There is strength in union

4 Minute Read | Author: Tony Cripps, CEO, HSBC Australia

Tony Cripps, CEO, HSBC Australia


Leafing through a copy of Aesop’s Fables will always ground you. The stories have been told to children across the world for decades and the simple morals, sayings and proverbs still have currency through their ability to encourage us to take stock of our actions and ambitions.

One fable in particular – The Bundle of Sticks – tells us: Sticks in a bundle can’t be broken but sticks taken singly can be easily broken. The same applies to people and with our recent renewal of our sponsorship of the Qantas Wallabies, this made me think further about the unity between business and sport. Aesop’s saying rings true for both; there is strength in union.



Off the back of the Australia vs. England Test Series here in Australia, England coach Eddie Jones is being lauded for his impact in turning a fledgling side into one that won the Six Nations and then went on to beat the Wallabies in a whitewash, all in a relatively short period of time, since being at the helm.

Whilst his team remained largely unchanged, the attitude and play of the squad showed drastic improvements on what had gone before. What brought about this high performance? What motivated a largely identical group of players to ascend from what was called mediocrity, to the pinnacle of rugby in just six months? Teamwork.

I recently spent some time with ex-Wallaby and HSBC ambassador George Smith who this year, had some involvement in the England camp alongside coach Eddie Jones for some specialist sessions ahead of the Six Nations. George spoke to me about what he has learnt about leadership from two different angles – both on the field as a player and behind the scenes as part of the coaching team. Our conversation made me realise just how closely aligned the sporting and business worlds are when it comes to getting a good result from your team – often on multiple levels.



No matter the location or competition, teams coached by the best in the business are often described the same way; tough, uncompromising, positive and, above all else, selfless in the pursuit of excellence. But the responsibility to build the culture and the team itself falls solely on the coach’s shoulders. 

Whether in business or sport, the biggest difference between being a manager and a leader is that as a good leader, you simply can’t do everything. You need to relentlessly focus on what you need to do that others can’t and delegate everything else. From experience, I know that delegation requires a lot of trust, because it is still the leader’s head on the block if things go wrong, so it is crucial that you choose the right talent to support you.

The same applies for Eddie Jones and his team. He has worked tirelessly to ensure members of his immediate team are the best in their field. George Smith is the perfect example – Eddie asked him to join him as one of the best flankers in the game to give specialist counsel on the one area that England was really lacking – the breakdown. Similarly, the recent appointments of Steve Borthwick and Neal Hatley and the inclusion of Australian rugby legend Glen Ella, shows that Eddie looks to recruit those that excel at their craft.



Rugby, like business, hinges on confidence; confidence within one’s self, confidence in those around you and confidence in the ability to achieve a goal. But confidence is built through knowledge; knowing all you can about what it is that you have to achieve.

Through our discussion, George highlighted that as a coach, one of the things he learnt very quickly was the importance of being a tireless researcher and tactician, which means striving to know the intricacies of each situation. This kind of leadership is unlike anything he had experienced over the years as a leader on the field; it means not just observing and listening, but studying. Whether it’s play, oppositions or player tendencies, it all contributes to building a plan that the coaching staff and team has full confidence in. But that’s the tip of the iceberg. George explained that what he observed – and learnt – was how to use that information to best effect, by imparting it with confidence on those he leads himself.

Whilst George’s time coaching involved practicing a new approach to leadership, he believes that understanding what goes into being a leader off the field, has made him a much more considered leader on the field.

Similarly, in the business world, I’m an active believer that it’s important to be close to your team on many different levels. I don’t just mean knowing what someone’s job involves and why it’s important to the operation of the business, but taking time to research and discuss specific challenges, competitors and new trends. I’m pleased to say that at HSBC Australia, you are much more likely to find me with my colleagues around the office floor, than buried away in my office, because only by taking the time to speak to people can you as a leader, be a strategic asset.



Any team, whether an SME, a multinational, or a rugby side, needs to be focused on achieving shared goals. That is, not just individual KPIs, but an ambition for the organisation. For a company the size of HSBC, that means getting the leadership team on the same page and united behind our vision for the business. We have spent a lot of time and put a great deal of emphasis on getting this right. That’s not to say there shouldn’t be healthy debate on the way there, but I strongly believe that once a decision has been made, everyone has to support it.

Similarly, George explained to me that whilst all teams want to win, a core strength of a good coach is in being able to look at everything that contributes to the team’s goal and then getting rid of the rest. It means saying “this is what it’s going to take to be the best” and asking “are you willing to go the distance?” Ultimately, whilst you want everyone to share your ambitions, it is down to the leader to set those goals and get everyone on board.



Any successful leader knows you can’t rest on your laurels in the current business environment. That comes in many forms, whether it’s implementing technology upgrades, working with innovative start-ups or disruptor companies, learning from younger generations and implementing new working habits. Whatever it is, it’s important to tackle ambition and challenges head on and that’s exactly what we’ve seen in the rugby world.

George explained that the teams that have been most successful are those that have been able to break down their ambition into small wins. Their greatest improvement has come from going ‘back to basics’, addressing key game plays they knew needed work and with improvement would help guarantee success. Lately, for England it was the breakdown and the set piece, whilst for Australia it was the scrum.

As the leading international bank in Australia, our ambition is to connect our customers with opportunities, but that ambition also extends to our employees. Our ambition for some time has been to make HSBC Bank Australia not just a good, but a great place to work by inspiring our employees and bringing in valued new ones. Our impending office move to Barangaroo later this year is a part of accelerating that ambition, with many other new and exciting projects to follow.