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The Culture of Crewing

Midweek Motivator

100_100_timby Tim Moore


You may have missed this coruscating story, tucked away in the back pages of your sports section. We repeat this by request. Internationally the sport of Crew is becoming more popular: from Cornell to Cambridge college Crew teams compete. This Crew challenge however, paired two global corporate behemoths, rowing against each other for very big stakes.

Japanese powerhouse Toyota and America’s General Motors agreed to a challenge to row against each other on the Connecticut River. Both crew teams conditioned, practiced endlessly, and reached what they believed was peak performance before their race. Drama mounted as company chauvinism reached fever pitch. Alas, as the sun sank lower and oars were stowed, the Japanese team had won by a mile.

The American team left discouraged and depressed, with a commitment to investigate reasons for their crushing defeat. A management team comprised of senior leadership was formed to review race video and recommend appropriate action. Their conclusion: the Japanese team had 8 rowers and one coxswain on the rudder, while the American team had eight people steering, with one rowing. Feeling a deeper study was in order the American team hired a consulting company and paid them handsomely for a second opinion. They advised that the GM team had too many people steering, with not enough people on the oars.

Not certain how to maximize their scouting information but desperate to reverse the loss to their Japanese opposition, the rowing team’s coaching staff structure was reorganized to four steering supervisors, three area superintendents and one assistant superintendent steering manager. They also implemented a new performance system that would give the one person rowing the shell greater incentive to row harder. Titled “Rowing Team Quality-First Program,” it awarded pre race meetings, dinners, and free pens for the oarsman. There was also discussion of getting new oars, bonuses, and extra vacation days for practices. Finally, the next race day arrived and the rival teams took to the river. This time the Japanese won by two miles.

Humiliated, the American Crew team laid off their rower for poor performance, cancelled development of a new hull design, sold the oars, and ceased all investment in new Crew innovation. The money the team saved was disbursed among the senior coaches as bonuses, and the next year’s Crew team was out-sourced to China, effectively ending Crew competition between the two companies. Upon discovering these post-defeat developments, the government launched an inquiry and promptly fired the head coach.

American auto makers have spent the last 30 years moving many of their plants outside the U.S. claiming they can’t make money paying American wages.

Toyota has spent the last 30 years building more than a dozen plants inside the U.S. Has it paid off? In one quarter alone Toyota made 4 billion in profit while one of the Big Three was piling up 9 billion in losses. What can radio learn from this competition? Perhaps we should make a commitment to investing in our oarsmen, so we won’t be sold down the river.

Virginia Commonwealth University


Tim Moore

Managing Partner

Audience Development Group