Business Today

Smith, the CEO

At 27, this extremely combative opening batsman could impart a few lessons to corporate bosses on how to lead a team to become world-beaters.

     Print Edition: January 25, 2009

At 27, this extremely combative opening batsman could impart a few lessons to corporate bosses on how to lead a team to become world-beaters. South Africa’s ascent in cricket through 2008 is, in fact, also the story of the coming to maturity of its captain Graeme Smith. In December 2008, Smith led his team in the biggest cricketing coup d’etat of the year: a series victory in Australia, the flinty Aussies beaten at home for the first time since 1992-93. Smith’s most significant achievement has come five years after he was given the captaincy, at 22, the youngest-ever skipper of South Africa. Just before his appointment, he was asked by selectors what he would be willing to give up to do the job. Smith is reported to have replied: “my youth.”

The success of this intensely ambitious cricketer is attributable to both nature and nurture— just how any potential leader should be picked and groomed. Smith was identified early as a potential leader, and seemed to always know what he wanted. As a 12-year-old, he had famously posted a note on his fridge door listing his ambitions in which #1 was to captain the South African cricket team.

Name: Graeme Smith

Age: 27

Designation: Captain, South African cricket team

All that he has done in cricket, wrong or right, comes from this very sense of self-awareness. Combative to the point of being inflammable, there was never doubting Smith’s ability to head any charge, a captain who led by example, perhaps another lesson for business leaders.

The current Australia campaign was born more than three years ago, with Smith and coach Mickey Arthur identifying the kind of players they would need to win in Australia. Smith has learnt from his early mistakes and improved his people skills, too, in order to dilute murmurs of a “captain’s clique” of senior players in the team. Leading a team whose political undercurrents through prickly issues of racial “quotas” are never far away, Smith has had more to learn as captain than many others. Even though working conditions have been far from ideal (he does not have a vote in selection), Smith has demonstrated stamina and the idealism to keep at the job. He finished 2008 as the world’s #1 Test run-scorer and under his captaincy, South Africa have won nine of their last 10 series. Clearly, he has proved to be a true leader of his men.

—Sharda Ugra

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