Gearing for Success:
Cyclist Ryder Hesjedal
on Teamwork and Leadership
Release date: June 29, 2011
Host: Ken Goodwin
Guest: Ryder Hesjedal
Running time: 18:06 minutes
With a world ranking of 8th in the International Cycling Union standings, cyclist Ryder Hesjedal has become one Canada’s most loved athletes. In this episode of Strategy Talks, PwC partner Ken Goodwin interviews Ryder on his views on the importance of teamwork and leadership, and what strategies have made him successful.
Announcer: Welcome to Strategy Talks, the business podcast series by PricewaterhouseCoopers Canada. Hosted by Helen Mallovy Hicks, National Leader of PwC’s Valuations, Forensics & Disputes Practice, and Calum Semple, an Operations and Consulting Partner. This interview series, featuring new topics and guests every episode, is designed to valuable insight into some of today’s hottest issues affecting your business.
Ken: Hi, I am Ken Goodwin, a Partner in the Deals practice in PwC. And your guest host for Strategy Talks. Today we will be covering something different. I am really excited to talk with our special guest today, someone I believe will have some interesting insights on leadership, teamwork and coaching. Not since Steve Bauer, as a Canadian cyclist had the impact in fan following nationally and internationally as our guest today. After Stellar 2010 season, which included 7th place overall finish at the Tour de France, and a world ranking of 8th in the International Cycling Union standings, Ryder Hesjedal has become one of our nation’s most loved athletes. Now a member of PwC Canada’s Athlete Sponsorship Program, Team PwC, Ryder joins us today to talk strategy, leadership and teamwork.
Ryder, Welcome to Strategy Talks!
Ryder: Thank you, glad to be here!
Ken: So maybe if we could Ryder, we’ve got a few questions we’ll to talk to you about. But it would be good if we could just learn a little about you and your career so far, and maybe... I hate to ask this because you probably get it almost all the time. Can you tell us what it’s like to be a Canadian competing in the international circuit?
Ryder: Um yeah sure! Just grew up on Vancouver Island, West Coast, was always on the bike, played all sports when I was younger. But I was always on the bike for fun, and riding around to get to my friends and get to practices and I guess I didn’t know then that that was really going to be what I excel at in sport. That was first mountain biking, and mountain biking I found competition first that I dedicated myself to that. How do I feel as a successful mountain biker representing Canada in the Olympics... Athens was able to move on to road racing in 2005, and take on a new challenge so it’s been great to be the first Canadian in the tour to France in over a decade in 2008.
Ken: Okay, well that’s great to hear. DO you find being Canadian, you get treated any differently than any of the other riders?
Ryder: I wouldn’t say that. Uh, I think ummm.... people on the sport, especially over in Europe over the last you know 20 years or so, they know the Canadian flag, and they know Steve Bauer. They know his impact so they are not surprised to see a Canadian up there so almost you know, not so surprised to see someone there. In all honesty there’s a lot of Canadians around there these days and that’s pretty awesome to see with all the other nations.
Ken: Well that’s good to hear! So, you’ve had a great career so far. Are there any highlights that stick out for you?
Ryder: Yeah, I mean definitely, you know my early part mountain biking, standing on a world championships podium. I did that on 7 occasions for Canada. You know, especially at that time my first time was in the end of Junior in 1998, 17 years old. That was a big deal for me. Didn’t go back in Canada here so that was huge. That really impacted how I approach this sport the next year which is when I turned professional. I did everything I set out to do. Mountain bike and then that led me to take on the new challenge. And definitely being able to have the ride that I did in the Tour de France. And also other races on the season. Classic in Europe. It was a great season last year.
Ken: Yeah, I know it’s pretty phenomenal, and I don’t think many people appreciate sort of how much energy and training and stamina it takes to ride let’s say 100 miles a day, let alone beyond the on road for 3 weeks and cover over 300 on the tour to France going at quite the pace.
Ryder: Uh yeah, it’s all possible because we do it year round, year after year. You’re not going to hear someone that did well in the Tour de France that started biking 6 months ago. Just doesn’t work out that way so yeah it’s a lot of practice. The tour to France is only 21 race days out of 70 80 90 race days a year. So it’s from February to October.
