Mouth for Sale: Andy Papathanassiou, Training Titan

Originally published in Successful Meetings magazine, August 2007

When back surgery laid up Andy Papathanassiou shortly after he graduated from Stanford University, he used that time to reflect on what he wanted to experience in life—personally and professionally. One item on that list was car racing. Never mind the fact that Papathanassiou had never before set foot near a racetrack. Four months later, a NASCAR race came to Sonoma, CA, not far from Papathanassiou, and he jumped at the chance to start checking experiences off of his life list.

"Not being one to sit in the grandstands, I arrived very early on Thursday morning. I happened to be wearing a red windbreaker, so I walked up to a group of guys with red jackets, and when the gates opened I just walked in with them," says Papathanassiou. (At six feet four inches tall and 240 pounds, blending in was no easy feat, but he managed to get onto the track, meet members of the racing teams, and even volunteer on race day.)

That experience, back in 1991, convinced him that racing was in his blood, and Papathanassiou soon moved to Charlotte, NC, a hotbed of racing, where he proceeded to carve a niche by developing unique training methods for pit crews. His career took off, and Papathanassiou now serves as team personnel director with Hendrick Motorsports, executive director of the North Carolina Motorsports Association, and a speaker who stresses motivation and the power of the team dynamic, using unexpected comparisons to the corporate world.

"In racing, we're not guaranteed four quarters or nine innings. You can make a mistake, and if it's a big enough mistake, your day is over," he explains. "You can't get away with a victory on a so-so day because you are competing against everyone in the industry." It is for that reason that Papathanassiou finds racing to be such an appropriate parallel to business; the whole field is fighting to win every day—you don't get to take on competitors one by one.

Don't mistake Papathanassiou for a sports guy who dabbles in speaking, though. He trained with Ty Boyd of the Excellence in Speaking Institute and speaks to groups ranging from legal associations to power companies. "Sometimes people think, 'We're not an automotive or industrial company [so the presentation wouldn't be meaningful for our attendees].' But it works equally well, or even better, with groups unconnected to racing, because motorsports is a multifaceted industry."

Papathanassiou also runs a Pit Crew Experience teambuilding program that simulates the race-day activities of a crew. "It's not exactly the way we do it on race day; we make it safer for them," explains Papathanassiou, who says that the program can be taken virtually anywhere—although locations like Hawaii can make it tricky to track down necessary equipment.

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Missed the last Mouth for Sale? Click here to read about Frank Bucaro, The Ethics Man.

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