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Gerry Ryan’s GreenEDGE: innovation built on traditional values wins

June 6, 2012

Gerry Ryan and Neil Stephens (Sports Director) at 2012 Amgen Tour of California stage 8

Australian entrepreneur and cycling patron Gerry Ryan makes things happen. That comes as no surprise after learning he grew up as one of nine children and worked as a kid, selling newspapers. Usually a kid works because he wants things his family can’t afford. He quickly learns the way to get something is to go out and make it happen himself.

That assessment of Ryan’s childhood – based on research and guesswork, suggests a couple of things. First off, after working in manufacturing for a couple of years, Ryan probably thought he could build something better if he did it himself, so he started his own company in a shed. Now over thirty years later he’s the wealthy owner of the recreational vehicle company he nurtured and grew, Jayco.

Secondly, wealth hasn’t erased Ryan’s understanding of the sacrifices a person makes when he works hard, especially for something with long odds that he believes in regardless, and where success requires risks and patience. And that’s why he understands sports, in particular professional cycling.

French connection

According to a Sunday Mail story on Adelaidenow.com, in 2010 Gerry Ryan attended the Tour de France and watched team cars roll by on the Champs-Élysées with French, English, American, Italian, and other countries represented. Australia was missing. He wondered how to fix that. So he called Shayne Bannan, Cycling Australia’s director. He asked Bannan what kind of budget would place an Aussie car in the Tour de France caravan.

Bannan and Ryan worked together through 2011 to make Australia’s first WorldTour team, at first called simply GreenEDGE prior to the appearance of the first naming rights sponsor Orica, a reality.

When Ryan posed that question to Bannan in 2010 he was already familiar with the costs of bike racing, but he hadn’t supported a WorldTour team before. Ryan has backed cycling, among other sports, for twenty years through Jayco. According to the company’s website, in 1992 Jayco formed the first Australian professional cycling team; the Jayco Cycling team evolved into the current Jayco VIS team. Cadel Evans, Simon Gerrans, and Baden Cooke have all had ties with Jayco VIS. Jayco continues to sponsor numerous Australian races including the Tour Down Under and the Jayco Herald Sun Tour.

Shared values

Cycling naturally shares many of the values behind Jayco’s business. Family, for example. Camper vans bring families together – for better or worse – as they log miles on the open road. Similarly, amateur bike racers and young pros drive miles to races and many sleep in their cars or camp on overnights. That’s what they can afford and they count on family and friends for support and to cheer them on.

Dave Peters from Ballarat & Peter Hayes from Bendigo followed the entire 2012 Amgen Tour of California and became fixtures at the Orica-GreenEDGE bus.

Then there’s freedom. People steer camper vans to new places, coming and going as they like. Kids grab bikes to play but also to get away; with two-wheeled self-sufficiency kids can explore beyond their neighborhoods.

Many recreational vehicle owners meet up at destinations and spend time together. Cyclists share in community too. They wave to each other on the road. They’ll stop to see if someone with a flat needs a tube and gladly give one away. They welcome cyclists they have never met into their cars to ward off hypothermia after a long, cold descent.

It’s smart to lead an organization using values; people are willing to change for and follow values. That’s a good thing in professional cycling where making money is the exception rather than the rule. In September, 2011 Ryan told Cyclingnews, “Put it this way. We’re not out to try and make money. We’re out to be a sustainable financial model.”

Ryan is a businessman. For him Orica-GreenEDGE is a business project. But listening to him talk about the team, it’s clear it’s a project he’s sunk his heart into. Ryan shared some thoughts about the team’s first year to date with ProVéloPassion on the final day of the 2012 Tour of California.

Early success

Ryan said he had regarded the team’s first year as a set-up period: he hoped to win a couple of stages at major races while building a brand and attracting sponsorship. At the time of this article, GreenEDGE has fourteen wins, a naming rights sponsor in Orica who arrived ahead of schedule budget-wise, and a new name, Orica-GreenEDGE. “It’s certainly above our expectations,” Ryan said. “What we wanted to do is one, get the organization up and running, and develop a culture…if we finish the season now we’ve been very successful.”

The culture Ryan aims to create among riders and staff is about more than winning on the bike. “It’s being able to knit together, teamwork, developing spirit, a family spirit as I do in all my organizations I’m involved in,” Ryan said, “because you’re a family on the road. You’ve got to live together. It’s a big journey from the time they get up till the time they go to bed…it’s important during that time that everyone works close together to make sure they can prepare for the next day.”

Ryan beams when he talks about observing races where riders, management, and support staff worked together. He’s proud of the joint efforts of male and female athletes and staff from thirteen different nations.

Orica-Greenedge men before stage 8 Tour of California

A state of green

When prompted regarding the team’s stance on innovation, Ryan said, “Green and gold – [that’s] Australian, but we are a global team. Green is for sustainability and environment. EDGE is for edge in sports science, edge in equipment, edge in systems. So we’re trying to be different.”

As the team brings up young talent, it ushers senior riders like Robbie McEwen into retirement from racing. As the older siblings leave the nest, focus intensifies on the youngsters like Luke Durbridge, the Australian national time trial champion. At age 21 Durbridge just upped the team’s win count to fourteen with his prologue victory at the Criterium du Dauphine which is currently in progress, a state Ryan understands well.

“I’ve got a philosophy,” Ryan said, as he applied sunscreen and offered it to the team staff, “change or become a victim of change.” It’s pretty clear he’s in the first camp.

Peter Hayes lives in Gerry Ryan’s hometown of Bendigo and followed the entire 2012 Amgen Tour of California with his mate, Dave Peters from Ballarat

Orica-GreenEDGE 2012 victories

Australia Road Race Championships, Simon Gerrans

Australia Time Trial Championships, Luke Durbridge

Overall Tour Down Under, Simon Gerrans

Stage 1 Tirreno–Adriatico, Team Time Trial

Milan – San Remo, Simon Gerrans

Overall Volta a Catalunya, Michael Albasini

Stages 1 & 2, Michael Albasini

Stage 2 Tour of the Basque Country, Daryl Impey

Overall Circuit de la Sarthe, Luke Durbridge

Stage 3 (ITT), Luke Durbridge

Stage 3 Giro d’Italia, Matthew Goss

Stage 3 Tour of Norway, Aidis Kruopis

Prologue, Criterium du Dauphine, Luke Durbridge

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