What’s the secret of success? Ben Ainslie tells Martin Sorrell how it’s done
Sir Ben Ainslie knows what it takes to be a winner. The most successful sailor in Olympic history is also an 11-time world and nine-time European champion who played a leading role in an astonishing America’s Cup comeback success in 2013.
Ainslie’s career started as a youngster in Truro, rapidly leading to a silver medal at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. The 18-year-old pushed Brazil’s Robert Scheidt to the final race where he was goaded into false starting.
‘I was frustrated, felt I had the chance and blew it,’ he said. ‘I was so motivated to do better.’
It was the birth of a ruthless streak that by Sydney 2000 meant the tables were turned on Scheidt. ‘I was very aggressive, took control and pushed him back in the fleet.’
Aggression is a theme that continues through to Athens 2004: ‘There was an issue with a Frenchman that ended up in the protest room. He lied through his teeth and got me disqualified.’
Two races of 10 gone and Ainslie lay 23rd of 28 competitors. He’d fight back to win. After another gold in Beijing 2008, there were more ructions off the coast of Weymouth during the golden summer of London 2012.
‘Two of my closest rivals claimed I’d infringed,’ he explained. ‘I took the penalty. I re-evaluated my approach. I was sailing too conservatively. I needed to be more assertive.’
The individual intensity that led to the famous ‘They’ve made me angry and you don’t want to make me angry’ quote then helped to drive Oracle Team USA’s recovery from 8-1 behind to win eight straight races in the 2013 America’s Cup.
‘It’s the same in business. If things aren’t working out, tough calls have to be made,’ Ainslie said. His energies are now being put into his own team, Ben Ainslie Racing, which still needs to find about £40million to compete in the next Americas Cup. It is not a cheap sport. ‘The win in 2013 gave us the realisation there was the interest and financial support to have a British team,’ he said.
‘If ever there was a right time, this is it. If we win, we get the TV and commercial rights as the next hosts, so there’s a massive upside. It’s not just a philanthropic investment.’
Skippering his own team to victory might be Ainslie’s toughest challenge yet, but you wouldn’t bet against him. ‘I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t think we could win.’
Somebody just needs to go and make him angry.