Corporate Lessons from Tokyo Olympics 2020

by Aug 23, 2021

There are few global events that capture the imagination of humanity like the Olympics. It energizes and inspires. What lessons, if any, can be learned from the most recent Tokyo 2020 Olympics and how can this be implemented in the Board room and executive management office environment?

 The 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the fourth of its kind to be hosted in Japan, featured 339 events in 33 different sports and 50 sporting disciplines. Some 11 090 athletes competed not only for gold, silver, and bronze medals but also the recognition, fame, and glory it would bring.

 The 2020 Olympics did not disappoint. The modern Olympics had become a global spectacle, with grandiose and high tech opening and closing ceremonies, parades, flags, and sporting outfits designed by some of the leading fashion houses like Ralph Laurent and Armani. A modern day play of humanity trying to overcome adversity, compete, excel, achieve, and succeed against the best in this world.

It would offer numerous lessons. A few that come to mind.


Never underestimate your opponent

This point could not have been more clearly demonstrated than in the 237km long ladies individual cycling road race. An event that futured a small, but top class 67-woman peloton representing 43 countries.

 The event was scheduled in the first couple of days of the Olympic calendar. In many ways it set the stage for what was to follow in some of the other sporting disciplines where the combination of determination, physical condition, mental prowess and strategy lead to success.

 The event was won by Anna Kiesenhofer from Austria. A largely unknown in woman cycling. An amateur without a WorldTour team contract or any teammates in the Olympic race. Unknown and therefore underestimated and in most of the cycling circles construed to be of insignificance. Kiesenhofer unknown and not considered a serious contender proofed all wrong. An absolute outsider who managed to break the monopoly of corporate sponsored professional athletes and huge budgets in an event largely dominated by professional cycling and cyclists. She managed an early lead at the onset of the race. The more favored competitors and teams thought this to be of no consequence and that she would eventually fade over the course. How wrong they had been. By the time they realized she was a serious contender for the Olympic title and had been compelled to google her name and credentials the Ph.D. Lauriat in mathematics was well on her way to win the Olympic title. She dissected each stage of the race and with almost mathematical precision kept her pace, capitalizing on the poor strategies and tactics of the dominant prestigious Dutch, Belgium, British, Italian, French and American cyclists winning the event in front of Annemiek van Vleuten from the Netherlands, the tipped favorite.

 The Van Vleuten comment, at the end of her race and after being congratulated on her silver medal, that she did not think there had been a cyclist ahead of her, clearly illustrated the brilliance of this Olympic performance and strategic coup.


Shared interests go a long way.

In the high jump event for men the gold had been strongly contested between of Mutaz Essa Barshim of Qatar and Gianmaro Tamberi of Italy with both athletes, after a demanding event, ending up on the same jumping height of 2.37 meters. These athletes could not outdo one another. They both have a history of injury. To reach this stage of the Olympic competition served as testimony of their perseverance and commitment.

The Italian athlete kept his old ancle cast next to him all the time during the competition. It served as a memory of the almost career ending injury and the mental journey that had to be navigated and completed to return to this level of competition.

 At the end of the high jump competition an OIC event official approached the two athletes and confronted them with a choice and decision. It touched on the essence of the “winner takes all” principle. A final jump off.

The response to this option was astounding. It will be heralded as a symbol of sportsmanship and friendship. The exact purpose of the Olympics.

Their choice had been to reject this jump off and settle for a different principle – the principle of “shared interests and shared glory”.

Two athletes at the same height. Dual winners. One does not always have to end up all alone at the top to be the winner. This shared interest principle created the first gold medals for Oman and Italy.


Do not forget those who helped you achieve.

In one of the last events of the Olympic – the grueling 42 km marathon, this principle was beautifully demonstrated by Abdi Nageeye of the Netherlands and Bashir Abdi of Belgium. Both athletes have an immigration and naturalization background and despite representing different countries at the Olympics are training partners. On race day Nageeye proofed the better and stronger runner. His training partner, a former winner of the amongst others the Boston marathon, just did not have the legs to continue running and his third-place finish was severely threatened by another runner. Nageeye, slightly ahead of Abdi and behind the first placed Kipchoge, kept on calling to Abdi to hold on, to deal with the pain and keep on running so. His motivational calls paid off. Abdi kept up with his training partner. They both finished in the medals.

 Collectively you are better and stronger. Keep track of your partner.


The show must go on, if not for us but for the greater good

The 2020 Tokyo Olympics will be known as the Covid Olympics. A pandemic that had severely impacted on the very essence of the socio-economic fabric of our global society. The event was postponed by a year and when the go-ahead decision was eventually taken it still proofed controversial. It was to be an event without spectators. Huge stands and pavilions, constructed at huge cost and funded by the Japanese government and taxpayers, would remain empty. Athletes would be called upon to isolate, self-distance, undergo regular covid screening tests and wear masks. Olympians would be called upon to collect their own medals, drape them around their own necks and pose for podium camera shots behind masks. The emotions and smiles of accomplishment masked and hidden behind the ever-present covid mask.

 Despite all, interest remained high with global audiences glued to their screens watching events being broadcasted on cable, satellite, public broadcast or through streaming services.

 The decision by the IOC and the Japanese Government to proceed with the Olympics provided welcome relief amidst a global pandemic and a change in scenery to millions of people house bound and caught up during a global pandemic.


 About the Author

Chris Gerber is a senior transformer industry executive director and board member. He is the former CEO of ETD Transformers in the Czech Republic and has worked for amongst others the SGB SMIT Group as well as CG Power SYSTEMS. He is currently a member of the Virtual Advisory Board group. In his career he worked for and cooperated with some of the most noticeable transformer utilities in Africa, the Middle East and Europe. His managerial experience working for both power utilities as well as transformer and switchgear manufacturers enables him to offer a unique reflection on the global transformer industry and the challenges it faces. He is a former university lecturer in business management and holds degrees from the University of Pretoria (South Africa) and the VUB in Brussels, Belgium. He is also the founder and owner of Genesiss Consulting and Advisory services, a Belgium based consulting company offering management consultancy services to largely the transformer and switchgear manufacturing industry. He is also a Brand Ambassador & Advisor at Power Technology Research.


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