In 2018 EF Education First, the world leader in international education, entered the realm of professional cycling by acquiring our UCI WorldTour team. The cycling team is now known as EF Education First. With a strong global presence in more than 100 countries, EF believe exploration is a transformative form of education, and that the more we seek out new places, the more we are able to grow as individuals and connect with others.
The Tour de France, the most famous bike race in the world, kicked off in July last summer with 22 teams racing across 34 cities. As a company who works across 114 countries around the world, it comes as no surprise that the EF Pro Cycling team is just as diverse. Uniting 30 EF riders who represent 17 different nationalities. EF’s mission has always been about providing opportunities for people of all ages, uniting and connecting with people from all over the world. Much like exploring the world, cycling unites people from different backgrounds to achieve great things together.
We caught up with GC contender – overall fastest category in bicycle racing – Rigoberto Uran of EF Education First Pro Cycling who came 2nd in the 2017 Tour de France, for his insights into communication and leadership within this very international group, and parallels with the world of business.
Good communication is the key to success
Like most international organizations made up of talented individuals from around the world, the EF team uses English as its main language.
“Communication is super important. We are in the Tour de France with 8 riders, and 8 different nationalities, and it’s all managed in English. How we plan the stage, looking for attacks in the peloton, how to defend and more. It’s a message for the whole team, not just the riders, everyone needs to have the same information.”
Propelling a rider to greatness at the Tour is a case study in teamwork, and all 40+ members of the wider team play a huge part:
“It’s a company really. For me everybody is very important, the riders are very important but also the mechanics, they fix our bikes and prepare them. The masseurs, chefs, and coaches, the directors, all of them are important. Without them, it would be impossible to compete in the Tour de France.”
Rigo is himself an entrepreneur as well as an athlete these days, so knows a thing or two about achievement on and off the road. The team ethic instilled via cycling now manifests itself in the boardroom:
“In a company, you have to work as a team. Every individual wants to show their results but everyone works for the same company and should work towards the same end goal. It happens the same in cycling, we see someone make it to the podium but they are there thanks to the team that is behind them that were doing everything they could to make that happen.”
So what is Rigo’s leadership style, on and off the bike?
“A leader needs to transmit respect for their teammates, the work they do, and in moments of glory or moments of panic it’s important to have a cool head and not worry too much about the small losses and wins”
And Rigo’s top English phrases when managing the team on the road? Like the Colombian himself, suitably laid-back:
“Guys, stay calm… no stress at the moment…keep going, keep going..”
A diverse team, a more successful team
As numerous studies in the business world have shown, a diverse team is a more successful team. To win a grand tour you need a diverse range of talents and ideas as well:
“Each one has their specialty. Some are really good in the flat stages, others in the mountain stages, but here the most important is that to look for victory for the team.”
“The leader has to give good information, but listen as well because many riders can have better information than just one, everyone has a voice and all the voices are important.”
Continued success also necessitates a culture of innovation and continual improvement of every aspect of the organization’s activities in a form of sporting “kaizen”:
“I believe that all companies are like cycling teams. In cycling we look to be faster every day, so we study the aerodynamics, our clothing, the materials of the bike, training methods… we are continually developing. You have to evolve, if you stay in the past you will lose the year because now those methods don’t work.”
As with all cycling teams, the personnel is globally dispersed and many riders need to spend considerable time training alone where they live. That only heightens the need for effective digital communication across borders in English between riders, coaches and other staff.
Fortunately, Rigo has been able to improve his English as well as his fitness when training back home in Colombia by taking advantage of EF’s online language training program.
“I am very happy because I can bring the course anywhere with me on the computer, mobile, and tablet. When I am training at home it is really good because I can connect any time, it’s fun and easy to find good teachers, and you can connect with people from many different countries all in one class.”