ITx Café #1 : Resilience
Kevin Staut interview – Olympic Champion and World vice-champion
“Resilience is part of the daily discipline of any top athlete”
During this spring of 2020, he should have been preparing to go to the Tokyo Olympics in July to put his title back on the line. But the Covid-19 crisis decided otherwise …
At under 30, reigning Olympic champion Kevin Staut was already European champion in show jumping, the most competitive discipline in equestrian sports. Then he was world number one for a long time. Ten years later, his record has impressed, notably with a title of vice-world champion and this team gold medal at the last Olympic Games. And it is probably not over yet!
Always on top, he is still today, at 39, one of the best French riders, while he had to radically question himself last year when he separated from his main sponsor and that he therefore lost the rearing of his best horses. A questioning situation that he has experienced several times in the past. And that the Coronavirus crisis has accentuated this year just when he had just restructured and rebuilt a stake of horses capable of reviving him.
And yet, this champion – admired by all riders around the world – keeps smiling, moving forward, investing, embarking on a multitude of projects and continuing to work hard every day to relaunch himself and resume competitions at the most. high international level as soon as possible. How is it ?
Hello Kevin. I’m not asking how you are: you look great!
Yes, thank you, indeed it’s going very well. Although I obviously can’t wait for international competitions to resume, because first and foremost I am passionate about sports and I have competition in my blood. I miss sport, but I took advantage of this very special period of confinement to work on my new structure, renew contacts with former investors and some owners, discover new horses that have just arrived in the stables and with which I have good hopes, to rework the basics, to keep a sufficient physical shape… and to immerse myself in the reading of the classic works of equestrian culture. It feels good every once in a while to have time to refocus on yourself.
It’s true that the usual pace of life of a high-level rider is pretty hellish …
In recent years, the creations of major equestrian events and international “five star” competition circuits have multiplied around the world and every weekend, the horses, their grooms and the riders must sometimes be in the United States. , sometimes in Hong Kong, sometimes in Qatar, sometimes in Germany, in France, then again on the other side of the world. It is a complex logistics that requires a tight organization as well as a sharp and motivated team. Generally, I leave on Wednesday and only come back on Sunday evening, or even Monday morning. But it is necessary in an economic model which remains essentially based on the earnings of the horses in competition. And then you have to accumulate points for the world classification of riders, which precisely gives access to certain major prestigious events reserved for the twenty or thirty best.
This dramatic Coronavirus crisis has come at a delicate time for you, since you had to start from scratch last year after the sudden end of your collaboration with the famous Haras des Coudrettes, with which you had been associated for many years. How did you experience this break-up and how did you prepare for your new start?
The breakup was tough because it was sudden, but it wasn’t dramatic either. I had the chance to work for six years with passionate investors who gave me access to very high level horses. Together we made it to the top and that I will never forget, I will be eternally grateful to them. But the best things come to an end, everyone knows that. And when you are a high level athlete, you have to know how to keep your composure and self-control whatever the circumstances. We know that great victories follow stinging defeats, that there are ups and downs in all sports.
And even more so in ours, because we depend on sensitive and delicate animals, which have their own motivation and their own mind. And then we also depend on owners who entrust their horses to us but who sometimes want to benefit from a return on their investment, which is understandable, even if it is not always compatible with our sporting objectives. Riders who lose their horses because they are sold, there are regularly in our industry, we have to live with.
In this case, you didn’t just lose a horse or two, you also broke with all the benefits of a comfortable structure. How did you manage to bounce back and keep your team motivated?
I told them about my new project. That of moving to my family property in Pennedepie, near Deauville, of transforming it and finally launching myself as an independent, managing several owners and no longer just one, by structuring myself to find good horses and new investors and by launching new ideas such as that of this group stable, Vivaldi-Jumping, a sort of investor club dedicated to equestrian sports. An idea that I took from the world of horse racing, in which these group stables have existed for a long time. In short, I told them about the future and shared with them my beliefs and my enthusiasm.
I have also broadened the usual basic business model of a professional rider by setting up partnerships with a few large breeders and developing an activity to promote horses and therefore trade.
This is not the first time that you have had to face such a break in the way you operate …
No indeed, I had experienced it two or three times in my career before. But while at the beginning, I was just motivated by my passion for horses without having any other ambition than to live off this passion, without the objective of competition or high-level sport, I quickly had the obsession with excellence and the desire to move forward no matter what. I wanted to be the best I could be.
