An Interview With Giles Long

1 January 2012

In practical terms, what can a manager learn from a sportsman?

Pathways, options and results in sport are often black and white in a way that business rarely is. It provides a superbly simple template for illustrating how to get the best out of yourself and those around you, how to induce positive change and keep that change rolling, and how to expose the practical ways in which you can motivate yourself.

How did working in the corporate sector start?

As my results began to plateau as a professional swimmer I began to think about what else I would enjoy. An opportunity came to start working with disaffected kids in schools as part of the Changing Lives Programme run by the Youth Sport Trust. That's where I learned to become a speaker - there's no tougher audience than a room full of teenagers! At corporate functions and sponsorship events, I began to see how I could compliment what high-functioning teams in business are trying to achieve, by combining my experience of top-level sport and the art of weaving key-messages into the storytelling that I had learned to deliver in schools. From there I focussed on ensuring that every speech has content, delivery and message.

Can you remember your first speaking engagement?

My first corporate speaking engagement was for Visa in 2003. It must have gone ok, they asked me back and still do.

And your last event?

It was for Genzyme in Madrid, a pharmaceutical that specialises in 'orphan drugs' - drugs that are the only option for rare diseases. They have recently been bought out by Sanofi and morale has been badly affected and steered them away from their innovative and highly-responsive pre-merger state. I was brought in to highlight the importance of continuing to change and improve - both long term and on a daily basis. They have an amazing team, really great people. They needed an example of how change can be achieved to improve on an uptrend and how to reverse a downtrend. Most importantly they needed to be able to change whilst setting themselves up for victory, not failure.

Which event has been your favourite and why?

I don't really have a favourite. There's been so many times when I left a group of people energised and I get a wonderful sense of achievement from that. I often get instant feedback from delegates via Twitter and Facebook and it's been a great day when someone writes something like "I heard you speak today... I've always been scared of.... but I'm going to do... to change that, starting now." That inspires me to be better.

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