Sir Keith Mills
The America’s Cup seems to the the most addictive sporting trophy. What’s the big deal and why do successful businessmen become obsessed with winning it?
Successful businessmen get a big kick from being part of a sports team and helping them succeed because that’s what they do in their business lives. Most of them are unbelievably competitive and get a real thrill out of winning. I personally find winning intoxicating. The moment in Singapore when they announced that London had won the Olympic Games was fantastically exciting, and winning the America’s Cup will be equally exciting. More exciting perhaps because Britain has never won it before. Being part of a team that makes that happen is very special.
Sir Charles Dunstone and yourself are the main investors behind Land Rover BAR. How much will you have spent by the end of the next cup in 2017?
The whole campaign, including our new base, will have cost more than £100 million and although our shareholders have invested a considerable amount, a large percentage will come from commercial revenues. This is a sporting challenge but it is also a business challenge, a high risk one. Our objective is firstly to win the America’s Cup because if we do that, our yacht club, The Royal Yacht Squadron, becomes trustee of the Cup and the rules allow us to take control so that we can transform it into a more sustainable sport. We are investing a lot of money now in the expectation that we and our corporate partners will get a return. The America’s Cup in Valencia in 2007 produced a significant return for the city, for the corporate partners and for the shareholders and other stakeholders.
How important is Sir Ben Ainslie to the success of this campaign?
We would or could not have done it with anyone else. To make something like this work you need an extraordinary individual and Ben is an extraordinary sportsman. Everyone is drawn to the team because of Ben. Sailors, designers, sponsors, spectators, media. The time is right now to make our bid. The stars are aligned. Watching Ben get on the US boat in San Francisco in 2013 and watching that magnificent come back was a sort of Eureka moment. Sir Charles Dunstone and I realised that Ben needed an opportunity to do it. We were on the phone that week discussing how we could get behind Ben to give him that opportunity.
Can you talk us through how you organise an America’s Cup campaign from scratch?
You start by getting together an exceptionally talented group of people and that is exactly what Ben has done. You then need to build a business plan that details all of the costs and potential revenues and produce a budget and an operating plan that gives you the best chance of winning. An America’s Cup team is not dissimilar to a Formula One team where the margins between success and failure are tiny. The design and build of the race boats, like F1, is hugely technical these days. Massive amounts of computing power and the world’s best engineers and designers. The skills and fitness of the sailing team are critical so the training programmes are relentless and tough. Finally winning any major sporting trophy is a massive team effort and needs string leadership. In Ben Ainslie we have an extraordinary Team Principal and the world’s greatest sailor and he is now supported by Martin Whitmarsh who has joined BAR from McLaren where he was CEO.
Is this just about winning a sporting trophy or will there be other benefits?
Winning the America’s Cup will open many other opportunities. Firstly, we have built an iconic new base for Land Rover BAR in Portsmouth. We want to use the base to accelerate the regeneration of Portsmouth by attracting new developments and other marine based businesses as Formula 1 has done. Secondly, we have established a new charity, the 1851 Trust, which I chair. With the Duchess of Cambridge and Ben Ainslie as our Patrons, we aim to use the America’s Cup to support a number of programmes designed to inspire and engage young people. We will focus on youth sailing, STEM education, the marine environment and marine training and apprenticeships. The Olympics led to the regeneration of East London and inspired millions of young people and this is what we are hoping to achieve with the Cup. Over the next few years we would hope to have an America’s Cup racing team which is sustainable and the best in the world. We will have started to develop other businesses off the back of the team like applied technology and marine businesses and a foundation which is putting a lot of money into the whole range of projects to encourage the next generation.
Why have an America’s Cup World Series event in Portsmouth?
The impact of the Cup in San Francisco in 2013 surprised us all including me and now we have a format with fantastic potential to capture television audiences and live spectators which will be attractive to millions. We will have hundreds and thousands of spectators in Portsmouth to watch the racing, which is unheard of in the sport of sailing. We would love the British public to get behind Ben and build an Olympic type fever around the campaign so we are working really hard with our TV and media partners, as well as with our corporate partners like Land Rover to make this happen.
What happens if you don’t win?
We don’t contemplate that. We have a great team and a ruthless determination to succeed. In our Olympic bid nobody gave us much chance of winning, but with the right team everything is possible. We will make history and bring the Cup home to Britain for the first time in over 160 years.