Big money is not enough – passion and professionalism matter

Big money talks. One of the richest football clubs in the world, Manchester United, is at the top of the Premier League. Ferrari, the first of the big spenders in F1, came first and second in the most recent Grand Prix. The Conservative and Labour parties raise most money in British politics and are likely to come first and second in elections. US athletes receive substantial financial backing for training and are likely to win more medals than the athletes of other countries at the Olympics that can afford less.

When I visited an F1 team (Not Williams that I have written about before on this blog) that had failed to win races and asked the obvious question, I was told disarmingly that they would never win an F1 race as they were so heavily outspent by Ferrari. The largest companies in the world pay the highest salaries to attract executive talent. The establishment view in science is reflected in the pattern of grants and payments for research projects. All this leads many of my Parliamentary colleagues, both Labour and Conservative, to adopt a kind of financial fatalism, and believe that elections, like many things in life, are just a question of who can get hold of the most money and the hire the best people to do the job.

And yet. And yet. The four clubs who made it to the FA Cup semi final matches did not include any of the top group of super rich elite teams of multi millionaire footballers and their mutli millionaire coaches. 3 of the 4 teams do not even manage to play in the Premier League at all. 25 years ago IBM was the runaway success in the world of computing: few would then have predicted the rise and rise of Microsoft and Google, Yahoo and Facebook against the apparently impregnable dominance of IBM with all the money and expertise at its disposal. Many a large corporation has watched as small rivals have arrived in the market to do something faster, cheaper, better, and have succeeded in doing so despite having only a fraction of the resources available to the market leader. In international sporting contests sometimes the underdog wins, and the participants from poorer countries often perform with distinction.

What some people fail to realise is that having money can help, but you need to spend it wisely. This government has fallen for the loads of money fallacy. Public services must be better because we are paying more for them. If you simply put the pay of existing managers up hugely but don’t ask or expect anything more from them, you will not get any improvement for your cash. If you hire more managers and administrators, rather than better ones, you may end up with a worse service, as the bureaucracy trips over itself. If you do not inspire commitment, loyalty and a more professional approach, it does not matter how much you spend – you will waste most of it.

The reason Ferrari wins a lot of grand prix is not just that it spends a lot – it spends the money on engineers, managers and drivers who want to be the best and go the extra mile to be the best. The reason Manchester United have stayed at the top of the Premier most of this season and last is the commitment of their Manager and their players to excellence – the wish to perform for their fabulous pay. The reason four clubs without huge money managed to take the top four places in the FA cup was that on the day their players showed more professionalism, more hunger and more commitment than the top clubs they were playing.

What any sporting outfit, political party or company needs is a combination of commitment, passion and professionalism. Big money can help you buy people more likely to have those virtues, but it can lead you to pay them too much so their hunger fades for success. Big money may find people who intend to remain professional and are the best, but they will still be vulnerable to challenge from people who are not yet well known, but have an even bigger hunger, passion and professionalism – who have more time to train and perfect their task because they are not distracted by the lifestyle and requirements that big money anything brings to its practitioners. The smart multi million pound footballers know their financial success ultimately depends on their ability to become and remain the best footballers of their generation. They know there could be someone practising many hours a day in a back street or on a field with a ball to topple them in a year or two’s time. The smart multi million pound F1 teams strain every ounce of intelligence and every muscle to make sure tomorrow’s car is better and faster than today’s even when they are winning. The sensible political party ,even when it finds raising money easily, should know that its success depends on harnessing the energy, enterprise and enthusiasm of a big army of volunteers and on mobilising its candidates who need themselves to put in great effort and show a professional approach. Elections cannot be won by a team of highly paid strategists and spin doctors on their own. The Clinton team had all the money before Obama arrived with the passion and the vision.

