Anton Swanepoel book review: Business lessons from the 2015 Rugby World Cup

13 November 2017 Jonathan Faurie

The 2015 Rugby World Cup was hailed as one of the most successful, and competitive, tournaments on record. While the All Blacks made history by becoming the first team in rugby history to win the event three times, one of the major stories of the tournament was the shock result where Japan toppled the mighty Springboks.

This drama inspired Anton Swanepoel CFP to investigate what happened behind the scenes in the build-up to this historic game.

He found that the same fundamentals that served as the foundation for Japan’s victory over the Springboks will have to be in place in small businesses if they aspire to compete at top level. He discusses this in depth in his book titled: Business lessons from the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

Embrace change

One of the criticisms of the Springbok performance against Japan was that the team - which was then one of the most successful teams in the world - lost because they resisted change, played a predicable brand of rugby and refused to innovate. This is a pertinent challenge when we look at it from a business perspective. The financial advisory landscape has changed significantly over the past five years. Nobody who wants to succeed professionally can conduct business the same way that it was conducted five years ago. Change and innovation needs to happen.

Referring to other books that he had read on the subject of business success, Swanepoel points out that a lot of lessons can be learned from studying the failure of certain businesses than purely focussing on the success of large corporations.

We learn more by examining why a great company fell into mediocrity (or worse) and comparing it to a company that sustained its success than we do by merely studying a successful enterprise. Furthermore, one of the keys to sustained performance lies in understanding how greatness can be lost. Logically, it is better to learn from how others fell than to repeat their mistakes out of ignorance.  – writes Swanepoel.

David vs Goliath

Swanepoel also draws parallels between the Springbok game against Japan and the epic biblical battle between David and Goliath.

One of the similar characteristics between the rugby game and the biblical military engagement was that one party underestimated their opponents, to their detriment. Another characteristic of these battles was that the favoured parties - the Springboks and Goliath - expected their opponents to conduct themselves in a specific way. Japan, and David, were successful because they were innovative enough to change the rules of engagement, and they never underestimated their opponents.

Smaller companies can expect similar levels of success when competing against their larger counterparts if they adopt the same tactics.

Swanepoel is a veteran in the financial services industry spending many years trying to deconstruct the elements that lead to success. At a particular juncture in his book, he proposes that the directors and owners of small business need to sit down and ask some soul searching questions about their ability to remain competitive in the industry.

Visualise Success

But most importantly, the main message is that in addition to innovation and humility, a company needs to visualise their success. Buy setting goals, they will have a clear vision of where they need to get to, and what processes they need to put into place to achieve this vision. 

The last parallel drawn by Swanepoel is regarding leadership. The reason why the Japanese were so successful against South Africa was that they were coached by the inspirational Eddie Jones. Strong leadership qualities filter down to those who work for you and can give companies, no matter their size, a good foundation for success.

The book is an interesting read and provides valuable insights into a different approach when it comes to business management.


Interested parties should contact Swanepoel at [email protected] regarding getting hold of a copy of the book.

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