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Risk and Reward

The View

In 1851, a company was founded. Their destiny would be to become the largest provider of telegrams in the world, allowing people the opportunity to communicate globally.

Despite the invention of the telephone in the late 1800s, the telegram business continued to grow. By 1929, the company, named Western Union, was sending out more than 200 million annually. Optimism was high.

As long distance telephone prices began to come down, Western Union's core function started to take a hit. Technology would take one shot after another at the telegram business. In 2006, the company sent its final telegram.

But the story of Western Union is not one of its demise. Today, 167 years after its founding, Western Union has 550,000 locations in 200 countries and territories around the world. The business generates $5.4 billion in annual revenues, and the cumulative shares of the company are worth approximately $9 billion.

From day one to today, Western Union has been motivated by the same objectives - to connect people and businesses. Today, the preferred methods are money transfers, digital, mobile and retail channels.

Like Western Union, the sport of harness racing was strong in the 1800s. But unlike the telegram company that adapted and reinvented itself, our sport does not look all that different than it did in the 1800s. How has the sport reinvented itself and changed dramatically over the years? How have we remained relevant today, like we were then?

I was struck by the core behaviours of Western Union, as they're stated on the company's website. While they may not be unique to that particular company, I found that every one of them applies to our sport.

Yet, when reading them, I kept asking myself, how many of these do we practice in a meaningful way?

So I chose 10, and I ask you the question - how many of these does our sport, and its leaders, do well?

1. Anticipates customer needs and strives to meet them.

2. Delivers products and services based on a deep understanding of our customers.

3. Knows our business, what is going on in the world and how it affects our customers.

4. Finds ways to make it work rather than reasons why it won't.

5. Overcomes barriers and bureaucracy to create solutions that work.

6. Proposes new opportunities and innovative ideas.

7. Takes calculated risks and learns from the experience.

8. Challenges the status quo and continuously improves the way we do business.

9. Uses knowledge of the competition and market trends to innovate.

10. Takes personal accountability for making things better.

While I'm not sure how high your number is, I'll suspect that it's not high enough.

If horse racing is to be a shining example of progress, despite market challenges, we'd better start getting serious about it now.

Darryl Kaplan
[email protected]


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