“What can we learn from Wilhelm Tell’s sons?”

by Didier Marlier on Sunday January 30th, 2011

I was born a Belgian (with a Colombian grandmother which explains my hot temper I guess) and became Swiss at the age of 30 (I lived here since I was 2). My heart is “green & yellow” (from my wife’s Brazilian origin). So please do not take the following text as a nationalist outcry. Switzerland has a lot to be proud and ashamed of, starting by having elected as its biggest party for years, a nationalist and xenophobic,  flirting with extreme-right one.

But I also have a lot of sympathy for Switzerland’s heroes, starting with the mythical Wilhelm Tell[1]. Reliable or partially embellished, his story seems to have paved the way for Switzerland’s heroes of today: In a true Campbell’s Universal Myth fashion, Wilhelm Tell’s legend shows a man, moved by a Deep Intent of respect, equality and independence. His determination is tested by life: After succeeding in Bailiff Gessler’s cruel test (shooting an arrow through an apple placed on his son’s head), Tell is been arrested. He will eventually escape but had to show the strength of his character. Tell was known for his humility and determination…

At the age of 36, Didier Cuche won last week, for the fourth time in his life, the mythical downhill ski race of the Hahnenkamm in Kitzbühel/Austria (see the clip) and yesterday’s competition at the foot of the Mont Blanc in Chamonix. Like for many sports, 36 is a very unusual age for a top athlete and downhill race is from far the most demanding of alpine skiing’s specialties.

Just like Tell, Cuche has a profound and simple Passion: Skiing… He went through ups and down (wounded and given for lost for the sport by doctors), he has been mocked by many for hanging on despite of his aging, huge body (sometimes resembling the one of Brazilian football star Ronaldo). At the beginning of this race (where everything is played in tenths of seconds), his ski pool gets stuck at the moment of the start, seconds later, he almost misses a curve, getting very close from the safety net and wasting a precious time… Despite of all this, his determination and courage helps him win the mythical race with panache. Didier Cuche is now on the circuit of professional ski racing as a simple and humble man, moved by a profound determination…

Those who were getting tired of Roger Federer’s domination on tennis buried him too quickly when young phenomenon Rafael Nadal emerged. Federer had to roll-up his sleeves and that did not suffice. He ate his humble pie, loosing several finals to the younger rival who ended up being the new No1. Federer never lost his gentleman’s attitude, never criticized nor showed bitterness towards the younger master. Very much the opposite, he worked harder, kept on loosing and only became No1 again when Nadal was off due to a long injury. But Federer always made it clear that tennis was his Passion and he would continue to play as a professional as long as he would enjoy the game. His comment when loosing in semi-finals this week was: “You shouldn’t look back and lament the past. I will learn from my mistake and look ahead to the next challenge”. This attitude of humility and determination gave us amazing images like the one here below.

I find the story of such “heroes” resonating with the key message of Jim Collins “Good to Great” book: humility and fierce resolve. I am now thinking to many of you, who went through a terrible financial crisis which you had not caused. In several cases it caught you and your organizations at a critical take-off moment. With fierce resolve you took the hit, you brought the sails down, you sadly went back to value capture/cost cutting mode… But you hanged in there. With humility, those who excelled amongst you, stayed close to their people, kept spirits and engagement high… May a victory in your industry’s Hahnenkamm soon be your reward!

Another great week in Paris ahead! Have a good week all! Hope you enjoyed those two clips for a change…


[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wilhelm_Tell

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One Response to ““What can we learn from Wilhelm Tell’s sons?””

  1. Hi Didier,

    Thanks for this post :-). I am a BIG fan of Federer and his incredible and never diminishing hunger for success :-). But also as a person, very humble, wise and I am sure a great father now he has twins. I always watch his games and he truly displays a great passion for tennis, more than I see at any of the other players.

    It is the same with Kim Clijsters from Belgium, who especially during her comeback now displays an eagerness and maturity I did not see with her before.

    This is truly inspiring and these people are a great example how to live our every day lives with passion and hunger only for the best.

    Have a good week!



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