Mass High Tech: Tech heads tackle stress, build leadership on the rugby field

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One of our very own founding partners, AJ Gerritson, was featured in the most recent issue of Mass High Tech. Journalist Lynette F. Cornell compiled a piece that focuses on how some of the important skill sets that are honed by playing the game of rugby–leadership, team work, mental toughness and dedication–are easily transferable to the corporate boardroom. Take a look at the piece below, and read about how AJ and others have overcome some of their business challenges by channeling their rugby-playing past (and present).

Tech heads tackle stress, build leadership on the rugby field

By Lynette F. Cornell

Special to Mass High Tech

When AJ Gerritson shows up to Monday’s board meeting with a shiner, don’t assume he got whacked in a weekend bar fight. He was just letting off steam with some fellow executives, all of them pounding each other in a fierce game of rugby.

Gerritson, a founding partner at 451 Marketing in Boston, is just one of many C-level people whose nights and weekends involve props, locks and hookers — the strange yet standard terms for various positions in rugby.

“It takes a certain person to play rugby,” said Gerritson.

That person, he said, is team oriented, a necessary quality for the game and one that carries over into being a successful company leader. Networking with other business leaders, he frequently met other current and former rugby players. The connection was always instantaneous and one he has never experienced with any other sport, he said.

Looking to unite other executives passionate about rugby, he recently created the Massachusetts Rugby Executives, a co-ed group of rugby players in various leadership positions.

The manager of the group, Steven Drew, has been playing rugby since he was a freshman at Babson College. He has also played hockey and soccer but says that there is something completely unique about rugby.

“I’ve never seen anything like the camaraderie and true team spirit as I’ve seen in rugby,” said Drew.

Now in his mid-forties, Drew doesn’t play rugby as much as he’d like. Yet, the 26 years he spent playing still influence his skills as a leader, he said. As the managing director of Hollister Inc., a Boston-based staffing agency, he is responsible for leading a team of employees. The importance of teamwork in rugby, he said, has helped him become a better team member.

For Linda Bourque, owner of B&B Realty Inc. in Watertown, rugby influences every aspect of her life, including her career. She said her 14 years of rugby playing have helped make her a better listener, a skill she greatly used while holding various leadership positions at Norwalk, Conn.-based Xerox Corp. The sport also shaped her thinking, she said.

“It gives you a different mental attitude, that ‘you can do,’” she said.

When she began playing rugby, few Americans even knew what it was. People who pursued the sport didn’t do it for the notoriety, said Bourque. Rugby demands a high level of commitment to training and personal fitness, a dedication that Bourque said requires self-motivated, self-starting people who are secure in what they do.

“It’s not for the faint of heart,” she said.

Those unfamiliar to the sport can expect to see more of it soon. In March 2010 the US Rugby League will launch. Boston is one of six major cities where franchises have been set. Gerritson said he is not worried about the mainstreaming of rugby affecting the special bond he shares with other players.

“At the end of the day a rugby player will always have a special set of qualities that you don’t find in other sports,” said Gerritson. “Because of this fact the bond will always be there whether rugby is mainstream or not.”

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