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  1. Wealth
July 13, 2009

What a Good Sport

By Spear's

With his City Championships, Simon Jacot de Boinod turned corporate networking into fun and games. Now Spear’s finds him shifting the goalposts with a new club

With his City Championships, Simon Jacot de Boinod turned corporate networking into fun and games. Now Spear’s finds him shifting the goalposts with a new club 

S ports serve society by providing vivid examples of excellence. A fact. He who practises less sport is — assuming he is otherwise equal to another man — a lesser individual for it, if only because he lacks that competitive element that makes each one of us a little more hungry, switched on, alert and driven. And, for that matter, well-rounded and healthy.

It’s a wonder this wasn’t picked up on sooner. Or perhaps it was but it wasn’t executed well enough. The right — and lasting — vehicle came along ten years ago, when Simon Jacot de Boinod, an impossibly well-connected marketing consultant to prestige luxury brands and financial-services providers, set up City Championships for London’s financial community to compete in sport. Ski competitions came first, followed by polo, golf, sailing and shooting competitions.

Each event — similar to an exclusive meet or an insiders’ club in session — gathered high-powered City folk and decision makers to mingle, talk business and thrash one another in a given discipline on friendly terms. This was clever, given the need for healthy competition in an otherwise cut-throat business environment.

But genius, too, as Jacot de Boinod’s events allow the aforementioned executives to bring their key clients along for proper corporate entertainment without suffering the clumsiness that comes with outsourcing its organisation: the extras who don’t quite know what they’re doing, the less than warm welcome, the superfluous headsets, the loathsome clipboards and name checks on entry, the hangers-on and the party crashers, and the time wasting. Because the guests in question don’t have time to waste.

Jacot de Boinod’s success with City Championships is commendable: 60 people took part in his maiden ski championship, the number of entrants soaring to 240 the following year. Some 270 golfers regularly showed up at CC-appointed greens, no fewer than six banks took part in his latest polo championship, and the likes of Accenture, Cheviot Asset Management, Merrill Lynch, Christie’s and Rolls-Royce all trust in Jacot de Boinod enough to back his every event.

While Jacot de Boinod, a tall, urbane and charming man, will put it down to ‘the word getting around’, his success ought to be firmly attributed to his innate ability to deliver a light touch and yet exceed expectation, to know when and how to introduce person X to person Y, and to manage the whims, wishes and demands of a very discerning peer group. He quite simply gets it right, and gives it — the spirit of the party — an informal if perfected feel.

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J acot de Boinod came upon the idea for CC after witnessing two businessmen race against each other on treadmills in a City gym, and he took his time getting things right before launching the programme in its entirety. City Ski ran first as template in order to gauge and garner enthusiasm both from the financial community to compete against each other and from luxury brands to sponsor the event, before City Shooting, City Polo, City Golf and City Sailing launched four years later.

‘I did it all in one year to cover the bases in those particular key sports, all of which were particularly attractive to people in the City,’ he explains, adding that building a calendar encouraged involvement from clients and sponsors throughout the year.

Filippo Guerrini-Maraldi, divisional director of RK Harrison Fine Art Division, has participated in the City Ski Championships for ten consecutive years, representing the City’s insurance sector, Lloyd’s of London. ‘Simon’s events are second to none,’ says Guerrini-Maraldi, whose three teams of four racers per team have barely changed since their first competition, an indication that ‘the punters rather enjoy this event’.

He credits Jacot de Boinod for getting the same celebrities (including former Olympic downhill gold medallist Tommy Moe, British former downhillers Konrad Bartelski and Graham Bell, Bell’s Ski Sunday colleague Matt Chilton, former F1 world champion Damon Hill and former world champion hurdler Colin Jackson) coming back each year. ‘Surely these guys have better things to do than parade around with a bunch of City slickers,’ notes Guerrini-Maraldi.

‘Yet they come back. Simon is a master in how to put on a corporate event. His ability is to focus on a cocktail of essential ingredients consisting of competition, entertainment and several measures of excitement. An abundance of amusement with the objective of maintaining clients’ interest at an affordable price is truly an art.’

The global economic downturn, however, has dealt a blow to corporate entertainment budgets across the City and means those firms that once spent lavishly — or even moderately — can either no longer do so or, in many cases, cannot be seen to do so. ‘The dynamic has changed this year,’ says Jacot de Boinod. ‘I built City Polo into my biggest and most profitable event, with 400 guests attending last year, but that simply isn’t something I can do this year.’ Instead, and precisely because there is still an imperative for key CEOs and principals to network and entertain top clients, Jacot de Boinod is relaunching the brand — which now goes by his name — with a more acute mandate: privacy and discretion come first.

C ue a calendar of more exclusive and bespoke events, such as backgammon tournaments, wine tastings and round-table lunch debates, together with the sporting events on which he made his name (see box). Guests for the events will be drawn from his club ‘SJdB’, a membership scheme he is launching in September at a car rally starting at the home of the late Sir Paul Getty, proceeding via Silverstone and ending with a party at Stapleford Park. ‘I am formalising my network with a club structure,’ says Jacot de Boinod. Unsurprisingly he isn’t having any trouble finding takers for that either.

His network is an eclectic mix, which partly explains the informal element of Jacot de Boinod’s events, as well as the business opportunities that he focuses on delivering. In among senior financiers, family office and luxury brand principals, you will find the likes of Damon Hill, Hugh Grant, Marcus Brigstocke and Piers Morgan all enjoying the competition.

A taster event for this year’s calendar was held at Partridge Fine Art gallery on New Bond Street in April (see page 20 for our Shot Before Dawn coverage), with 150-plus guests toasting the future success of more Simon-stamped events ahead, or as one person present at the party put it, ‘parties that you want to be invited to and that clients will expect to be invited to’.

As well as his membership calendar, Jacot de Boinod is commissioned to do bespoke work for clients such as Harrods Aviation, Girard-Perregaux and Jet Republic, all of whom approached him with a view to accessing that gold-mine of a guest list of his, and who most likely wanted a stake in the kudos that comes with having him run an event on their behalf.

‘My mission is to offer my members the chance to network throughout the year, indulge their passions, and have a lot of fun,’ says Jacot de Boinod. We say: one man displaying sportsmanship is better than a hundred teaching it.

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