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Brian France demonstrates leadership at Wharton

June 18, 2014, Staff report,

NASCAR Chairman and CEO provides examples of innovation, validation in the sport

RELATED: France champions social media | France puts fans first at industry summit

NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France spoke Wednesday in Philadelphia on leading a sports and entertainment industry during the 18th annual Wharton Leadership Conference.

In front of an audience of 300 established and emerging leaders in a variety of disciplines and industries from private, public and non-for-profit organizations, France addressed the conference's underlying topic: Preparing for a Complex and Uncertain World.

Sponsoring partner, Accenture, noted in an @AccentureStrat tweet that NASCAR is a family-run business, and France spoke about the challenge of balancing interests to ensure the best product with Peter Cappelli, Director of Center for Human Resources, Wharton and George W. Taylor Professor of Management.

"Healthy self-criticism is vital for keeping leadership accountability in check," France said, noting that all successful family-owned businesses strike the right balance between interdependence, collaboration and constructive conflict.

"What I look for in leaders is high energy, a fit within our culture, and a willingness to take calculated risks," France said. "Good leaders can't survive if they don't innovate."


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France gave a concrete example of innovative leadership when he discussed the Daytona Rising initiative, the $400 million reimagining of an American icon, the Daytona International Speedway. To appeal to millennial fans, the World Center of Racing will include 11 football-field-size areas for social media engagement.

The NASCAR Air Titan was highlighted by France as another example of innovation. The cutting-edge technology behind the new NASCAR Air Titan 2.0 can dry a football field in 20.5 seconds, reducing track-drying time by up to 80 percent and elevating a fan's race-viewing experience to an even greater level.

"Innovation is another term for risk taking, and is one that used to be reserved for Silicon Valley and technology entities," France said of NASCAR Air Titan. "We had a big issue… and we tackled it with innovative thinking. The result has been a dramatic reduction in track drying time. So much so, that other sports and industries are coming to us to inquire about our technology."

In his 11th year as chairman and CEO, France spoke of collaboration other sports as opportunities to grow NASCAR.

"We encourage it," France said. "I'm the biggest sports fan in our company. I go to other sports events when I'm in another market. We're big into that. Our L.A. office does a great job promoting sports and entertainment crossover marketing integrations. That can only help us."

"When you go around the world, there are really only one or two major sports in every country," France said. "More often than not: soccer and auto racing, with a few exceptions like cricket in India.

"Here in the U.S., there are a few predominant sports like ours, plus big events like the Kentucky Derby and Masters. All the leagues are all so well managed now. Years ago, we were primarily were rights sellers; but over the last 20 years, the leagues have become great marketers. We've hired classically trained marketers, digital leaders, and we're reaching out to fans -- existing and new -- in entirely different ways."

When asked whether or not electric cars would be run in any NASCAR series in the future, France identified the importance of working with original equipment manufacturers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, NASCAR Nationwide Series, NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and the IMSA-sanctioned TUDOR United SportsCar Championship. He also noted opportunities in regional touring series in the U.S. and international series, including the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series, NASCAR Mexico Toyota Series and the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series.

"NASCAR's national series run a bio fuel today," France said of Sunoco Green E15, a biofuel blended with 15 percent American Ethanol made from American-grown corn, which surpassed five million miles of competition last November. "We are -- and will continue to be -- a great validator of green technologies. There is a huge commercial opportunity with our national, regional and international series as well as with our IMSA series when it comes to sustainability. All of the auto manufacturers have these technologies, so we must be in step with them."

The conference at the Wharton School of Business on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania was named one of the top 10 "Executive Conferences CEOs Love Best" by Weber Shandwick, and Burson-Marsteller rated the event one of the "Most Valued Podiums" for CEOs and senior executives.'s Matthew Kirdahy reported that the Wharton Leadership Conference was second only to the Fortune Innovation/iMeme conference in the number of high-level speaker participants.

This year's speaker faculty included Ajay Banga, president and CEO of MasterCard; Gen. Mark Welsh III, chief of staff, U.S. Air Force and Sandy Ogg, operating partner, Blackstone.


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