It’s more than 30 years since Humphrey Walters nailed his colours to the mast of motivation. The idea of using such techniques to improve performance hadn’t changed appreciably since the battles of Agincourt and Trafalgar. Inspirational encouragement by word or deed was seen as something best left to others. Humphrey astutely identified the potential for working with individuals and teams to enable them to achieve their maximum potential. The MaST organisation, which he helped found, began life with a staff of two, but has become Britain’s biggest provider of management skills and now operates in eight countries. The last few years have seen Humphrey become a public figure, via his stunning successful relationship with Sir Clive Woodward, that transformed England from the rugby world’s nearly men into World cup winners. Even before their first meeting in 1998 though, Humphrey had established an international reputation within his chosen career.
A globetrotting childhood saw him leave his birthplace in India, and finally reach the UK via Africa, the Middle East and North America. Such a peripatetic early life seemed entirely appropriate for someone whose first name honours one of Devon’s legendary 16th Century naval heroes and explorers, Sir Humphrey Gilbert. He recalls that in 1970, several influences made the time seem right for the services that the fledging MaST could offer. "The idea was to establish an organisation that could persuade companies of the need to invest in people training, and then convince them to use us." "Until then businesses were prepared to carry technical training for their staff, but people training was virtually unheard of." The tidal wave of redundancies throughout British industry was the catalyst for the new venture. "When the economy began to improve, large numbers of trainees had to be taken on. They might have had the knowledge, but hadn’t the necessary business skills and discipline," says Humphrey.
"It became easier to sell personal development programmes to companies, and they were also attracted by the idea that such a training would help their business and increase staff loyaliyty." MaST soon won business from major global corporations, including oil companies, banks and motor manufactures. Humphrey then sought to increase his knowledge of motivational techniques through the research on inspirational leadership at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The famous Cambridge-based academic establishment was then home to the father of modern motivational thinking, Professor Davis McLelland. He’d completed a PhD on experimental psychology at Yale, and then later published studies in motivation in the mid-50s. Even more than 20 years later, Mclelland remained pre-eminent in his field and Humphrey admits his time there proved invaluable. "I needed something solid to underpin the thoughts I was having about the need for motivational and achievement training, and his ideas were tremendously influential."
Back in the UK, Humphrey was able to lead MaST on a steady period of growth, but as his industry moved into the mid-90s, it was becoming ever-more sophisticated. Graduates were becoming increasingly concerned about what future employers could offer them. Companies and organisations were also becoming increasingly demanding in their needs. "I’d never seen myself as a hot air consultant, there are too many of them around, but now I realised that I needed something new to bring to the business," He recalls. "If I was going to convince senior executives of global companies, who took tough decisions every day, that my views on leadership and teamwork were valid I needed to have proved myself in a hostile environment." Humphrey had long been active in various sports, notably rugby, squash and cricket. The end of the 80s had seen this remarkable individual take up marathon running to raise funds for diabetes research, because a colleague’s child suffered from the illness. As of now he’s clocked up 26 marathons including the events in London and New York, all for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, and including an eye-opening best time of a shade under four hours.
It seemed not only natural but typical therefore, that Humphrey should seek a career-changing challenge in an outdoor arena. As an experienced yachtsman, and a qualified pilot of both helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft, he’d certainly got ample options. His choice was to join Chay Blyth’s round the world yacht race, which set new standards of endurance by going the "wrong way" round the globe, in the face of every element of wind and tide the boats might encounter. The 1997 BT global challenge lasted ten months and covered 33,000exhausting miles. Humphrey’s experiences formed the basis for a book that has sold more than 25,000 copies and led to a meeting that changed his life – and the fortunes of the England Rugby team.
Moments into their first impromptu meeting, Clive Woodward and Humphrey Walters realised they were kindred spirits. The former needed the lessons of the business world transplanting into a sporting environment. The latter offered a lifetime of leadership and motivational theory, supported by the knowledge of developing teamwork skills during a muscle wrenching global yacht race. "Humphrey was exactly what I’d been looking for," recalls Sir Clive. "Our thoughts were in alignment and better still, he could look at what we were doing with fresh and different eyes." The two men met after Roger Uttley recommended Humphrey during a chance conversation, when Clive mentioned his frustration at being unable to find someone to develop team dynamics.
