Corporate advisors and backroom strategists tend to conjure images of suits and ties, boardrooms and coffee; yet at least one Australian based strategist has long cultivated his professional edge in a very unlikely arena, combat sports.
Australia has recently experienced somewhat of a purple patch with regards to sports of the more combative variety. Jeff Horn recently claimed the WBO welterweight title in sensational fashion and only one week later Robert Whittaker became the first Australian to win a UFC title.
One keen spectator of both events was Senior Partner of Gravis Insights Australia, Ben Scott. As a professional strategist who has advised multinationals, captains of industry and politicians he is perhaps not the first person you would expect to find inside a cage or boxing ring, yet it is precisely this arena that Mr Scott cites as a ‘laboratory of sorts’ for his professional career.
He has trained at Jeff Horn’s West End based boxing gym and also personally with UFC champion Robert Whittaker but what is it exactly he takes away from the ring and into the boardroom?
“Essentially the discipline, mindset and resilience you develop in combat sports and martial arts, be it training or competing, is very adaptable to everyday life,” Mr Scott said. “In terms of business, leadership, strategy applications, it doesn't matter, you will find the benefits are widely applicable.”
“For me, I am a strategist at heart and I also advise clients in the corporate world, mostly as strategic counsel, so the principles of strategy in sports like boxing or Jiu Jitsu are ones I really enjoy. They are not the only aspects of martial arts I take into boardroom and of course not everything is transferable, obviously the physical aspects of combat sports are not too applicable in the boardroom but many clients may have quietly hoped they were at times (laughing).”
Whilst beating up the competition in a boardroom might be more metaphorical than physical Mr Scott explains that in the sometimes hostile environment of mergers and politics the mindset of a martial artist has come in handy.
“Oh we have worked in some very hostile environments. Personally, I have been in and around political strategy as an adviser for a number of years before entering the corporate sector and that world is a blood sport to be honest.
“For example, our firm was the only Australian outfit engaged in the US presidential contest and to be honest that was one of the more savage and brutal contests, be it business or politics, I have personally ever been involved with.”
Much of the work Mr Scott does as a Partner with Gravis involves global trade and investment activity, conducting early due diligence on projects for larger players whilst also providing strategic counsel on competitors and emerging markets.
“The nature of our work at Gravis is very multi-disciplinary but essentially we often are at the pointy end of the spear for a company or private investor on a significant transaction or evaluating a potential investment opportunity in global markets.
"We are often required to tell people things they do not want to hear or engage with competitors of a client who can be less than welcoming at times.
“So the concepts in martial arts and combat sports, not forgetting that some of these concepts are as old and established as civilisation itself, can be very handy and more than anything are very effective for personal development in addition to professional applications. It may sound counter-intuitive but a very significant benefit you develop from martial arts and combat sports training are virtues such as patience and presence of mind.
“Some of the most lethal people I have ever met are also some of the most placid, respectful, unassuming and modest folks you would ever meet.”
The idea of martial arts principles finding their way into the boardrooms of corporate Australia is actually not without precedent. One of the more lesser known facts about Jeff Horn is that his head trainer, Glenn Rushton, is a highly successful investor and businessman.
"I really respect Glenn Rushton both as a martial artist and a businessman. Having trained at Dundee's (Jeff Horn's West End gym) in the past it is not hard to see why Jeff has such a great attitude."
Whilst the perception of sports such as boxing and mixed martial arts can be one of brutality, Mr Scott says it really is something anyone can at least train and study.
"Anyone can train in these disciplines and learn from them for sure, even my mother trains at Dundee's (Jeff Horn's West End boxing and conditioning gym)," he revealed laughing.
Mr Scott's journey in combat sports has taken him ringside at several UFC and boxing events where he has also worked as a professional combat sports reporter for media outlets, such as Ninemsn and Wide World of Sports.
Having trained in a number of martial arts he says that the mind and body principles he has learnt will stay with him forever, just don’t expect to find him in a boxing ring under lights any time soon.
“Many corporate leaders and entrepreneurs are fond of quoting self-help gurus and books like Sun Tzu’s Art of War, for example, but really how many people comprehend it and apply it effectively? It has really become nothing more than a cliché. I’ve found that training in an artform such as jiu jitsu or boxing embeds strategic and leadership concepts very effectively. Perhaps I’m just more of a tactile learner (laughs).
“Without getting too hippy about this, the mind and body benefits of martial arts become embedded pretty deeply and it is not just combat sports, actually, I also highly recommend activities such as yoga and meditation to any corporate, any leader, or any individual for that matter, who is seeking to progress as a human being.
“I am by no means an elite fighter or martial artist, my interest continues to be in the personal development aspects I gain from the training more than anything. I’m not going for prize fights at this age (laughing).”
And what of Australia’s recent success in the combat sports arena? He is not surprised.
“Having trained at Jeff’s boxing gym in the past and also with Robert personally in the past, I couldn’t be happier that Australian martial artists and athletes, because they are the most elite athletes around, are obtaining the rewards for the years of hard work they’ve put in.
“I would happily have Jeff, Glenn or Rob present a session on concepts like strategy and resilience in a boardroom over any other corporate consultant or self-help guru you will find on any corner.”
“The business world, government, political leaders, they could all learn a great deal from them.”