THE INTERVIEW: FRANK DICK - Master of the motivation game

He turned his back on athletics. Now he is in the business of driving on industry. By Alan Hubbard
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The Independent Online
IT IS five years since Frank Dick stepped out of the athletics arena, quitting as Britain's coaching guru after the most illustrious spell the sport has known. He overlorded an inspired era when all that glittered on the track really did turn to gold; from Coe, Cram, Ovett and Thompson through to Christie, Jackson and Gunnell.

Dick turned his back on the glory years at the same time as the promotions chief, Andy Norman, was sacked, and while the two events were not related it was significant that the departure of the twin pillars of the production line coincided with the sport's immediate decline, which has only recently been arrested.

A row over the slashing of his coaching budget by more than half led to Dick resigning his pounds 37,500 post after an angry car-park confrontation with the then chief executive of the British Athletic Federation, Peter Radford. It was a decision he took with sadness but not one he now regrets. Since then his new career has taken off in leaps and bounds. He has become, at 58, one of the top motivational speakers, translating the techniques that helped win gold medals and break records into a formula that spurs the high-flyers of big business into boosting sales and increasing productivity.

He calls it "The Winning Difference". These days Dick's dynamic deliveries are in demand from Manchester to Moscow. He has been called up to motivate the employees of petrol companies, insurance conglomerates and the motor trade. Recent recipients of his pep talks include organisations as diverse as BT, the England and Wales Cricket Board and The Guardian. He speaks to them about games, goals, mountain people - those with aspirations and dreams - and valley people - the less motivated who settle into the comfort zone. Yet the irony is that Mr Motivator cannot motivate himself to attend this weekend's World Championship trials in Birmingham, a familiar stamping ground but now an oddly unwelcome one. He says that in the past five years he has been invited to only two athletics meetings, one at Crystal Palace, another at Loughborough. No one has asked him to Birmingham so instead he'll be tending the garden of his Croydon home today and working on more sporting analogies to exhort the movers and shakers of industry and commerce to understand each other's role in the game of life.

The Berwick-born Dick was involved in athletics for 24 years, 14 as Britain's national coach during which time he acquired an OBE, an enviable track record and a reputation as an empire builder. After the acrimonious split, some of his blazered enemies within the sport sniggered that he was a silver-tongued self-publicist who rode on the back of the athletes' achievements.

"Frank shot himself in the foot," said one former senior official. "He thought everyone was going to beg him to stay on and now he's practically forgotten." But in fact, he has been missed after correctly forecasting the problems which subsequently assailed the sport, although he observes: "I'd be the last to suggest that my departure had anything to do with the decline. This was caused by the policies being pursued at the time. Andy Norman had done an outstanding job but two people don't make the difference. It was down to the disastrous way the sport was being run by the BAF. I didn't fall out with athletics, only its principal decision makers. It was clear my budget was going to be savaged and that the role of coaching director did not have a future. It hurt me to make a decision like that but I wasn't bitter about it. Anyway, it was probably time to move on."

And move on he did, building on his experience as a conditioning consultant outside athletics, which had embraced working with the likes of Boris Becker, Gerhard Berger and Katarina Witt, whose triple loops were enhanced by the application of high-jump techniques. But it was the application of sporting theories to big business that forged him a lucrative new living, and a new reputation.

Dick was among the first to use sport as a metaphor for achieving higher goals in the business world. "It was in 1984 during the Los Angeles Olympics that I began to think that coaching was a generic thing. Of course I'm aware that sport isn't everyone's cup of tea. It would be stupid to think that everyone in the audience likes and understands sport and will therefore apply what I have to say. But, in the main, even those who don't appreciate it will understand why they should have a goal, or an objective in life. They will also understand how people relate to each other as a team."

Once you brush your way through the swathe of jargon the message is simple enough. The same motivational techniques employed in the dressing-room can work in the boardroom, those on the playing field equally apply to the shop floor.

Dick has thus become a figurehead in a burgeoning industry. "The first major conference I addressed was to Mobil Oil in Monte Carlo. I noticed Will Carling sitting in the audience and soon afterwards he started his own operation in this field. I was very flattered." Also numbered in the sports-bred motivational corps are Mike Brearley, Roger Black, Kriss Akabusi and Tracy Edwards. "All members of a team have a value and are important whatever their position," says Dick. "And managers should be more like coaches and less like cops. Not everyone gets to the Olympic rostrum or to be Salesman of the Year. You must simply aspire to lift your own performance."

If business can learn from sport, then Dick also believes that the reverse should apply. "One of the great disappointments I experienced in sport is that in general the sharing of information and experience is not widely embraced. In business it is. Football, in particular, has been very insular. It didn't want advice from outside. But surely the manager of a football team can learn from his opposite number in rugby? And might it just be possible that Ron Dennis or Frank Williams might have something to offer the England cricket coach? You have to be able to learn from your own experiences and be willing to share them. The East Germans had this down to a fine art. The vast majority would attribute their success to the less acceptable aspects of chemistry but their inter-sport co-operation and exchange of knowledge was exceptionally strong. That rarely happens here. There's this terrible arrogance that there's nothing more to learn out there."

Dick is still in touch with sport as a coaching consultant. His clients range from the cricketer Ronnie Irani to Matthew Wems, Britain's leading windsurfer. He has just been re-elected president of the European Coaches' Association and there has been talk that the financially revived and reconstructed UK Athletics, under David Moorcroft, would be keen to tap his expertise again. But, as his motivational exercises start at around pounds 5,000 a session, it is doubtful whether athletics can afford him.

Dick remains in touch with his first love, even though it spurned him. He may be smelling the roses today but his thoughts will be on those who might blossom in Birmingham. "It is true that things are looking up now and that's good. Britain's world rankings are quite high in some events and we have a splendid crop of young sprinters. But the fact is some of the world's best have yet to show their paces and those world levels are moving on. The way things are going you'll be looking to run 9.70 seconds to win the 100 metres in Sydney - certainly so by 2004. It is fantastic that we have two youngsters currently under 10 seconds but do not be deluded that this is excellence when you see what happens at the top end of the world. They are still one pace ahead of us."

However Dick believes that Iwan Thomas could take the 400m gold in Sydney ("having to rest this season because of injury could be of much benefit to him") and that Christian Malcolm could emerge as the best young sprinter of the crop. But he sees no middle-distance successor to Coe and Co.

What Dick misses most, he says, is being in the warm-up area during the big events. "I miss the banter, the rivalry, the interface, the gamesmanship, the ducking and diving. But what I'm doing now has its compensations, not only financially. I still get an extraordinary buzz when people say, 'I listened to what you said, and it made a difference'."

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