March 16, 2010
Larry Smith Goes Long
“For those Boomers who said ‘Hey! I can’t wait for Freedom 55, when I retire and have a great life!’ Wrong answer. We’ve had a major recession. We’ve gone from Freedom 55 to Freedom 75.” Thus warned Alouettes’ President & CEO Larry Smith, accompanied by star quarterback Anthony Calvillo, on a brilliant March morning.
The former CFL commissioner and two-time Grey Cup champion as a legendary running back for the Alouettes (1974 and 1977), Larry Smith is as dynamic and energetic on the speaker circuit as he was on the gridiron. His challenge to the pharma pros in attendance: Are you ready to go each day? Whether you’re 20, 40, 60 or 80, how do you stay at the top of your game?
First, Smith says everyone needs to be equipped—education, training, being a member of an association, whatever you need—and the analysis is the simple bicycle. Everyone has one or perhaps more fittingly for the analysis, everyone is a bike. Your back wheel is the power that drives you forward: all your technical product knowledge, your support, distribution and accounting systems. Without that power your bike can’t go forward. The front wheel is all your directional skills, your people skills—planning, organizing, strategies, feedback. So, the question becomes: “How’s your bike?” In business, the winners not only have well-balanced bikes with wheels of equal size, they are constantly upgrading their bikes. That’s how you stay in the race, and stand a better chance of getting ahead.
Smith posed a key question to Anthony Calvillo: “You were a really good quarterback coming out of school Had a good start to your CFL career. What’s been the difference for you going from good to being great?”
Calvillo related his feelings at the start of his career post-college: competing in a Las Vegas parking lot with 13 quarterbacks from bigger colleges, with already bigger careers and experiences. He thought they would be better than him and quickly realized he was every bit as good as they were. He confessed that as a rookie, he didn’t know how to train or how to analyze videos, because there was no one to teach him. So, he started out good but wasn’t very consistent. He got hurt because he wasn’t lifting weights for strength. He was throwing a lot of interceptions because he wasn’t preparing himself. He didn’t know how. In fact, he got the first opportunity to learn from a veteran quarterback with the Hamilton Tigercats, but just wasn’t ready to accept it. At 22 years of age, Calvillo thought he had all the answers. “It wasn’t until I actually failed... was inconsistent... got fired... that I made the move to Montreal to take a step back and learn from Tracy Hamm.”
That’s where Calvillo got his bike together. Watching the veteran Hamm prepare, showing up for games 3 hours in advance, setting the example for the rest of the team. “My learning started from day one when I got here in 1998.” Today, heading into his 13th season, two-time Grey Cup champion (2002 and 2009) Calvillo says the biggest thing is to make sure he always stays one step ahead of everyone else.
Larry Smith explains that Anthony Calvillo may be an athlete, but his challenges are not a lot different from those of a marketing manager or CEO. Anthony needed to get his bike in order and that meant stepping up the training and the direction — the back wheel and the front wheel. So, how’s your bike?
Interspersing anecdotes about his life in business, at the Gazette, saving the CFL from extinction and ultimately turning the Alouettes into the most successful Canadian football franchise, Larry Smith’s common sense message is meaningful to athletes, employees and entrepreneurs alike. Get your bike in shape, then maintain and upgrade it to set the standard for those around you and those coming up behind you. While it may be the destination, Freedom 55 or retirement at any age is not the goal. Learning from the best teachers is the ultimate vehicle for getting you wherever you are going as a true winner.