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  • kenpasternak

Planning not Plans

The first edition (2005) of “Performance at the Limit, Business Lessons from Formula 1 Racing” (PATL) had a WilliamsF1 on the cover. This was, in part, because over three years my co-authors and I had delivered close to 50 seminars for an international law firm at WilliamsF1’s Conference Center next to their factory in the UK. We taught their lawyers business acumen using the operations of Formula 1 teams as an example of high performance.

The second edition of PATL (2009) showcased a Red Bull F1 car on the cover. Some might say we were prescient since they dominated F1 for the next four years, winning the Constructors’ Championship from 2010-2013.

The much revised third edition of PATL (2016) has a MercedesF1 car on the cover. MercedesF1 had already won the Constructors Championship in 2014 and 2015; and went on to win it five more years 2016-2021.

Red Bull’s current dominance would make it a strong candidate for the cover of a new edition of the book, but that is not in the works right now. However, a close friend did surprise me recently with a special Red Bull Racing gift - a vintage Red Bull F1 hat from 1996.

I know it’s the real deal because Alberto Carrero, who is a much in-demand executive coach based in Helsinki, worked at Red Bull during its formative years from 1995 to 2005. He was a member of the small team that Dietrich Mateschitz had assembled in Austria to conquer the world with his energizing, yellow liquid. The team would meet as often as possible in a small conference room when people were not on the road. They would share ideas written on flip charts and agree on near term actions.

It has been fascinating to listen to Alberto’s experiences opening markets for Red Bull across Southern Europe and in Latin America. They did not have a detailed and comprehensive strategic plan as businesses and consulting firms know it today. What they had was a broad plan that prioritized their actions, but it was flexible and adaptable to their learnings from failures as well as successes, as they moved forward.

This reminds me of a case study I taught for many years about Honda’s entry into the US market to sell motorcycles during the late 1950’s and 60’s. There are two versions of the case. One is based interviews with members of the original Honda team and recounts how with hard work, adaptive thinking, and serendipity they built a significant brand identity and presence. The second version of the case is a report written several years after Honda’s success by an international consulting firm. It tells a very different story emphasizing how a systematic, strategic plan was the foundation for Honda’s actions and eventual success.

In both cases, Red Bull and Honda, I am drawn to President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s comment, “Plans are nothing, planning is everything.”

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