Don Russe has consulted for more than 50 organizations in his career across five continents and 15 industries. Now a lecturer at the University of Texas McCombs School of Business, Ruse, he adds another professional passion to his resume.
A lifelong racing fan, with a father in the auto business and a variety of cars in the driveway, Ruse started going to races when he was 7 years old. After a lunch with a friend — a UT alumnus and CEO — at which they talked about their passion for racing, Rousse and his friend exchanged business lessons they had learned from racing in Formula 1.
An idea was born: What if he could go to the track, but bring business leaders with him and share the lessons learned?
“He said, ‘Don, this is fantastic. Can you turn this into a leadership development program?’ and I was like, ‘Oh, hell yeah,'” Ruse said. “And the next thing you know, we have the Winning program!”
This week, the McCombs School of Business announced a new leadership accelerator program called “Winning! What Auto Racing Teaches Us About Business Success” for experienced, senior business leaders to learn through racing how to come together as a team and execute strategy.
The program was created through a partnership with Circuit of the Americas in Austin, a world-class racing facility. The Longhorn Racing Academy – founded by UT alumnus Varun Idnani – is also a partner and will provide the track, training and exotic driving of cars such as Ferrari, Porsche and Lamborghini.
Longhorn Racing allows people to drive high-performance cars at full speed after training with a professional trainer. Idnani said no matter what industry business leaders are in, the surge of skills learned behind the wheel applies in every field.
“The program will show how teamwork and innovation in the world of Formula 1 racing can be applied to your business strategy and the success of your business,” Idnani said.
Ruse is the faculty director of the program. He said the plan is to have the first session in February with 20 people, then others in June and next November, depending on demand. Ruse also said they are open to doing customized programs for businesses.
“It will be a multi-faceted learning experience that brings track simulation, pitlane and lessons learned from people who have been there and done that, who are also passionate race car drivers,” he said.
The Leadership Accelerator Program will run for four days. The 20 participants will be divided into four teams and will work on team building and leadership skills.
The late Red McCombs, the namesake of UT’s business school, was also passionate about racing. McCombs was an investor in the COTA track — its iconic Turn 1 is named “Big Red” in his honor.
Lillian Mills, dean of the McCombs School of Business, said the partnership is exactly the kind of program McCombs would like to see at UT.
“Bringing together a world-class business school with a purpose-built, world-class F1 racing facility is unique. No one else is doing this,” she said. “We hope that people who complete this course will become even better at aligning their strategy, organization and talent to execute and win.”
The snap decisions, team building and level of focus required in racing translate directly into applicable business skills, Ruse said.
“The skill level required is incredible. If you want to do a clean lap around COTA, it takes a lot of practice,” he said. “Just like in business, you have to know all the variables that can make a good tour, a bad tour, or a disastrous tour. And you have to consider that.”
Ruse said the program is designed for senior executives on the executive track with at least 10 years of experience, especially those on their way to becoming executives. There will be an application process, but there is now an online interest form.
As for being behind the wheel, Ruse said it’s unparalleled. His hope is that business leaders can apply this focus, flexibility and teamwork back to their companies and “win” in all their missions.
“Man, there’s nothing like being behind the wheel of a car,” Ruse said. “You have an opportunity to learn with every lap to get better, dial it up. And man oh man, if companies can do that … get that into their DNA in terms of continuous improvement, they’re going to win. And that’s how it works.”