The Last Word: Sean Fitzpatrick

People can, says Fitzpatrick, be too nice to get to where they need to be. But where, in business, does nasty end and unethical begin? “Simple. You do everything you can to win, but you don’t cheat. Honesty, integrity and respect are equally important in sport and business.”

Fitzpatrick thinks the sense of fraternity that goes with donning an All Black jersey can be created in business. “The ‘once an All Black, always an All Black’ phrase struck me as particularly useful way to think. It has stayed with me ever since I heard it. It’s about the culture of the organisation.”

He’s always proud to say he played for the All Blacks. If companies can get employees to feel similarly positive and committed “it is enormously powerful”, he adds. Companies need to engender “passion” in their people in the same way coaches engender passion into the All Blacks. “We have the legacy of the jersey and that is what makes the best players stay in New Zealand. The first 15 players don’t leave New Zealand, because they want to be All Blacks.

“It might be bit of generalisation, but those that go overseas do so because they can’t get into the first team. They leave for more money, which is understandable. We [New Zealand] can’t compete on the money but the pride that goes with wearing the jersey is phenomenal,” he says, leaving the parallel with business and remuneration hanging.

Being an All Black does, of course, mean that rugby is “your number one job and family is number two”, he says. And that, to his mind, is true in business. “To be really successful, the job comes first. Many people say family comes first, but if they’re honest, there’s no doubt the job must come first,” he adds.

“But you do need to talk the realities of the commitment through with your partner and both understand what being committed to success means. You have to sit down and say exactly what is involved. Like, how many days you will be away this year. Then you ask each other, ‘Do we want to be part of this?’ If the answer is yes, then you go forward together as family unit. World-class organisations need committed people.”

Fitzpatrick refuses to settle for anything less than being the best he can be. “The idea of just turning up is load of rubbish,” he says. “I can’t believe anyone would seriously advocate that philosophy.”

But while he desperately wanted to be the best All Black he could be, he didn’t particularly want to be leader – the team’s captain in other words. “I got the job by default,” he says. “It took me two or three years to feel comfortable about it.” He doubted his ability to lead but decided, soon enough, to give it his best shot. “No sense debating endlessly about whether you’re ready for it, or what skills you possess or lack; you have to knuckle down and be the captain. Be the leader,” he says in his book.

Sean Fitzpatrick’s key business message is that “you don’t need to be liked” to be successful. “You need to be respected,” he adds. “Most successful business people are not liked. That’s because they have to make the big calls, take the big decisions and make change happen. What’s important, is that the decisions taken make the company or the organisation better.”

That aside, what New Zealand managers need to do more than anything else, is practise their trade. “The best sports people practise more than they play,” he says. “Business people should practise too. They should go home at night and analyse their day’s performance. They don’t and they need to. To be good at something takes practice, and lots of it.”

• Extracts from an interview by Reg Birchfield with Sean Fitzpatrick in the August issue of NZ Management.


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