Pictured above: National rowing coach Roger Barrow, RMB CEO James Formby and Team Powerhouse Trust chairman Paolo Cavalieri

In some relationships the emotional fit is immediate and intense. Each partner knows, right there and right then, that this is a natural partnership.

Others evolve more organically – a definite spark, some generous enablement from the universe and the active involvement of a few mutual friends. A few social engagements ensue, followed by the realisation that you actually have a lot in common. And then comes the big announcement of a long-term commitment.

The partnership between Rand Merchant Bank and rowing’s Team Powerhouse Trust falls into the latter category – and CN&CO was there to help!

Rowing’s National Squad in their RMB-branded shirts with their new kit hanging up in the background

RMB has announced a three-year sponsorship of rowing, becoming the named sponsor of the RMB National Squad. The sponsorship comes after a two-year association between the bank and the sport.

“CN&CO has close relationships with both RMB and Team Powerhouse Trust,” says CN&CO’s Carel Nolte.“We’re delighted that these two focused and dedicated organisations have come together in the interests of promoting and developing South African rowing to boost our presence on the international stage.

“Our association with rowing goes back more than 15 years, to our days at Hollard and Etana, and we have kept the relationship alive through storytelling, sponsorship assistance, social media campaigns and relationship building – among (many) other things.”

The RMB sponsorship, which was formally announced on 24 August 2017, comprises a significant cash amount which is administered by Team Powerhouse Trust. The trust works with Rowing South Africa (RowSA) for further development and inclusivity of rowing and to enable our athletes to compete and prepare internationally for Tokyo 2020 and beyond. With recent medal wins in Lithuania by RMB National Squad members Megan Hancock and Thabelo Masutha, both the diversity and medal potential of the squad was confirmed.

In addition to the cash injection, RMB is working with various rowing schools to support grassroots initiatives. As part of the sponsorship, RMB also becomes the named sponsor of four regattas across the country.

RMB and Team Powerhouse Trust connected for the first time at a CN&CO ConFab in late 2015. At the time RMB was doing some internal ‘myth-busting’ – a process to delve deep into its corporate psyche to establish what really sets it apart in the market. It was around this time, and as part of this process, that RMB CEO James Formby introduced the analogy “focus on the boat”, which is a call to concentrate on the things you can control in order to navigate through any challenging macro or micro environment.

The RMB team receives a special gift from RowSA and Team Powerhouse Trust

Formby himself was a rower at university and so he has an understanding of what makes rowing unique as a sport.

“You need the right combination of people in the boat, with everyone performing at their peak,” he says. “Each person has a specific role to play in helping the boat to reach maximum velocity. Split-second timing, mental fitness and a strong sense of unity are the key ingredients for a successful rowing squad.

“In addition, you need to be able to read the race. Conditions are constantly changing. You have to be able to read the environment and make changes in the boat to ensure you stay on course.

“This analogy resonates with me when thinking about what sets RMB apart. And so our association with rowing was a natural fit from the start, and well worth pursuing.

“We did a brand exercise and discovered that our purpose, values and strategy have a lot in common with those of rowing. For both brands, the higher purpose is to win for those whose trust we hold. For us this means our clients and other stakeholders; for rowing it’s about bringing back the gold for South Africa.”

The partnership

Keen to take the relationship forward, RMB produced a series of TV ads using rowing as an analogy for investment banking – and, more broadly, for business and life in general.

The ads introduced the payoff line: “Thinking. Pulling. Together. That’s how winning works.” The line soon became an internal catch-phrase and a popular hashtag on social media – both for RMB and for rowing teams across South Africa. RMB incorporated the rowing sentiment into all of its marketing material, even substituting the key in its iconic logo with an SA flag-branded oar in a number of creative executions. These commercials scooped an orchid from Brendan Seery in his Orchid and Onions column in the Saturday Star. The accolade was based on the ads’ authenticity as a cultural tribute to RMB’s three founders, who each made a cameo appearance.

“This is one of the things that gets us excited about partnering with RMB,” says Team Powerhouse Trust chairman Paolo Cavalieri. “They have bought into rowing 100% at all levels, with complete passion. This is the level of commitment that we expect – and get! – from our rowers, coaches, medics, administrators and support staff.

“We run an ultra-lean operation, with no frills and no egos. We realise we’re punching above our weight in many instances, but we have the ingredients, the determination and the singularity of purpose to keep going and focus on the boat.

“These are the qualities that win medals, and these are the qualities that we see in RMB.”

Rowing’s ability to deliver high levels of performance off very low levels of investment is endorsed by national coach Roger Barrow’s triumphant award as Wold Rowing Coach of the Year 2017.

“Through our sponsorship we are looking to help set up the RMB National Squad for success in Tokyo and beyond,” concludes Formby.

Paolo Cavalieri speech at RMB rowing partnership announcement August 2017.docx (dragged)