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Golf has long been associated with doing business — but does that mean professional players can teach MBA students about running companies?
London Business School, which has hired Paul McGinley, captain of the victorious 2014 European Ryder Cup golf team, as an executive fellow, believes it has found one that can.
The 49-year-old Irishman, who holed the winning putt on his Ryder Cup debut in 2002, has been hired to work alongside students and tutors, as well as speaking to invited audiences on leadership and the art of team building at special LBS events.
The school has nine executive fellows in its roster of non-academic staff covering various subjects, but Mr McGinley is the only sportsman.
Mr McGinley wears the link between business and sport on his sleeve . . . literally. He arrives at the Regent’s Park campus dressed in golfing gear adorned with the logo of his sponsor, Allianz, the German insurer. On his wrist is a watch supplied by Rolex, another sponsor.
“The relationship with London Business School is terrific for me, because I really feel I am on a journey,” he says.
He expects to be much more involved in business now that his best days as a golfer are behind him, saying that he would be as happy to be a student as a tutor at LBS. “I liked the freedom that I had as a student,” he says.
We are joined by Randall Peterson, a professor in organisational behaviour, who as academic director of the LBS Leadership Institute is responsible for hiring all the school’s executive fellows.
He confesses to headhunting Mr McGinley after hearing that he had agreed to be the subject of a management case-study at a rival business school.
“At first blush, Paul isn’t the obvious candidate,” Mr Peterson says.
“However, he has extensive [and] hugely successful experience managing teams at the very highest level, with the very highest level of people. That is exactly what many of our students are going to want to do as well.”
Unlike many other celebrity sportspeople, Mr McGinley has experience and qualifications in business, albeit limited. This started with a diploma in marketing from the Dublin Institute of Technology, which he completed after leaving school.
At the age of 18, his sporting passion was football but a serious knee injury, which confined him to crutches for six months, put paid to hopes of turning professional.
It was Mr McGinley’s father, a golf enthusiast, who encouraged him to improve his handicap instead.
He used a final stint as a student, completing a business degree at San Diego’s Alliant International University, to raise his game to a level where he could consider becoming a professional.
“At that stage, I was a one handicap, so I was probably the 50th best golfer in Ireland,” Mr McGinley says, adding that he targeted universities offering sports scholarships.
Alliant International University was the only one that came back with an offer: a scholarship that would cover the tuition fees so long as Mr McGinley made it into the golfing team in his first year.
“I was up in the morning at six o’clock practising before lectures,” Mr McGinley recalls.
By the time he graduated, three years later, Mr McGinley had not only had his education funded but was the top amateur player in Ireland. “I decided to have a go at becoming professional. I went to the tour school, came second, and here I am 25 years later.”
His employers at LBS insist that he has a great deal to teach business students about leadership despite never serving on a company board.
Something clearly clicked between Mr Peterson and Mr McGinley when they met. “In my very first conversation with Paul, he was saying these are my instincts about what I think works,” Mr Peterson says. “It fitted perfectly to what I know from solid, empirical research.”
Mr McGinley’s initial project after accepting Mr Peterson’s job offer was to get down on paper the lessons of his years as a golfer for use by LBS academics in their research and teaching materials.
These included the importance of recognising that in a team of individual players, the messages about the need to succeed must be personalised, and also how crucial it is to fill the gaps in your management skills by employing people who are better than you.
Mr McGinley says the process helped crystallise what he had learnt as a leader, enabling him to find what he calls the “common ground” between golf and business.
However, listening to it being discussed in class among students was “eerie”, he admits.
Mr McGinley has had his own celebrity tutors over his years as a professional golfer, most notably Sir Alex Ferguson, the former Manchester United manager, who he still meets informally to discuss leadership issues.
Mr McGinley stresses a desire to continue to learn, adding that he may see through his idea of returning to study at business school.
“I don’t have the arrogance to think that I’ve all the answers,” he says