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Sep 20

Three Business Lessons Learned from the “Holy War”


Being in the heart of Salt Lake City, we are fortunate to find ourselves in the middle of one of best college football rivalries in all of the country: “The Holy War”, BYU versus Utah. It’s been played in some form since 1896, and has woven itself into the fabric of the community. When you meet new neighbors, often times one of the first things you learn about them is what color they wear on game day, red or blue. It’s important to know if you have a friend or foe for the yearly battle. If you drive down my street, over half of the homes fly the flag of their school. It’s a badge of honor to represent your team.

The winner of the game is awarded the Beehive Boot, but something much more important is at stake: bragging rights. The players, the coaches, the schools’ administrators, and the fans will be able to walk with their heads held a little higher for the next year because of 60 minutes of football.

So what can the business world learn from this game?

Show me the money!
Without getting into the politics of college athletics, the game has undergone a dramatic facelift over the past 20 years because of money. It’s no longer about what’s best for the fans or student athletes, but how we can get a better TV contract to bring in more revenue. In turn, you can build a larger and higher tech practice facility, you can pay the coaches (and sometimes players) more and charter private jets for each game.

In the business world, there are many “altruistic” reasons companies operate. They provide products to improve their clients’ lifestyle or solve their critical problems. But in the end, it comes down to money. Without enough revenue coming in, the bills can’t be paid, payment of salaries can’t be met, and the business can’t grow. Money (revenue) in turn facilitates the ability to hire more employees, and solve more clients’ problems. When we send candidates out on an interview, this is something we encourage them to keep in mind: Businesses are in business to make money!

Competition is healthy and cyclical
Since 1953, BYU and Utah have played 60 times. BYU has won 30 games, and Utah has won 30 games. In the last eight games, two games have been won in overtime, and another four games were decided on the final play of the game. On a macro level, that looks like a back and forth rivalry. If you look at the scores on the “Holy War” Wikipedia page, however, there are stretches where blue dominated and then stretches where red dominated. Unfortunately for the BYU fans, we’re in the middle of a red dominated streak right now.

What is there to learn from this? Competition is positive and drives innovation. If you’re neck and neck with a competitor, you spend many nights staring at the ceiling game planning on where you’re going to get your next edge. What is our next industry-changing product? What are our competitors doing, and does that affect us?

To go along with this, everyone has bad months, quarters and even years, but what’s more important is how you respond. Like Winston Churchill said, “Success is never final and failure never fatal. It’s courage that counts.”

Passion is key!
During the weeks leading up to the game, I’ve seen all sorts of crazy stunts pulled.
Friends morph into enemies, windows on certain homes are painted the “wrong” color, logos from the “wrong” team are mowed or painted onto lawns, and cars are adorned with flags and stickers from the “right” team. In fact, on the news last night, I saw a story about how “neighbor A” painted a huge logo from his school on “neighbor B’s” lawn, who in turn held a pep rally, university cheerleaders included, in front of “neighbor A’s” house.

Life would be so mundane without passion, and businesses would not thrive without it. In my profession as an executive recruiter, there is not much more refreshing and invigorating than speaking to a professional who is EXCITED about the work he or she is doing. They love what they do, and it shows in the results. Companies grow and shrink based on the passion and morale of their leaders and employees. Most of us probably heard the same thing as you were deciding on a profession: do what you love and can be passionate about, and success will follow.