the current situation and move to maximize his team's outcome. He talks about having an algorithm for every eventuality. The same is true in the finance world. Trust yourself and actively calculate the outcomes of particular actions to understand and make the most of current and future market conditions.

3. Your strategy must change over time Things change as the finish line approaches. Your team must adapt not only to changing conditions, but in relation to your proximity to a major goal. For Mark, that means:

• With 3km left, rely on communication and collaboration. Trust your team. As things start to heat up and the riders taste the end of the stage ahead, communication and a viable team strategy are keys to positioning for the demanding stretch ahead.

• With 2km left, it's important to know your team. The most dangerous thing at this phase is people who think they're fast but can't keep up for the endurance push. You've got to be physically strong enough to implement your strategy. In the finance world, that means on-boarding talented team members, training them thoroughly and working as a unit to achieve concrete, staged goals.

• Approaching the finish line. You're in the red zone. It's stifling hot in the south of France and your last food was 15km ago. It's officially a sprint stage and you're pushed to the limits. When there's a wheel an inch ahead and another an inch behind and someone up ahead breaks left, then falls, will you react in time? In finance, fine adjustments to even major missions and goals may be necessary at the 11th hour. Can your team implement at the end of the day? Says Mark: "The mentality you have to have is that you're the only one with the right to be there. And that's not just me. Every sprinter believes they are the only one who should be there, so how dare they fight you for it?"

Speeding up to slow down

In a final sprint, says Cavendish, things don't seem to happen fast. It's a concerted dance, and it seems to come at you in slow motion. "You know what's going on around you, you're aware of some things, but there's no detail in your peripheral vision. It's only what's in front of you. I watched a documentary on time recently, about how time is just what you perceive it to be. If your adrenaline is going, it's your body trying to absorb every bit of information, physical and emotional, so it can learn for the next time it happens to you." As with cycling, it takes a mix of skill, strategy, focus, and conditioning to succeed in the finance field. When it all comes down to the wire, can you say you've used everything at your disposal in careful coordination for that concerted final push? Find out how Unit4 can give you the tools you need to cross the finish line first.

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