Ken: Right. Okay, so maybe if could talk a little bit about what it’s like to race in Europe and what stage racing is all about. And I think for a lot of people who may be listening to this may not understand sort of the dynamics of what happens in a 21 day race. So what makes international bike racing different form North America and what does it mean to be in a stage race?
Ryder: Um the biggest events are in Europe, and that’s where everyone goes, especially the tour the France is the best of the best. Everyone’s teams, all different countries... actually that’s the main difference. It’s where the biggest and hardest events are. Mainly over in Europe, so umm yeah that’s the main thing in the North American events. There’s definitely high calibre stuff in North America too.
Ken: So actually you touched on something interesting. You talked about the best teams being in Europe for the tour to France. SO maybe we can talk for a little about the importance of teamwork and strategy that relates to cycling. So maybe just tell us a little bit about the importance of the team and what being on a team means in cycling?
Ryder: Umm it’s everything, it’s the team that enters the Tour de France not individuals, so there is the best 9 guys that the team can put together, most races are 28 – 30 is the most you can have on a professional cycling team. So, it’s only your best 9 that everyone does everything they can to bring that group there and yeah, form everyday there is a strategy and a plan within the team to try and get the best result possible as a team to cross the line first and then goals to get atheist one guy to do it. So usually you have 8 more guys helping you do that.
Ken: And some people maybe not have an appreciation for the different roles of the team members. You’ll have [.....] you’ll have your sprinters, your climbers; people are good at time trials. Tell us a little bit about how all of those respective skill sets come together to help the team drive towards their goal.
Ryder: Yeah everyone that the team, you know the management builds the team based on those skills. They want to put together a team that’s going to obtain the goals the team sets out. Build guys around the top sprinters, the overall classification. You need guys that can get over the mountain, you obviously need good climbers. Everyday has a different outcome and a new plan. Everyday has a new strategy and everyone uses their strength to make it happen.
Ken: Yeah, you know what I find fascinating about it too is that in the tour you’ll see people whose role is to basically drag along or help pull along on someone who they want to save for the last couple of kilometres to try to burst through to the finish line.
Ryder: Exactly, you won’t see someone race without them getting support from their team mates. Umm its just not possible because everyone’s that, and that’s the way it works. You have to conserve the designated guys as much as possible to fight at the end. That’s the dynamic of the sport. That how it all moves along and makes it that big.
Ken: In that kind of environment, where you get so many talented people, and you are as you mentioned pulling as a team... how do you balance the career aspirations that you may have as an individual athlete versus those of the team overall? Is there tension? Does it work together?
Ryder: Well that’s part of the sport. You don’t get to this well or on teams like this without just being part of it. Were all professionals and you know your role and teams will be developed in mind. It’s about the team and about getting the best result possible and if I’m being supportive I want the guys to be just as good or better then and vice versa. Umm so yeah things change, you have plan in the morning, you get going 100k in to the stage you know were not machines. Guess what the legs aren’t feeling as good today. Next in line, next best guy, we think okay change the plan. Things are always changing. You have to adapt on the road. That’s what the sport’s all about.
Ken: So actually you’ve touched on a couple of things that relate to strategy. And if were thinking about a race like the tour to France, you now can you maybe tell us a little bit more about how important strategy is in the race? And does the strategy change or is it flexible as you go throughout the 3 weeks?
Ryder: Definitely, it’s changing all the time. You know its 3 weeks, you can’t... you have to have that in the back of your mind. If it’s the teams goal to win the first stage then yeah you’re going to go for that and if you do it then you know got another almost 3 weeks to go and enjoy it or whatever. Umm but you need just to know a lot of things are gonna happen and that’s the big challenge and be able to adapt to it day in and day out and know it’s gonna be a complete different race 2 weeks after you start and so forth so that what makes it exciting.
Ken: Okay, it sounds that our businesses are very similar. We work in teams and we have a strategy not only does it relate to our individual groups but the firm at large and we all have a role to play. You’ll see some stars but the stars can’t get where they because of everyone else pulling along tool. I think the related point relates to coaching. And if I could get your thoughts on what role a coach plays, you know not only for the team but also for yourself.