The best groom, the best groom, the best instructor or the best horse dealer, I didn’t know. But not necessarily the best rider. I was not from the seraglio, so I had to find my front door. But once I found it, I never doubted that I could continue to improve in this environment. And then, around 20 or 22 years old, while I was working for a merchant near Mulhouse, I came across an exceptional horse, Kraque Boum, which was seven years old and in which I persuaded my grandfather to invest. . And there it all happened.
This horse took me to the highest level and allowed me to meet my first sponsor, Haras de Hus, thanks to which we were able to invest in other horses, up to this formidable gray mare, Silvana. When it came to selling it, I looked for other investors to keep it and found Haras des Coudrettes. Each stage was a springboard in my career, indeed punctuated by several more or less easy to live with. But I didn’t feel the hard times. Difficulty is part of the life of a top athlete. We know it’s difficult to get to the top. And of course even more difficult to stay there.
What matters is the amount of work you are willing to put in to cross the threshold. The physical ability, I’ve always had it. But I have worked a lot on my psychological abilities, accepting failures. In the day-to-day life of a professional rider, there are always things that are difficult to manage, even when the results are there. It is a constant state of mind: to cope, to keep your motivation and that of your team.
You have to distribute the pressure, just like in martial arts: take the punches and draw energy from them. Everyday. All the “negative” questions exist, I ask myself them, I have them in me, I do not evacuate them, I do not avoid them. But I do not pass them on. I doubted a lot, but I never let others doubt. I know how to deal with these doubts and they don’t erode my belief that whatever happens, it’s going to work out eventually.
How much innovation plays a role in your success?
It is more in the side: communication, relationship with the media, with owners, sponsors. And for that, I have an extremely professional team. But when it comes to the core of the profession, horse riding itself, there’s not much that can be invented. We are in a field where there is a deeply rooted tradition, a thousand-year-old culture, everything has been written. I, who come from another background, thirsted for knowledge, I have read and still read traditional equestrian literature a lot, I soak up this culture, I make it my own. I think this willingness to learn has clearly given me an advantage over most of my competing sons and daughters of riders who have never realized they have things to learn.
Finally, the passion remained intact, it seems?
Sometimes too much competition can eat away at the passion, but you have to always keep in mind the reason why you are doing this.
The expert’s opinion
Kevin Staut teaches us that to maintain his level of excellence and his ability to achieve the maximum of his performance, it is necessary not only to have an extremely clear awareness of his reason for being and his objectives, to take care of his own motivation as that of his team, but also to consider that the difficulties, the incidents, the accidents, the ruptures, are part of the “normal” life of the company.
Accidents and crises must be thought of not as exceptional catastrophes but as probable, foreseeable and therefore manageable contingencies. Let’s get on well, what is foreseeable is not the nature of the accident, it is its occurrence. And no accident whatsoever should jeopardize the very life of the company.
At the company level, this reminds us that it is imperative to think about a BCP (Business Continuity Plan), business by business, including an IT Business Recovery Plan (PRA), which makes it possible to otherwise ensure virtually non-interruption, at least a rapid restart, of the company’s information system. By considering different crisis scenarios.
For example, this episode of the Coronavirus showed that few companies were prepared for the massive teleworking of their employees or the failure of certain providers.
So you need automated backup plans, automatic restart of systems on virtual servers, near-immediate access to operational data, with near-instant load transfer.
Please note, the PRA is not the PCA. The PRA is supposed to intervene after the accidental shutdown of IT production and therefore includes an RTO (“Recovery Time Objective”), that is to say a maximum guaranteed time. In the ideal PCA, this RTO is theoretically equal to zero. We’re not stopping! It is obviously very expensive. And maybe unnecessary. It is a question of measuring risks according to the criticality of its various activities. There are businesses that can endure a shutdown of a few hours or even a few days of their IT. Others don’t. To be evaluated on a case by case basis.
The process generally revolves around three essential steps:
- Identification of critical operations
- Construction of alternative solutions for each crisis scenario
- Finalization of plans (crisis management mechanisms, emergency actions, etc.)
Information systems built from their conception in a “digital” mode, such as those of Netflix, Google, Uber, etc. – were not forced to burden themselves with too much “legacy”. They were therefore able to integrate resilience “by design” natively in their architecture and the organization of their operations and do not really need a PRA or a PCA.
This is not the case for the majority of more traditional companies, which can nevertheless open their IS to public cloud architectures through which they design business applications with embedded resilience.