Synergies between sport and business have long been compared, particularly in the highly competitive world of property. Athletes and those involved in elite sport, from managers to owners, have one big thing in common – a winning mindset and vision that drives them to operate at the top of their game.
Newcastle Eagles is the most successful professional basketball team in UK history. Over the last 24 years, the team has won an impressive 27 trophies under the ownership of Paul Blake. No stranger to the court, Paul started playing basketball when he was 12 years old, working his way up to National League level, before moving across to the business side of the sport.
I recently caught up with Paul to find out his winning formula and why it’s important to have a vision, how to adapt it and how to set yourself up for success on the road to realising it.
Have a winning vision
“At any level of sport, I think there is often too much focus on whether you’re recruiting attackers or defenders. I’ve always had the attitude that defence wins games, no matter how good you are in offense. To win you need to have strong defence. You don’t need lots of sporting talent to play defence well in our sport either, it’s all in your mental attitude - you need to want it.
“I think there are parallels with business. Offense is the fun bit in business, going on corporate golf days, networking events or launching new services for example. Whereas defence is the hard work – being consistent with your finance, emails, and business strategy. Winning new business isn’t going to be worth much if you aren’t on top of what you’ve already built.
Attitude over aptitude
“Winning in sport and business means having the right team of people around you. What is sometimes overlooked though is how much personality matters. We invest a lot of time and energy into making sure we recruit the right personalities for the Eagles. The difference between a professional and amateur sportsman is not always how technically gifted they are, but their mentality.
“We look for people who are in it for the long-game, positive people who want to ‘play for the badge’ and want to make Newcastle their home. We are the best supported club in the league, and we want our players to fall in love with the city as well as the sport – this all plays into a winning mentality. If you have someone in your team who isn’t engaged with the wider vision and instead see their role as a stepping stone, you don’t get the player trying to win a trophy, you get an individual looking after their own stats. Creating a strong culture within your business will give your team the motivation they need to work together.”
“Newcastle Eagles encompasses multiple businesses – the club, the foundation, and the arena we play in. Even though I am passionately invested in club games, I am also involved in the day to day running of all three businesses. If we lose a game at the weekend – even though I really struggle to get over losing games – I must find a positive mindset to approach the tasks that need doing for the other businesses on Monday morning. Remaining positive is a key pillar to winning and staying on the path to achieving your vision. The same applies in business, especially an industry like property where things can change quickly. There are always wins to be found and although it’s important to look at how we can improve, it’s not productive to dwell on the negatives.”
Give your vision a purpose
“We took on Newcastle Eagles when it was a loss-making business and looked at what we had to do to make it break-even. There weren’t enough young people playing basketball and we knew anyone who plays is likely to come and watch so we got involved in community delivery, built up an audience, and ultimately set up a foundation in 2005. The club was doing okay on court, the foundation started growing, and people started coming to games. We didn’t have our own building then, so we had to pay for venue hire and couldn’t train in the same building. We started the ten-year journey of building our own arena which is now the home of the Eagles. The club is continuing to win in the new venue four years in.
“We now run larger events via the foundation which provide a revenue to support junior basketball training. One of our goals is giving as many young people as possible the opportunity to play the game. We’re now looking at extending the building and on the club side we’ve taken the decision to join a European League. There are always new goals being set, and your vision adjusts. As long as the changes you make have a purpose, you’re on the right path.
Push through failure.
“You’ve got to be willing to always pick yourself back up from failure. A lot of businesses fail in the first two years, and some say you have to fail a couple of times before you succeed. We’re all human at the end of the day and make mistakes, take risks, try something new that doesn’t come off. My wife and I could have easily – and nearly did – say this isn’t going to work, but it’s worth recognising that starting out is the hardest bit. We didn’t accept failure and found ways to keep the cash flow coming in. Drive, passion, and resilience is what has helped us to achieve everything we have so far – always with a clear vision ahead as to what we were striving for.”
You can find more leading insights like this from property industry insiders, business leaders and sports people in iamproperty’s latest Tech of a Life, which focuses on ‘visionary thinking’.