Racing to win Featured

8:00pm EDT October 28, 2006
Every executive has his or her own definition of success, but Bobby Rahal says success means accomplishing your goals.

“There are many goals in life that exist together,” he says. “The achievement of your dreams is what success is all about.”

Rahal speaks from experience when talking about achieving his dreams. As the co-owner of Hilliard-based Rahal Letterman Racing, he became the second man to win the Indianapolis 500 as both a driver (1986) and as an owner (2004). He also owns several car dealerships in Pennsylvania.

A proponent of empowerment rather than micromanagement, Rahal’s business philosophy extends far beyond the hood and the bumper.

“I never raced to simply participate; I race to win,” he says. “I don’t work well with people who don’t give 100 percent. If you’re going to do it, do it. Don’t sit there and play at it. Everybody says they want to win, but not many people are really willing to put forth the effort.”


Leading the way
Over the years, Rahal’s accomplishments on and off the track have given him the motivation to pursue new goals, and it’s a feeling that he wants to instill in his employees.

“Inspiration comes from example,” he says. “It comes from being able to communicate, to relate, to create the vision, to espouse the ideals, to verbalize and show what’s possible. You have to be able to verbalize where you’re going as a company and how you want to get there.”

Rahal accomplishes this by surrounding himself with a capable team.

“My greatest success was being able to identify people who feel the same way that I do, who — once entrusted with the responsibility and the accountability — are ready to not just accept it but take advantage of it all,” he says.

The most effective leaders have to communicate their message, create the energy to get the job done and draw employees in to their vision. Rahal says the end result is a work force that shares the executive’s enthusiasm for life and achievement.


Trusting employees and your gut
When Rahal began racing, he led a company of one, so it wasn’t difficult to stay organized. But as his company grew, both in revenue and number of employees, it became clear that he couldn’t do everything himself.

“I believe in giving people the trust and the wherewithal to do the jobs that they’re hired to do,” he says. “It comes perhaps a bit too natural for people like me to want to jump in and be involved, and yet, you also know that you can’t jump in and jump out. If you’re going to be there, you have to be there.”

Rahal says the biggest business lesson he’s learned is to trust his first reaction.

“Generally, what your gut tells you is right,” he says. “Instincts play a very strong role. It’s a global sense that applies to everything, not just in your business but in your life.”


Thinking philanthropically
Philanthropy helps create balance in a busy executive’s life, and Rahal finds time to work with organizations that support children. He serves on the board of Central Ohio Children’s Charities, an organization that raises funds for The Bobby Rahal Foundation to distribute to local charities. His foundation helped fund the bone marrow unit at Columbus Children’s Hospital.

“We always got involved with children’s charities because we thought that it would have the greatest impact on them, their lives and the community,” he says.

Rahal is often invited to serve on boards of directors for local organizations, but he says there’s an implied responsibility in participation that goes along with accepting that position.

“You have to expect to participate and not just be on the letterhead,” he says. “You’re always asked to be on charitable boards, and you want to say, ‘Yes, I’d love to be a part of it,’ but unless you really can participate and contribute, then to me, it’s more of a negative to be there in name only.”

Rahal says you should pick one organization that most excites and interests you and give it as much as you can, rather than spreading yourself thin.

“When people see the charitable activities that you undertake as a leader, as a business person, as a person in the community, then they say, ‘How can I get involved?’” he says. “I don’t know if it’s really my job to dictate to them where they should go or what they should do. Based on what I do, hopefully that gives them an example that they would want to follow.”


HOW TO REACH: Rahal Letterman Racing, (614) 529-7000 or