May 06, 2024

Triple-Crown Leadership: What Founders can Learn from Secretariat

As the dust settles from a thrilling photo finish at the Kentucky Derby this weekend, the echoes of past champions resonate with us, not just in the world of thoroughbred racing but also within the fields of business leadership. Among those echoes, none is more profound than that of Secretariat, whose legendary Triple Crown win in 1973 remains one of the greatest feats in sports history. His unmatched spirit and performance offer timeless lessons for founders and business leaders today.

Vision, Strategic Execution, and Coaching

Secretariat's success was not just a product of raw talent; it was a triumph of careful planning, execution, and coaching. His trainer, Lucien Laurin, meticulously prepared him for each race, adapting strategies to fit the unique challenges of each track. Similarly, successful business leaders must not only set clear, ambitious goals but also meticulously plan their execution, adapting strategies to meet the evolving business landscape and market conditions. Leaders must also remember that having talent on the team is important, but alone it’s not sufficient. The Founder, or in this metaphor, the Trainer, must build a culture that brings the most amount of coachable talent to the surface as possible through a combination of the right people. Secretariat may have been at the center of the ecosystem, but there was a team around him that needed to be coached too, so that all available talent was maximized when the moments mattered most.

Resilience Under Pressure

The Triple Crown tests a racehorse with three races in five weeks, each longer and tougher than the last. Secretariat’s ability to not only compete but excel in these grueling conditions speaks volumes about resilience. In business, resilience is equally critical. Economic downturns, shifting market demands, and internal challenges can strain any organization. The strongest leaders are those who, like Secretariat, can persevere through adversity, often emerging stronger.

Peak Performance When It Counts

Secretariat's record-breaking times at the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and his record 31-length victory in the Belmont Stakes is a prime example of delivering peak performance under pressure. For leaders, the ability to perform when the stakes are highest—whether during a major launch, a critical negotiation, or major time-sensitive repair —can define a career and shape the future of a company.

Embracing Agility

Each race in the Triple Crown presents different challenges, requiring flexibility and adaptability from both the horse and jockey. The business parallel could not be clearer: the ability to adapt, pivot quickly, embrace modern technologies, and innovate solutions is indispensable in today’s fast-paced, ever-changing business environment.

Team Dynamics and Synergistic Leadership

Though Secretariat was the star, his victories were team efforts. His jockey, Ron Turcotte, trainers, and the entire stable staff played integral roles in his success. This reminds us that in business, success is rarely if ever the work of one individual. Effective leaders foster environments where talents are nurtured, and teamwork is prioritized, creating a dynamic culture where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, defining the acronym, TEAM: Together. Each. Achieves. More.

As we reflect on the excitement of the Kentucky Derby, let's carry forward the spirit of excellence and leadership exemplified by Secretariat. His legacy is not confined to the racetrack; it is a beacon for all who strive to lead and inspire in any field or pursuit. Just as Secretariat led the field, so too can we, with vision, resilience, and an unwavering commitment to performance, lead our teams to victory in the competitive race of business.

Chris Valletta


SideKick Operators

I have spent two decades as a founder, entrepreneur, and leader, scaling businesses from startups to national prominence, most recently, MISSION, the leader in Heat Safety Apparel, with a roster of professional athletes and Fortune 500 clients, including UPS.  Any success I have been a part of has been a direct result of the incredible team I’ve had along the way, and our combined skills of leadership, dedication, discipline, and the desire to better our best every day - skills I learned as an Offensive Lineman at Texas A&M and with three teams in the NFL. My athletic background became my personal operating system for navigating my entrepreneurial career and provided me with a solid framework for maximizing success in business. If you are a founder who is ready to scale your operation, but in need of expertise, strategy, and growth capital, our team at SideKick Operators would love to speak with you.  We are a collective of Founders, Operators, and Leaders, with deep roots in the commercial and industrial sectors, who combined our years of on-the-ground experience into a Family Investment Office. United by core values and a shared purpose, our Partner companies have achieved exceptional present-day values, impacting thousands of lives, families, and communities along the way.