When the Rubber Hits the Road

Article by:
John Jankowski, EO Austin
John Jankowski
EO Austin

Growing up, I was never what you would call a “team sports” guy. While my friends were busy playing baseball, I gravitated toward a single-person sport that has since changed the way I live and work: motorcycle road racing.

I started racing motorcycles long before I became an entrepreneur. In fact, it was my desire to race that inspired me to be my own boss. Racing taught me that I could be the creator and master of my own destiny. When my father sold his business and I lost my job, I decided to start my own engineering firm. I knew I could make my own success by applying what I learned from the racetrack to the workforce.

Prepare to Stay Competitive
Racing, like running a business, requires intense preparation. I once kept track of the time I spent working on a motorcycle to remain competitive with the other riders on the starting grid. I uncovered a simple equation: six hours working on the bike for every one hour I spent riding. Tuning my bike, riding practice laps and maintaining a high level of fitness are all necessary to perform at a championship level. Likewise, in business, to perform at a competitive level requires discipline, strategy and preparation that no one ever sees.

As a consultant to architects and their clients, I’m never surprised by how savvy they can be. Walking into a meeting and risking being asked to discuss the latest technology—that I’ve never heard of— is no less dangerous than throwing my leg over a bike that’s not been properly set up, checked and rechecked. I’ve learned to do my homework beforehand to ensure I’m on point with my clients. In business, preparation is not a luxury, it’s mandatory.

Don’t Let Fear Take Over
After decades on the track, I am keenly aware of the risks inherent to motorcycle racing. I approach risk in business the same way: I know the potential problems, look for ways to optimize the outcome and take steps to produce the best and safest results. At the same time, it’s important that I evaluate multiple scenarios without letting fear take over.

Recently, I had a veteran employee who was dramatically underachieving. This was causing significant stress to the team, all of whom were picking up the slack. I tried to help this employee improve, but things weren’t getting better. I feared the possibility of letting an experienced team member go, but I had to make a decision. I fired him. Afterward, the attitude and productivity of the team improved. I’ve since learned that my fear of losing an employee, or the repercussions of termination, undermines the efforts and discipline required to build a strong team.

Maintain Your Focus
Ultimately, being a motorcycle racer or an entrepreneur does not totally define me. I used to think that being the best at something would make me a different or better person. Years ago, I set a goal to win a regional championship. I wound up winning four and earned pole position based on accumulated points in eight national final races. Once that was behind me, though, I didn’t feel like anything had really been accomplished.

What I learned is that the highs in racing are incredible, but they are also fleeting. The same experience applies to business. As an entrepreneur, I have to maintain my focus without giving in to the quick ups and downs. It’s great to revel in success, but once the high wears off, it’s time to focus on the next big project. Only then can I truly reap the rewards that come when hard work and preparation meet risk.

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