ENTREPRENEURS can find some valuable lessons in sports, according to British American Tobacco (BAT) General Manager James Michael Lafferty. “Sports build a nation and is a tool to build the character of the people,” says Lafferty in a recent interview with journalists on the latest project of the company bringing in running legend motivational speaker Dick Beardsley to Manila for a series of talks with BAT employees, national athletes, running enthusiasts, businessmen and professionals, and government leaders.
As far as BAT is concerned, Lafferty wants to inspire his team to become motivated and develop a strong character so the company can be strong amid the competition. As part of inspiring the BAT people, he brought his friend Beardsley to give inspirational talks to inspire BAT people, fellow business executives and athletes.
“I need to invest in my people to take on a Goliath. Dick Beardsley is a David who faced the fastest man on the world in a race where Alberto Salazar proclaimed he was unbeatable. But Dick ran Salazar to the ground by engaging him a grueling finish in the 1982 edition of the Boston Marathon,” Lafferty says.
“Dick’s performance in the 1982 Boston Marathon showed that even underdogs can give the biggest, baddest, toughest competitors a run for their money. Although he didn’t win the race, he gave Salazar such a hard time that the two men crossed the finish line within two seconds of each other—a finish way beyond what people expected,” he points out.
Equally important, Lafferty stressed how Beardsley had to fight bigger battles in life. In November 1989 tragedy struck when he got entangled in a machine while using an auger to lift corn into the bin on his Minnesota farm. He was given a slim chance to live or walk—but he overcame the ordeal and survived.
Another challenge emerged when Beardsley got involved in a severe car accident when he was hit by a truck while running. Later still, he rolled his vehicle in a snowstorm; and finally, while hiking one day, the ground gave out and he fell off a cliff! Each time he ended up in the hospital and had multiple surgeries to try and put him back together.
Due to all the large amount of pain medication he was taking, he became addicted—and that was the start of his darkest days in life. “I was forging prescriptions and used to take more than 60 pills a day,” Beardsley says. But he managed to overcome this challenge and has been a sobriety stage since February 12, 1997.
“I worked my way up during my four years of rehabilitation. Recovery was initially tough. The pain would go to my arms and legs. Honestly, if I had access to a saw, I would cut my arms and legs,” he points out.
Sports and the power of focus
Lafferty believes sports can be a driving force to rally the people toward a national agenda. He cites China and Russia as prime examples that used their sports celebrities to promote their national interests to the world. Furthermore, sports can also generate business as private companies’ partner with world-class organizations such as Manchester United and Real Madrid.
He also points entrepreneurs can learn a lot from sports in the power of focus. By developing a strong focus on their priority sports, small countries such as Cuba, Kenya and Jamaica have managed to steal the thunder from sports superpowers such as the US, Russia, Japan and China.
Jamaica, a country in the Caribbean with a population of 2.7 million, won 12 medals in the London Olympics. Track star Usain Bolt was undoubtedly Jamaica’s star athlete in the Olympics.
Kenyan athletes proved they are world-class when they 11 medals in London. Meanwhile, Cuba, the island republic with 11.3 million people, won 16 medals in London. It has produced Olympic legends, such as Teofilo Stevenson (boxing), Alberto Juantorena (track and field) and Felix Savon (boxing).
Lafferty sees no conflict in promoting sports while working in the tobacco industry because he has the benefit of observing the industry. In fact, he is proud BAT supported the sin-tax law which raises the tax of cigarettes because it has been able to raise P20 billion to fund PhilHealth programs.
“If you want to be a good rebel, be a rebel from the inside. I am proud of what I have done. I will serve society focused in sports. Working with the tobacco is shockingly surprising to other people. But it is the greatest experience for me,” he says.
Right now, Lafferty is also busy with his Adopt an Olympian project seeking to win the first gold medal for the country. He says this will have a value added proposition for Filipinos to excel. “When you reached the top like Lea Salonga, Paeng Nepomuceno and Manny Pacquiao, you will learn the value of hard work.”