#KnapChat | British Triathlon CEO Andy Salmon on Sport & Leadership

Andy Salmon

British Triathlon CEO Andy Salmon describes himself as “a passionate and highly motivated leader with a track record of success.” Looking at his impressive experience will tell you he’s absolutely right, but one conversation with him will tell you he’s much more than that.

For this week’s #KnapChat, I had the pleasure of talking with Andy about his journey to becoming CEO at British Triathlon and the requirements of a leader, two roles he has dedicated his life to achieving.

KW: How would you summarise your role as CEO of British Triathlon?

Andy: It is a massive privilege to be CEO of an organisation that is responsible for developing Triathlon and Multi-sport in Britain.

In a nutshell, my job is to set the direction and create the right environment for the team of staff and volunteers to execute the strategy.

KW: What makes a good leader?

Andy: Someone who puts the needs of the organisation and its people before their own; someone who provides clarity of purpose and who lives the organisation’s values consistently.

KW: To some, change is scary, but you say you thrive on it. What inspires, motivates and excites you about change?

Andy: Because, as Gandhi said, if you want to see change in the word, you have to be that change. Therefore, I see change as necessary, positive and very exciting but I try never to force change for its own sake.

KW: Director… Business owner… CEO… Chairman… You sure like to keep busy! How important is personal development to you?

Andy: Critical! I have been lucky throughout my career to have learned from some great bosses and mentors and to have picked up some really great books. It’s a never-ending journey.

KW: Where do you think your aspirations to become a leader stemmed from?

Andy: I think my aspiration was born when I was very young. For some reason, I had a real desire to be held accountable for something and I think as my development journey grew, this became a desire to be involved in organisational development and ultimately, to lead a team of people.

KW: What/who have been the biggest influencers on your leadership style? How did you learn to become the great leader you are today?

Andy: I would not say I am a great leader but I do aspire to be the best I can be. Jim Collins’ book – Good to Great – has probably been my biggest influence because it is evidence-based and the principles of leadership and sustained success are irrefutable.

More recently, I was inspired by Simon Sinek and his book – Start With Why – which articulates brilliantly the need for organisations and individuals to have a really deep understanding of ‘why’ and ‘how’ they go about achieving the ‘what’.

KW: What leaders do you particularly admire?

Andy: I don’t think I subscribe to one particular role model, more to concepts learned from a variety of great leaders, from Gandhi to JFK, Arsene Wenger (I’m a long-suffering Arsenal fan!) to Warren Gatland (also a Wales fan!) and many, many more.

KW: What are the parallels between sport and business?

Andy: Interesting question. Success principles are universal and so there are absolute parallels. However, sport has seen many successful people from business come and go and when things didn’t work out, it was often because the business person failed to make the emotional connection that the sport brings.

That’s the key, being business-like but with a deep appreciation that sport is more than just a business.

KW: Why is sport so important to you?

Andy: How long do I have? Because it can be pure drama, it can inspire people to do amazing things and it can literally change lives for the better.

KW: What impact do you think digital media has had on sport in the last 10-15 years?

Andy: There’s no doubt it has had a massive impact and there is much more to come. In one sense, it is far easier to reach fans and prospective participants, but on the other hand, people’s lives are far more cluttered and so our media messaging needs to be more and more engaging and relevant.

Digital media is a fantastic way for athletes to connect to us mere mortals and is a great way for them to be advocates for their sport and for a healthy lifestyle.

KW: How has the world of sport changed since you studied it at university?

Andy: Massively. During my first year, Ben Johnson won the Olympic 100m in Seoul, only to be stripped days later following the discovery of banned substances in his body. Arsenal had a rock-solid defence, rugby was still amateur and I guess most people didn’t know what a Triathlon was.

Sport has become much more business-like and many lifestyle-sports are emerging to challenge the status quo – who would have foreseen break-dancing being contemplated by the IOC!?

Sport is a massive part of the entertainment industry but is also much more focused on inspiring people to become more physically active. If only governments could acknowledge the impact that sport and physical activity can have on the population and on NHS resources!

KW: How difficult was the decision to move from being Director of the World Masters Golf Championship to the British Triathlon Federation?

Andy: Not at all. I had worked in the golf industry for 25 years and had been privileged to gain some amazing experiences.

However, the opportunity to join British Triathlon was one that required very little thought. I love the sport and its values and feel extremely lucky to hold this position.

KW: What are some of the biggest challenges British Triathlon is currently facing?

Andy: There are many. Whilst we have experienced significant growth in recent years and have an enviable record in terms of gender equality, we need to reach a broader range of the population and continue to grow the sport.

We need to support clubs and event organisers to put on great events so that participants have truly great experiences. Britain has produced some of the world’s most successful and well known triathletes and we need to make sure that we harness that whilst developing future generations to ensure continuity of success at Olympic and Paralympic games.

I am passionate about Paratriathlon because I am so inspired by the many people who overcome their disability to participate and, in the case of our elite squad, perform to incredible standards to achieve success at the Paralympic Games and World Championships.

We aim to raise our game in this area to continue to perform at the top level and inspire the country to get active. Our membership continues to grow but we need to do better to provide a compelling proposition to participants and truly engage them in the sport.

KW: I read that the Triathlon England’s objectives are “building participation, supporting and increasing membership”. How do you go about achieving this?

Andy: These are 2 of our 8 strategic goals. We build participation by promoting Triathlon as an inclusive sport and delivering our participation programme, GO TRI. We also work with partners to promote safe open-water swimming.

We have just revised our membership products to be more flexible and aligned to the needs of members and future members. Early indications are very positive but we have more product development in the pipeline.

KW: What is your proudest career moment so far?

Andy: That’s a difficult one. Playing golf for Wales was right up there but I’m not sure that counts. I am incredibly proud of what we have achieved over the past 12 months at BTF in terms of building the team and welcoming several new commercial partners to the Triathlon family.

KW: How important has lottery funding been in the success of GB sport in the past 20 years?

Andy: Absolutely vital. Sport would be unrecognisable without it. Long may it continue but at the same time, we must remember that lottery funding has to be invested wisely to create sustainable programmes that will continue long after the funding dries up. This is our challenge.

KW: So Andy, what does the future of British Triathlon look like?

Andy: Busy, fun with lots more achievements to come.

Final Words

The power of sport is undeniable, so much so that, in the eyes of many, in its finest moments, it transcends beyond anything tangible, entering the realms of the indescribable.

It is one of the rare things in life that unites and divides, something that can make you get up out of your seat and roar in sheer glee as easily as it can make you put your head in your hands and weep.

Most importantly, sport tells us that anything is possible with the right dedication, belief, commitment and passion, teaching us lessons from which every one of us can learn and benefit. Whether you’re watching it, listening to it, playing it, or even just talking about it, sport is something that both requires and fuels passion.

You could ask 100 people why they love sport and each one of them could tell you a different answer. As the British Triathlon CEO mentioned in our discussion, this is why so many business people fail in their sporting ventures: they simply do not share that same boundless, unteachable passion.

British Triathlon is built around being people-centred, ambitious, inclusive and doing what is right in terms of honesty, accountability and respect.

Andy told me the best leaders are those who “live the organisation’s values consistently.” If that doesn’t describe Andy, a man who is passionate about what he does, embraces change as “necessary, positive and very exciting” and consistently commits himself to becoming the best he can be, I don’t know what does.

“Sport is more than just a business”, and Andy is more than just a CEO or director. He is a leader.

Oliver Wilkinson
Content Manager

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