Business in the Saddle
An increasing number of executives are heading out on two wheels to talk business and socialise with like-minded clients, potential investors and employees. But can a day in the saddle really create a bonding experience that endures?
OC Sport Matt Holden, is the Strategic Development Director for the Haute Route cycling series, the world’s most prestigious multi-day events for amateur riders which take place in some of the sport’s most iconic mountain terrain. The first Haute Route event of the season has just come to a close in San Francisco after three epic days on the bike.
Holden is a strong believer in the power of building lasting business relationships through a shared passion. “On your bike you can interact with a wide group of people,” he explains. “It’s incredibly social and you have the opportunity to get to know people on a personal level and share an experience. It’s not all about a business transaction – I see it as a shared passion and I don’t think you can manufacture that.”
Unlike other sports, Holden believes the collaborative element of cycling, where riders help each other out by taking turns at the front of the group for example (so that the riders in their slipstream can save almost a third of the effort needed to travel at the same speed), fast-tracks the building of connections.
“If you play a round of golf or a game of tennis with someone, not only do you have limited interaction, you also might find one player is better than the other so the competitive element becomes more one-sided,” he says.
“By contrast when you are on your bike, the strongest riders help the weaker. And someone who might be great on a climb might not be so strong descending a big hill. So even if you are 30-50% stronger than another rider, you can still ride together pretty comfortably. It’s a very inclusive sport.”
Holden also highlights the fact that cycling can break down hierarchical barriers which can then change dynamics in the office. “It all changes on the bike. It doesn’t matter if you are a CEO riding with an intern, or an agency riding with a potential client. Cycling is a great leveller as you can all ride together and help each other. So the balance of the relationship can change. You’re unlikely to get that on the golf course.”
Holden believes that one of the main benefits of ‘taking work out of the office’ is that it enables people to build connections in a less formal environment. “I think the barriers come down,” he said. “If you are in an office talking about something, it can be a little bit dry. The first time I met our contact at Maserati for example, we rode for three hours in the fresh air.”
Following that meeting the Italian luxury car manufacturer went on to be become the title partner to a new three-day Haute Route event in Norway which launches this year in the Stavanger region, offering an exceptional setting in the heart of the Norwegian fjords.
“In the case of Maserati, we shared a love of cycling so we both wanted to get out on our bikes. I think nowadays the lines between work and social time have become more blurred. People are more flexible and there is a big appeal in getting some breathing space from the office.”
Holden says it’s not only commercial deals that can be done on the bike – he has also used cycling as a recruitment tool. “I’ve met quite a few people on the bike who I have recruited into the company after we have got talking about the Haute Route and what we do at OC Sport. It’s been clear that they share the same ethos and values as we do, and that’s important.”
He continued: “We also use cycling as a tool to bring the Haute Route organisation team together. Many of our team cycle to work, leave early to ride when the weather is good, or cycle together at the weekend.” The Haute Route also organises staff seminars which typically include three days out of the office combining work with riding and socialising.
As an increasing number of people look for more thrilling and health-enhancing ways to network over more traditional events, the Haute Route team has created networking opportunities designed to bring its partners together.
Last year the Haute Route hosted a forum for all its commercial partners at the foot of Mount Ventoux, one of the most famous mountains in the Tour de France. It combined a social dinner, an interactive forum and a group ride. “The value in combining the social side, with business and a ride is huge. It provides an opportunity for us to collaborate with our partners, but also for them to forge their own relationships,” Holden says.
The Haute Route team also organise various networking events that appeal to potential, current and previous Haute Route participants who want to find out more about the event, or who just enjoy the social element. ‘Ambassador rides’ take place from large bike shops in major cities on weekends, and indoor training sessions where riders can ‘do’ an Haute Route stage and get training tips are organised at Athlete Lab in London, which Holden says is particularly popular in the winter months.
Holden is passionate about sharing his love of cycling with like-minded people and bringing them together. “We are going to start organising networking and social evenings where the focus is on meeting people with a shared passion. We are going to create something off the bike where people can still share a connection through cycling.
“There is always something to talk about on a bike,” he says, “and establishing unique connections with like-minded people is invaluable when it comes to creating lasting relationships.”
This article was written by Matt Holden, Strategic Development Director at OC Sport.
Photo credits: Manu Molle
To find out more about the Haute Route and details on this years three day and seven day events visit the website.