Apr 12, 2012, 1:55 PM
Post #2 of 2
It was with simultaneous feelings of joy, pride and satisfaction that I read of Jonathon Wright’s induction to the America’s Cup Hall of Fame this morning. And while the listed accomplishments may seem significant and adequate for induction to the average reader I am sure that the selection committee considered the whole of Mr. Wright’s career in their process.
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Forty years ago when I was an adolescent sailor/racer, Jonathon had already achieved Rock Star status. If they had issued Sailboat Racing Heroes bubblegum cards, I would have collected his mug along with Elvstrom, North, Mankin, Barrett, the Harken brothers, etc.
I have a unique perspective because a few years later, at the age of 15, Jon would become my first real boss, and over the course of the next 15 years I would work for him on and off through high school, college and beyond. As I reflect today I realize that he was, unwittingly, my first true mentor in work, sailboat racing and life.
The lessons I learned of his character I have tried with limited success to incorporate into my life and to pass on to those that I work with and coach. If you permit me to indulge myself; I am presumptuous to presume that perhaps these are lessons that all aspiring racers could benefit from.
After his father’s passing Jon cut his Maritime career short to return to Philadelphia and take over his family’s boatbuilding and chandlery business, John Wright Boats. While he certainly took advantage of every opportunity to compete on the Grand Prix level, I am sure that it was not his first career choice.
If It Is Worth Doing, Or Has To Be Done, It Is Worth Doing Right.
As a casual student in school, this attitude and lesson was a wakeup call for me. Jon is not afraid to get the broom and clean the shop right alongside of you and he is not afraid in a matter of fact way to point out what you missed. He instilled this so well in me that I created the shorthand statement: “Excellence in any endeavor is its own reward”.
If he hired you, asked you to sail with him or participate in any activity, it meant that he has already given you his full trust and expected that you were fully on board as well. He expects you to be able to execute your job at a high level, consistently, and if not able to, then he expects you are working full time at being able to do so. The reciprocity of trust is a given.
Play To Win.
Jonathon never approaches any competition any other way. Not to say that he cannot have fun in the process and enjoy the competition, but if you don’t give of yourself fully it is not a reflection of your true skills and almost an insult to your competitors who are trying fully.
An extension of the above, playing fair is the only way to accurately evaluate your standing and progress.
Be Honest About Failure And Mistakes. (Fix It and Learn From It).
I KNOW I screwed up in my time working for Jon. I am sure that it was a lot more than I care to remember from my perspective. But one colossal blunder I remember was when I forgot to order something a customer needed to take on their vacation. When I went to him to admit that I had just plain forgot to place the order, I was instructed to inform the customer of my error and find out what I could do to rectify the situation to their satisfaction and to follow through in every way until they informed me that the situation was satisfactory. (He was not going to bail me out of my own screw-up!).
I learned the gold standard of customer service at Wright Boats. The secret was to spend time listening to the customer, then ask pertinent questions and listening some more.
There are many who think that Jonathon could step into any class of boat and compete at a high level or win the first time out. I was able to observe Jon campaign in many classes as his fancy struck him in both dinghies and keelboats and what his competition never saw was the intense preparation given before the boat ever splashed the first time. He networks extensively with prior champions, sailmakers, boatbuilders, crew and competitors themselves in an effort to know exactly what he is getting into. Once all that knowledge is gathered and assimilated, preparing the boat is the easy part. Which leads to:
Never Stop Learning.
Another reason for his success in so many various classes was that Jon always tries to pick up tools or techniques from all his experience and see if it presents opportunities for assimilating into the new endeavor.
Jonathon always defers credit for success to his crewmates and fellow workers. Pressed with praise, you will find his self-depreciating humor rise, and while flattered, he will always defer back to the efforts of the team.
In the store, boatyard or anywhere he is always willing to help. He give his time, his knowledge or just an extra set of hands to get the job done freely and with no thought of self - See Worth Doing and Team above.
Everyone will have their JW stories; I have one story from my development that ties many of these lessons together:
Many years ago, the Laser 2 was launched by Performance Sailcraft as the two person performance Laser. When it was announced that the first Laser 2 Midwinters were to be held in Gulfport Mississippi, I matched up with another local hotshot sailor and we schemed to enter and steal off with the event.
Jon let us take a new boat off the showroom floor, put it on a new trailer, slap dealer tags on the back and toddle down to Mississippi for fame and glory in this new class. (Generosity). Once we arrived south we met Kyle Smith, who had been a grinder on one of Jon’s 12 Meter campaigns, at the bar of the Gulfport Yacht Club. As we made the “JW Connection” we were suddenly okay by Kyle and were constantly enticed to “Come on over to New Orleans” (Team).
Our few days of practice did not yield the results we envisioned as we were sliced and diced by the competition and Coach Gary Bodie ran away with the event (Preparation and lack thereof). The 4th place trophy hangs in my house as a reminder of those lessons and the new one (Humility) we ruminated on during the long drive north.
I was extremely lucky to be so young and have Jonathon as my first “Boss”; he is one of the two best I ever had. Our relationship has been for me an honor, a pleasure and a lifelong learning experience; I humbly add to the chorus of voices offering congratulations.
Bary B. Gately
Quantum Sail Design Group