I am glad big money anything can be challenged, and share the English pleasure in seeing an underdog teach the assumed winner a few lessons. I also take pleasure in well paid professionals, when they show that we are paying for great qualities, and when they earn their generous pay. The multimillionaires of the Premier league clearly let their standards slip in the FA cup this year. It should give hope to all those taking on better paid and better financed rivals. It should remind us in politics that big money does not always win. What matters is spending it wisely, and allying it to a winning professionalism.


  1. Brian Tomkinson
    April 7, 2008

    I hope we shall see much more ‘hunger, passion and professionalism’ from the shadow cabinet than is currently displayed and very soon!

  2. Neil Craig
    April 7, 2008

    This is why Burt Rutan, with Spaceship One has been able, on 10s of millions to do what NASA couldn't on 10s of billions.

  3. Freeborn John
    April 7, 2008

    Big money talks in the world (technology) that I inhabit, but is only one success factor. Of the greatest importance is the ‘tall tree’ effect; the idea that the first solution to gain market traction will rise the tallest, stealing the sunlight of investment and market share from latecomers, even when the latecomer is technically superior. The history of technology is littered with superior ideas (Sony/Betamax, IBM/Token-ring) that lost out to inferior ones (VHS, Ethernet) that simply got of to a head-start. The Labour and Conservative parties are the Tall Trees of the political world today soaking up the sunlight of media coverage, funding and the knowledge of their ‘customer base’ that their network of activists provide.

    Once the Tall Tree has grown it becomes nigh-on impossible to displace until a ‘technological discontinuity’ occurs. Today Digital cameras are great news for some Japanese companies but very bad news for illustrious names of the film era, such as Leica or Kodak, who are reduced to niche status and a battle for survival on increasingly poor odds. Such was the fate of the Liberal party after the extension of the franchise to the masses benefited the Labour party more than liberals who had fought for it. It might be possible to view the Environment or the EU as the disruptive factors shaking up the political marketplace today, leading to strategic threats to the incumbent parties or the emergence of new ones (Greens, UKIP).

    It is a truism of American technology companies (though not of their European peers) that a company which dominates one technology era, rarely dominates the next. IBM dominated mainframe computers, but were displaced by Sun Micro-systems in mini-computers who in turn were displaced by Microsoft as micro-computers came to dominate the market. Discontinueities in the political world are once-in-a-century events but it does not seem impossible to me that the Conservatives could be the Leica of the political world if an EU state emerges with the various Christian Democrat parties on the Continent merging to dominate the right.

    Intel invented the semi-conductor but was crushed by Japanese competition in memory-chips, the first application for their technology. Unable to compete it abandoned the sector but struck Gold in micro-processors instead. I wonder what Conservatives would do instead if Westminster politics is reduced to irrelevance and real power migrates to Brussels?

    Perhaps an Anglosphere alliance might then seem more attractive?

  4. Stuart Fairney
    April 7, 2008

    As someone who was at Wembley on Sunday (and I might add, a Welshman who couldn't care a hoot what anthems you may or may not know) I think the point you make about "caring enough" about something is compelling.

    The championship clubs success is partly from the fact they cared enough to field strong teams, not second elevens.

    Incidentally, the most successful Welsh secretary (or more or less any minister) in recent history? one who does not spend the budget and demand more, but one who can actually return money to the treasury, and thereby the taxpayer.

    Now that is a rare minister indeed.

  5. Mike Stallard
    April 8, 2008

    Here are some further ideas:
    1. I have just visited Singapore – a tiny island with a split down the middle between Muslim Malays and Buddhist Chinese. Oh – and let's not forget the "colonialist legacy" or the indians either! Do you know what – every taxi driver i met (and I met lots socially too) told me how lucky I was to have arrived in Singapore and also that I was very stilly not to stay for longer than three days. Small countries are very often by far the most efficient. This compared, I thought very unfavourably with the EU.
    2. David and Goliath is other example. Or the Maccabbean rebellion. But, allow me to remind you politely, that the Lord God of Hosts redressed the balance……. Religion is a most portent force in minorities. (e.g.s left out -ed)
    What an inspiring thought, though – well done!

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