COL Loyalty is key quality of winners

Every 10 years or so I see a movie that really blows me away. "Seabiscuit" did it for me this summer, and I've reflected on it virtually every day since I saw it.

Like many good movies, it's a celluloid seminar in business lessons. Horseracing, like boxing, is capitalism encapsulated. There are no better metaphors for the defeats, the triumphs, the perils and the joys of putting your butt on the line.

When I lost my friend Herb Brooks this summer in a tragic auto accident, I thought of how, like Seabiscuit, he had loyalty to burn.

He was the man who coached the 1980 U.S. hockey team to Olympic gold in what may be the greatest upset in sports history. The 1980 U.S. hockey team was walloped in a game against the heavily favored Russian team less than two weeks before the Olympics began.

The Russians scored with embarrassing double figures (10-3) over Herb's boys. Yet, in the Olympic semifinal rematch, the Americans won. They then topped the Finns for the championship.


In interviews after his death, former players of Brooks' cited his loyalty to them and to the idea that they could win it all as the reason that they did win it all.

Like undersized Seabiscuit, that underdog hockey team has passed into American legend, all because of inexhaustible loyalty.

The principles that apply to business in the movie "Seabiscuit" leap off the screen:

1. Perseverance.

2. Belief in yourself.

3. Resilience.

4. Invulnerability to negative evaluations by others.

5. Willingness to outwork your opponents.


• 6.; Courage to meet challenges.

7. Acceptance of risk.

8. Pride in your work.

9. Impregnable determination.

The list could go on and on. As an inspiration for life, and a laboratory for business, this movie has it all. But here's the underlying message of this unbeatable movie: Loyalty, with a capital "L," is the distinguishing quality of winners.

That goes for everyone -- entrepreneurs, owners, managers and employees. Everyone from the boardroom to the mailroom. No exceptions.

In a key scene in the movie, Charles Howard, Seabiscuit's owner, adamantly refused to lay off more of his workers even though the Great Depression was knocking his businesses for a loop. That's the essential quality that made Charles Howard a winner -- at business and at the sport of kings. He was loyal.

So was Seabiscuit. This bowlegged little colt was loyal to his jockey, his trainer, his owner and his millions of fans. He was also loyal to his own talent and his own ferociously competitive nature.


Seabiscuit was an also-ran until he met up with trainer Tom Smith. Smith was an old-style frontier breaker of mustangs, not a classic trainer of thoroughbreds like the world-famous James "Sunny Jim" Fitzsimmons, who gave up on Seabiscuit early in the horse's racing career.

Smith didn't accept the East Coast racing establishment's evaluation that this ordinary little colt was just another nag headed for the claimers. He saw instead a winner with the heart of a champion.

Tom Smith then convinced Charles Howard to buy the colt. Howard listened to Smith, bought Seabiscuit and sent horse and trainer out West. Knowledgeable horse people had advised Howard to steer clear of Smith. They said he was a crackpot, a misfit and a loner.

Howard had arrived in California in 1903 with 21 cents to his name. A few years later he parlayed it into millions. He proved he could judge human talent as well as Smith could evaluate horseflesh. Employer Howard was unshakably loyal to employee Smith, even when the colt first appeared to be unmanageable.

Ditto Smith and Howard to their employee John "Red" Pollard, a jockey down on his luck. While working as a lowly stablehand, Pollard accepted the challenge to try to ride Seabiscuit. The colt had taken such a sour view of his early trainers and jockeys that he would throw anyone who tried to ride him.

Pollard communicated with this difficult "employee" and world-class athlete so well that Seabiscuit let him mount up. From then on, the two were unwaveringly loyal to each other.

Loyalty works top-down, bottom-up and side-to-side. It works all around and at all times. It's what makes for great people, winning teams and top-flight business organizations.

Mackay's Moral: Loyalty will always win, place and show.


Harvey Mackay is author of "Pushing the Envelope." He can be reached through his Web site:; or Mackay Envelope Corp., 2100 Elm St., Minneapolis, MN 55414.

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