Kieren Perkins talks teams

PLAYERS win, coaches lose.

In business, CEOs are like coaches, but they are nothing without their team.

This was one of the messages delivered by retired Olympic swimmer Kieren Perkins at the recent Australian Institute of Management awards night in Caloundra.

Even though the man himself is famous for the very solitary sport of distance swimming, he knows more than most that his gold medals would not have happened without a support crew.

"One of the greatest resources is the team of people around you," he said.

"For my first Olympics, I trained for thousands of hours over six years for that opportunity and the final was less than 15 minutes. All that lead-up work was done with a big group of people around me.

"When head coach Don Talbot came to the Australian swim team in the 90s, the sport was very fragmented, individualistic and not very successful. He showed us the power of working together as teams, sharing ideas to get the best out of ourselves. It drove us to number one.

"At that race moment, you're on your own, but in so many ways, it's the smallest part of what you do, to be honest."

These days, the 38-year-old doesn't even swim laps and is "happily retired" but working as the Queensland head of business development and acquisitions with NAB Private Wealth.

It might seem like a strange leap, until you learn what he did after leaving swimming.

He worked in brand management and marketing before moving into business consulting, a company that was bought out by global firm Rogen SI in 2007.

Mr Perkins moved back to his home town of Brisbane from Sydney, but commuted south for two years as a partner of Rogen.

NAB had been a client and a casual discussion one day resulted in the move to his current Brisbane-based role, which he has had for two years. "I still get some scepticism (about my background)," he said. "On one hand, it gets me into doors no one else can get into, but I've got to work bloody hard to justify my experience once I'm in.

"I look after Brisbane north and we have some clients on the Coast, so I get up there a bit."

Mr Perkins had some more advice for business leaders.

"Have a learning mindset, we think we're just supposed to invent it all or know better but you need to have the confidence and fortitude to ask questions, look for help, find ideas, experience and innovation.

"It helps to have presence of mind to be present all the time and to see opportunities and lessons to work out ways to take the good and replicate it and fix the bad and do it better next time.

"Engage people around you with direction and a clear vision. Then, all of these things are much easier to achieve.

"Be strong, committed to your values, consistent and honest.

"And the challenge is being able to contextualise everything. If you can't put performance into perspective and deal with it appropriately, you are likely to handle things poorly and blow things out of proportion.

"Business is not very good at that. They tend to get caught up in this year's results, that they're the be-all and end-all."

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