© CARLO BORLENGHI
How to manage an America's Cup Team and how to be part of it
Max Sirena, Team Director of Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli, explains his position and the road he took to get there. Inviting young people to do the same
What is the role of the Team Director?
This position encompasses many others, like Chinese boxes that never seem to end... In a team like Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli there are more than 100 people working in several departments (sailing team, shore team, design team, logistics, administration, secretary, communication, etc.); each department reports to an experienced manager who operates independently, but it is obvious that I have to be involved in all areas, taking responsibility for the final decision. If I had the choice, I would only take care of the sporting and technical aspects, but perfection is not of this world... Actually, I don't mind having an overall view of the picture, because it allows me to understand if the operational 'machine' is working as it should or if there are areas to improve and strengthen.
"The best part of my job is working with people, reassessing myself, listening, learning..." Max Sirena
What is your favourite part?
Working with people, reassessing myself, listening, learning... Being able to find good people is already a great achievement, but when you find someone who not only does their job well, but also does it willingly, motivated, happy, that for me is the greatest satisfaction. The interpersonal relationship is a priority and I try to devote as much time as possible to human resources, even if I don't always manage to do so.
And the most difficult one?
Sometimes you have to make painful but necessary choices and it's not easy, that's why it's important to split work from friendship. I've been with Luna Rossa since 2000 and I've built an almost brotherly relationship with some of the team members but having to say no is part of my role, the important thing is to be able to motivate decisions.
What is the main characteristic of a team leader?
Winning trust and respect in the field, in the job. Imposing your presence, especially with newcomers, does not help. Being likeable is a plus, of course, but you can't please everyone, especially if you are forced to make unpopular choices; but if you are able to build a mutual relationship of respect and trust, if you are able to make everyone feel part of a team aiming at the same goal, where everyone is a protagonist, then you are a good leader.
And what do you value most in a candidate?
For me, visual impact is essential. If you compare two identical CVs, attitude and approach will make the difference. If an individual is rude to others or has haughty manners, this person would have to be much better than another to be chosen. In a team where you work 12 to 16 hours a day in close contact, the ability to live together and be a team player is everything. My dream is to find a rock star with a great personality, but in general I don't like primadonnas. Nor do I like people who are too pushy: if at that moment I can't offer you an opportunity, you have to be able to accept the rejection and wait for the next chance.
The sailors, though, are kind of the stars....
We're a sailing team, so it's normal for the spotlight to be on the guys who go sailing, but there are no A and B departments and I'll explain why: the success of everyone's work - primarily the sailors - depends on the work of someone else. You can be a sensational sailor, but if the boat is not perfectly prepared by the shore team (who may have worked on it all night until dawn), you're not going anywhere. If the secretary office doesn't create support, your daily life goes down the drain; if the cooks don't prepare healthy, protein-packed, good food (even late at night), your performance goes down... Each one of us is tied to the other by a double thread because we have a common goal, the America's Cup.
Do sailors only go sailing?
Not in Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli, here we do everything. If we're not racing, once training is over, or on days when it's not scheduled, the sailors are involved in the various departments (mainly the shore team) where they get their hands dirty: someone can be working with sandpaper, another one laminating, a third one working on the sails, someone else with the electronics... In short, everyone lends a hand where they can. Having an overall view, seeing how the boat is built and understanding how all the gears work, not only allows you, once you are racing, to get the most out of the boat and to be able to react promptly to any problem, but it also gives you an incredible wealth of skills that you can use in a future career.
How does the selection process work at Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli, what do you have to do to join the team?
The sailors are familiar faces and we “fish” them directly on the racecourses; for the other departments it works like in a normal company: the first thing is to send a CV; when we look for a resource for a specific role, we open the selection and make an initial screening. We meet the most interesting profiles to interview them. I would add that you don’t always have to be ‘perfect’ for the role required, sometimes you learn on the job… We don’t need infinite resources, so our hiring capacity is limited, but we always need good, motivated people to rotate; I'm also thinking of warehouse workers, dishwashers, cleaners... roles that are by no means second-rate because, as I said before, they are important for everyone's well-being and for the success of the common project
How has the working environment changed since your beginnings?
It has changed a lot. When I started out, sailors lived adventurously and were anything but picky: we used to sleep with 4/5 other guys in a flat, even sharing a sofa bed, and we would break our backs! Today, like all professional sportsmen and women, sailors also have more demands: everyone wants their own flat, their own privacy, their own comforts and, as a rule, they don't accept to carry out tasks other than those they are contractually obliged to do. Times have changed, there is no better or worse. On the other hand, we certainly have more quality because today a sailor, instead of 12 hours, works eight and is more focused on what he has to do on the boat.
What is the most important message you would like to send to the present and future team members of Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli?
Being inside a team like Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli, no matter what you do, is a unique opportunity, so don't be picky at first. Be available, accept what is offered, work your way up and you'll see that you won't be disappointed. I am the best example of what having a passion means: when I joined the team I did everything, even cleaning. Today I run it... To experience the America's Cup at this level is for the lucky few. Appreciate this opportunity and be proud of it.