With typical enthusiasm, Clive was on the phone to Humphrey during the drive home later that day. Another 30 minutes and their first meeting was under way. A new positive approach for the England rugby team soon began to evolve. "We agreed it was important that no idea would be regarded as a dumb idea. It might not work, or we might decide not to use it, but we had to be open to all suggestions" says Humphrey. One of his first actions was to test the motivation of the England squad that Clive had inherited. " We asked each player to write down what they wanted to achieve. Not one of them said they wanted to win," he recalls. A key element of his work was to eradicate such an outdated Corinthian philosophy, and replace it with the desire seen in England’s rivals for the world cup. " We had to convince players that winning was what mattered. Not winning at all costs perhaps, but still winning," he says.
The folklore of English rugby players was used to instill passion into the players. " We had always previously had a rather unemotional approach to the game, which you never saw from the other international teams." Humphrey’s subsequent success with England has just seen him appointed in a similar role for the upcoming British lions tour. Sir Clive is convinced that sloppy off field organisation cost the Lions the test series against Australia in 2001, and is determined there will be no repeat – as is Humphrey. "Things have moved on dramatically, but there are still some fogeys about who say things were better in their day," he says ominously.
If you thought that winning the World Cup was down to Jonny Wilkinson’s kicking, Jason Robinson’s running and Clive Woodward’s tactical genius, you’re only partly right. Inspiration also came from Humphrey Walters, a 61-year-old who applied his business acumen to rugby.
Three years ago Humphrey Walters was giving a lecture to a teachers’ conference during which he outlined the ambitions of Clive Woodward and his England rugby-union team as follows:
- Everyone wanting to join the team and no one wanting to leave;
- Winning the World Cup in 2003;
- Inspiring our nation.
Last Saturday they delivered on their promises. Woodward had called in Walters, a management adviser, to assist the England set-up in 1997 just after Walters had returned from sailing the wrong way round the world as part of the BT Global Challenge… Walters never doubted England would win the World Cup and thinks it is ‘very very unlikely’ that Woodward would have suffered from any doubts.
When England go out to face France on Saturday, it is probable they will be, mentally, the most thoroughly prepared team ever to start a Five Nations match. In his meticulous build-up to Paris, coach Clive Woodward has sought to give his players the best of everything, including the advice and expertise of a man whose usual constituency is the boardrooms and lecture halls of the business world.
Humphrey Walters, 56, is group chief executive of MaST International, which he helped to found in 1970 and has been instrumental in establishing as Britain’s biggest worldwide management development organisation. He was introduced to Woodward by the former England forward Roger Uttley and has been part of the backroom since last autumn.
If Woodward thinks highly of Walters, which he clearly does, the feeling is enthusiastically reciprocated. ‘Clive is the most dedicated, hard-driving person I’ve met for a long time,’ says Walters. ‘He’s top-notch, and that’s really the attraction for me, to work for a guy who is not frightened of taking risks and is dedicated to excellence.’
Walters is a big, friendly man, a Devonian who is naturally gregarious after a peripatetic upbringing, which included living in India until he was five, then moving to Gambia and finishing his education in Canada. He was a keen rugby player himself, and, intriguingly, represented Germany in the Sixties, simply because he was working there and three non-nationals were allowed into the side.
But the achievement that gives him the greatest satisfaction, beyond the business environment in which he normally operates, is his participation in the BT Global Challenge round-the-world yatch race, which kept him occupied – and intermittently terrified – from September 1996 until July last year.
It was this, he believes, as much as his many years in management training, that made him suitable for the England job. ‘Clive wanted someone who the players and management could relate to, who had done something, knew how things worked in action and was not a bullshit merchant. The round-the-world race was for ordinary people, but they became extraordinary people. It was this process that interested me and I would like to bring its lessons to the England management, making them a unit who live and breathe excellence.