I remember when I was CEO of Pepsi in Canada, telling my people that given we were number three in the soft drink stakes, there was really no point in being number two. So we did what all companies should do in those circumstances, we became number one. I was reminded of this experience by an article by Peter Jessup, a New Zealander, looking at some of the great number ones in sport and the effect they have.
Let’s start with the obvious. The past few years have not been a good time to be a world-class golfer if you want to be number one! Tiger Woods is a phenomenon like Michael Jordan, Mohammed Ali, Pele, Don Bradman, and Lance Armstrong. They don’t just dominate their sport, they remake it in their own image.
Peter Jessup’s article was about another of these remarkable sports people, Kelly Slater. Early last month, Slater won his ninth world title, 16 years after he won the same title for the first time. Where did he achieve this remarkable feat? Just off the Spanish Coast. Kelly Slater is a surfer or maybe it’s more accurate to say, The Surfer.
Jessup suggests that given the extraordinary fitness, agility, and timing required in surfing (let alone grit and inspiration), Slater may be one of the greatest athletes ever. Imagine that. One of the world’s greatest athletes and most people have never even heard of him. If we put up others in that rank like Tiger, Ali, or Pele (the guys who only have to use one name), they are household names and remain so long after retirement. Slater is probably better known for his appearance in Baywatch as the recurring character Jimmy Slade than as a man of astounding athletic ability.
Of course I assume that in surfing households, Slater enjoys enduring renown and love. In the end that is probably all he or any other athlete needs. It’s a local global thing. Winning world championships is Irreplaceable, but being loved by your community, now that’s Irresistible. That’s why I’m picking Kelly Slater as a Lovemark.