Sir Jackie still closing deals in an irrelevant world

Sir Jackie Stewart (JYS) has been called many things. From world champion in Formula 1 to a champion in Skeet shooting to a certifiable halfwit—thank you Max Mosley. The fact is, JYS has made a career for himself and he hasn’t done it by being mediocre but by winning whatever competition he’s been in whether that be racing cars or shooting skeet. He’s also taken advantage of the position his winning has given him by maximizing a third career as an endorser of fine brands.

If you haven’t read Jackie’s biography, it’s a very good read and I recommend it. It’s called “Winning is not enough” and that’s true on many levels, including his career. He’s won a lot but he’s also swam in rich pools of corporate wealth and perhaps no other endorsement and brand has been more germane to his revenue and lifestyle than that of Rolex. After 38 years, he’s still wearing their watch and signing their praises.

“I have got a contract with UBS as well as the Rolex contract which I’ve had for 38 years,” says Stewart.

“I signed in 1968 with [golf champion] Arnold Palmer and [World Cup alpine ski racer] Jean-Claude Killy. Arnold was already well established. By ‘68 he was still king and very much king. It was April when we signed and Jean-Claude had just come out of winning three gold medals at the Olympics for skiing. He won the slalom, the giant slalom and the downhill. Nobody had ever done that in history. We were the three to be taken on.”

JYS has been seen at just about every race walking the pits, gripping and grinning as it were and I’ve met him twice and only exchanged a few pleasantries in the process but he was cordial and polite. Some still toil at running F1 and I think JYS has created a retirement career that keeps him in the limelight and a central part of the circus even though he has no direct ownership of the series. He’s made a career of being attached at the sponsor level and orbiting the series.

JYS also says he was instrumental in bringing Unilever to the Lotus F1 team by doing what he does best:

“I guarantee you I sold Unilever into Formula One because of Monza. Before we got to Monza I took the CEO and his wife to the Lotus factory. High technology, beautiful machines, immaculate facilities. Then you stay at the Four Seasons in Milan then you fly them by helicopter to the track and then they see all the fans in my case asking for autographs. You don’t get that at the football field, you’re not faced with the crowd.

“Then you take them up to Bernie’s production unit – there’s nothing like it in the world. Nothing like it at all. ABC television for the Olympics never had it that good. Then just before the end of the race you take them to see the podium. They see the end of the race and the teams getting excited by the success and suddenly there’s an avalanche. They are all screaming their heads off. Then the guys leave the podium and all of sudden someone sees me and the whole crowd starts chanting ‘Jackie, Jackie Jackie’. The frenzy of it, the animal instincts of it all. The man from Unilever was taken aback.”

That’s how Jackie wines and dines the corporate executives to get them invested and he continues to this day. He’s ever the brand spokesperson and let’s face it, the Ford Tempo was never a great car but listening to Jackie, you’d think it was F1-inspired genius. Some may say he’s being a shill but he’s paid to find the positives in a brand and accentuate the product.

There are times when sponsor issues don’t work out but Sir Jackie’s had very few of those. As Christian points out in his article at Forbes, Genii Capital and Lotus F1 were one such deal:

“I’m not with Genii any more. They are very big on property and I think they have considerable wealth in property which is probably not liquidity. It gives them a cashflow on all their rentals but I don’t think it gives them large sums of money that they could keep a Formula One team going with. Keeping up with it monthly frankly. So I didn’t see it coming but I saw it when it developed to that level and I just didn’t think they could afford me and that’s the reason. Nice guys and wonderful facilities though.”

The perception of JYS in the UK may be slightly different than it is in the US but to be perfectly honest, I see little difference in what JYS is doing versus what Mario Andretti is doing with all the brands he’s paid to promote and even coming on board to promote the USGP in Austin and lending his name to many events and products. Both have owned teams and both are making the most of their own brand by attaching it to other brands—for a fee of course.

One question I might have in this day of teeth-gnashing over the age of F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone and his inability to be relevant in this new youth culture, the bemoaning of a lack of social media presence and free content via YouTube and mobile devices, free F1 content for the “sharing community” for the mobocracy—are JYS and Mario still relevant to the younger demographic? The youth who feel that they may be the first to witness a F1 champ in Hamilton or Vettel. The first to discover just about everything a hastily assembled Google search informs them? How much longer will Rolex and Firestone pay for a brand sponsor in their 70’s or 80’s and who last won a championship decades ago?

It may not be too long judging by some attitudes I’ve encountered. Speaking to a group of late-20, early 30-somethings, I was interested in their fierce debate over Baby Boomers (their parents’ generation) and how they need to just retire so they can make room for them to get the top jobs. I reminded them that there is a generation in between them in which they responded…nobody cares about Gen X. Apparently that’s what a Google search revealed.

I for one will always have time for JYS, Mario, Mika, Alesi, Berger, Webber, Herbert, Redman, Moss, Rosberg, Gurney, Brundle, Fisichella, Wurz, Christensen, McNish, and many, many others. They are great voices of motorsport and perhaps my Gen X thing is showing here but I was young once and youth isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, trust me. Now get the hell off my lawn!

Hat Tip: Forbes