A former coach of Sir Andy Murray and motivational speaker has said sport has not learned enough from business in terms of boosting performance.

Leon Smith, Great Britain's "most successful Davis Cup tennis captain", was speaking at a tennis clinic event in Edinburgh, hosted by senior finance specialist recruitment firm Rutherford Cross and audit, tax and consulting firm RSM UK, involving representatives from some of the most prominent businesses operating in Scotland.

Mr Smith said sport, and particularly tennis, has only recently embraced the growth mindset required to innovate from outside influence, and hailed the example of football club Manchester United in bringing in former British Cycling performance director Sir David Brailsford to help improve its operations.  

(Image: Picture Colin Mearns) Rutherford Cross and RSM corporate tennis event with Leon Smith at the Oriam indoor tennis centre at Heriot-Watt University campus, Edinburgh. Leon Smith pictured with Stuart McCallum, left, partner at RSM and Derek Lauder, director at Ruth

The 48-year-old tennis coach, also Head of Men’s Tennis at the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA), said: "Businesses often look to the sporting world as a way to find fresh perspective and a break from the norm. Sport, and especially tennis, perhaps hasn’t been as quick to embrace the growth mindset required to do that in the other direction.

"In sport, it used to be frowned upon, but it’s changed a lot now. Sir Clive Woodward’s appointment at Southampton FC in 2005 was heavily criticised, but now you see Sir Dave Brailsford at Manchester United and it’s viewed as a masterstroke – attitudes evolve. The fresh perspectives and lessons learned in taking different approaches to tackling new challenges, and the heightened performance and professionalism – such as the marginal gains Brailsford is famed for – are a great example."


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Mr Smith, who was appointed Davis Cup captain in 2010 aged just 34 and having never played tennis at the highest level, also discussed the challenge of entering a high-profile leadership position despite what many perceived at the time to be a lack of experience.

He added: "Success as a new leader takes a person-first mentality, and is all about building trust and respect. That takes time. Having not come from a top 100 background, I had to earn that by explaining my plans in detail, and backing it up with reasoning, and ultimately results. None of that would’ve mattered without the groundwork you do with individuals – spending time with them, getting to know them, and banking a lot of credit to get you to the stage where they come with you.

"You need it because, down the line, other things that come with leadership arrive that you can't shy away from – difficult conversations and decisions. For me that’s which young talent to invest in, or selection for a Davis Cup team. You need to have their respect for them to understand. You see that transfer across to business – whether recruiting, or giving someone a job or a contract. Again it requires fundamental understanding and empathy around people."

Mr Smith led a tennis clinic and Q&A session at the Oriam complex, at Heriot Watt University, Edinburgh with representatives of some of the biggest firms operating in Scotland including Maven Capital, Dexcom, Archangels, N4 Partners, Dobbies, Forth Ports, and Burness Paull.

Derek Lauder, director at Rutherford Cross, said: "Leon is an expert in creating conditions that enable the delivery of elite performance, and his insights provide a highly valuable lesson for decision makers at all levels of business. 

"The event may have been about performance on the court, but we all took lessons away that will help participants make a greater impact off the court too. We’d like to thank Leon massively for his contribution and insights."

Stuart McCallum, a partner at RSM UK and head of food and drink, said: "It’s not every day of the week that you get coaching from someone with the experience of Leon Smith in a world-class indoor tennis facility in Scotland, so this was a unique event for all our guests to enjoy.

"Building relationships is central to us at RSM and this was a great example of that, as well as further developing our links with Rutherford Cross.

"I think it’s fair to say that people learned a lot from Leon, but also expended a great amount of energy which is important to improve our health and fitness levels given the busy working lives that everyone has. We wish Leon and Team GB all the best at the Olympics which will be played at Roland Garros in July."