Ryder: Now that, in our sport... the lead guy called the Sport Director, he’s the coach. The leader on the road and he’s coming up with the plan and giving the orders and we just focus on the riding and getting the plan and that’s what we do best, and everyone has to be thinking about themselves out there but there is the leader that we trust. The head sports Director, Director Sport[...]. When he says “go” you Go.
Ken: If you think back in your career of some of the coaches that you’ve worked with? Can you give us your thoughts around what makes some of your best coaches the best coaches you did have? Did they have any sort of characteristics that you think really worked for you and helped you come along in your career?
Ryder: Yeah, as I look back I think now... just how I was treated when I was younger back when I was still a teenager, early teens... and I approached it like a professional and I was able to do that because I got that support and I think back now how those people let me make decisions and they way also guiding me and I think that was big and developing to where I am now. So not necessarily having people trying to tell you what to do all the time but make you feel like you are in charge of what you wanna do.
Ken: I think the similarities with our business again are quite striking and just another question too, it relates to feedback. When were watching the tour to France, we see the riders, they have the radios and you know those serve a purpose. When you regroup at the end of the day, and you’re on the team bus, are you getting t he feedback, and maybe talk a little about how feedback throughout the event as your training sort of helps you and the team win a race.
Ryder: Yeah, every day as soon as the race is over, they look at did we execute what we set out to do. Yes no? What were the reasons and that affects the new plan from the moment the stage ends to the start of the next day. And you know that’s the trick, is trying to get that right day in and day out. We talk amongst each other and try to help each other... try and help each other and look out for each other.
Ken: Okay so just switching gears and pardon the pun, how do you hold it all together? You’ve got your racing circuit, your sponsorship obligations, you’re engaged? I mean you’ve got a busy life! Your updating your website all the time, your doing news reports? How do you find balance with work? You know ultimately your job is you’re a professional cyclist. How do you keep it all together?
Ryder: Well I’m just living! This is my life, I don’t punch in on the clock or anything, it’s all day everyday this is what I do, this is my life, I don’t really look at it as work.
Ken: Okay, so fair to say you’re doing it for the love of sport.
Ryder: Yeah, yup, this is what I do, that’s all. Just being, just living!
Ken: Living the dream.
Ken: So if we look ahead, to Tour de France, what are your goals in the race this year?
Ryder: Just to try and be at my best, that’s all. I didn’t have a number in mind last year. I didn’t have anything; I didn’t have any personal ambitions. Just to be at my best at the tour and support the team and whatever the goal was and that all change early on in our team and I was able to take the opportunity and run with it and one of the most proud things that I’ve done so you know looking to recreate that and me keep going.
Ken: Any thought about what you’re gonna do when you decide to switch gears and move on?
Ryder: Stop switching gears! No, I don’t think about that. I’m enjoying it so much right now. This is where I saw myself 5 years ago when I started. Committed to the road, I wanted to be at the tour to France. Be at a high level and have people take notice and show that I love to do this sport and that that’s happening and people are excited about cycling and racing because of seeing me out there and that’s a huge compliment. And that makes it easy to go and work hard.
Ken: Yeah I think that’s great. I’m sure there is going to be a lot of us here from PwC watching you. We wish you all the best and it’s been great having you here. Thanks very much!
Ryder: Thank you!
Ken: To find out more about PwC’s Athletic Sponsorship Program please visit PwC.com/ca/teampwc.
Announcer: This concludes this episode of strategy talks. Thank you for listening. We hope you will join us again soon for another episode. To download or to subscribe to this podcast series, or to find more information, please visit pwc.com/ca/strategytalks. The information in this podcast is provided with the understanding that the authors and publishers are not here and engaged in rendering legal accounting, tax or other professional advice or services. The audience should discuss with professional advisors how the information may apply to their specific situation. Copyright 2009 PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP. All rights reserved. PricewaterhouseCoopers refers to PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, an Ontario Limited liability partnership or as the context requires, the PricewaterhouseCoopers global network or other member firms of the network, each is which a separate and independent legal entity.