Brian Sims for J News
Courtesy of Champions Speakers, we at J News sat down with Brian Sims, the former Benetton Commercial Director who oversaw multi-million-pound sponsorship deals in Formula 1. In this exclusive interview, Brian revealed which sponsorship deal he is proudest of and his favourite memory from his racing days. The business expert also reflected on how businesses can embrace new opportunities during periods of change; learn his top tips for sponsorship success and more in this exciting Q&A with Brian Sims.
Which sponsorship deal are proudest of?
“When you’ve been around a long time like I have, that’s quite a difficult question. I guess from a significant point of view, it was the deal I did with FedEx that was probably one of the biggest value deals since the tobacco days. Tobacco was dying out and to work on that deal was very special.
“The one I’m most proud of was my very first sponsorship deal. The reason I’m proud of that deal is not because I ended up as a famous Formula One driver, but I had to find some very innovative business reasons as to why this nightclub in Maidstone should sponsor Brian Sims, who nobody had ever heard of before.
“It taught me a big lesson: there is one thing that never changes in business. If you can help a company sell more products or more services, you’re always going to have a conversation.”
With businesses facing a period of change, how can businesses take advantage of new opportunities?
“Well, straight away, change means opportunities, some good, some bad. The most important thing, though, is they don’t happen on their own. Opportunities arrive and it’s what you do with them.
“Looking back through my life, I’ve been incredibly lucky. I’ve had opportunities come to me and I hope that I’ve taken most of them. One which I’ll mention is I was travelling down to South Africa way back in the late 70s, I had just started my racing career.
“I was going down to the South African Grand Prix and to visit my parents. A guy on the plane was quite interested that I was reading Autosport Magazine, and he said, ‘are you doing any racing?’, and I said, ‘yes, I just started’. He said, ‘where are you headed?’, I said ‘to Johannesburg for the South African Grand Prix’. He said, ‘here’s my card, come and see me when you get there’.
“It was Max Mosley. And when I got there, I went to see Max. Four years later, I moved to South Africa, and I saw that the Grand Prix circuit was up for sale. I rang Max in London and a day later, I was appointed Manager of the Grand Prix Circuit in South Africa.
“It’s what you do with your opportunities – you’ve got to use them.”
As a public speaker, what can you offer corporate audiences that makes you stand out on the circuit?
“I think I’m a little unusual – I might have worked in professional sport most of my life, but deep down, I’m a professional salesman!
“I keep saying to students at university and people I meet, everybody is a salesperson in some way, shape or form. You don’t just suddenly become a salesman at nine o’clock in the morning and switch off at five thirty.
“If you want to take someone out to the cinema, you must sell it to them. If you want to take your wife on holiday to one place and she wants to go to another, you must sell it to her. If you go to a job interview, you must sell yourself. So, you are constantly, whether you recognise it or not, selling yourself.
“What I’ve managed to do is to build a career – with moderate success in that career – based on my ability to sell. And you know what? It’s worked for me.”
What is your favourite memory from your racing days?
“I’ve got so many, but I’ve managed to think of two – one from my last ever race. It coincided with the last ever race at the famous Kyalami Grand Prix circuit, in its original state where it was recognised as one of the fastest circuits in the world. I put a big sponsorship deal together and I raced in a car that had a Formula One engine – I’d never seen anything like it before.
“It was the fastest thing I’d ever been in. And I was sitting on the track with Grand Prix drivers, and they were overtaking me 90% of the time, but I didn’t give a damn. I had got there through sponsorship, and I loved the racing. It was extraordinarily, fast and exciting. And that is one memory I will never forget.
“The second memory came straight after that when I decided that I’d reached the limit of my ability, I couldn’t go on. I wasn’t good enough to go to Formula One, but not as a driver. I decided that I would teach motor racing, so I set up the very first motor racing school at the Grand Prix Circuit in South Africa, with my wife.”
This exclusive interview with Brian Sims was conducted by Megan Lupton.