They'll be managing 17 people, day and night, for nearly a year and looking after almost GBP2 million of business. It's a tall order for the skippers hoping to do the BT Global Challenge. We find out how they're chosen

With less than one year to go until the start of the BT Global Challenge round the world race, 19 potential skippers have been vying for 12 places in a week-long coaching and assessment course in Hampshire. A programme designed by Sir Chay Blyth’s Challenge Business and management training company MaST International is designed to find skippers with the best ‘people skills’.

The Challenge race is about the toughest imaginable sailing conditions, and it requires exceptional racing and seamanship skills. But the toughest part, they are being taught, is dealing with what goes on inside people’s heads. Each of the skippers selected will have a crew of 17 ambitious, differently motivated individuals, yet they will be the only professional on board. It’s a tall order. As Humphrey Walters, CEO of MaST points out: “You simply wouldn’t run a team of that size in business.”

Their job will be to try to satisfy all their ‘customers’, demands that are sometimes going to conflict. The crew themselves will each be paying over GBP25,000 to take part in the race. Add that to the money paid by sponsors and the cost of their boat itself – GBP800,000 – and they’ll have nearly GBP2 million of business relationships to care for.

The 19 men and women being selected are from Britain, Canada and Australia and are all in their twenties and thirties. They are from a range of backgrounds. One hopeful is Manley Hopkinson (37), a marine surveyor who trained in the Royal Navy and has been an inspector in the Hong Kong police. He says the most daunting prospect is the scale of the job: “I know I am going to have to pull out all the stops in my character,” he says. “The management aspect is the most interesting. You’ve got a disparate bunch of people that you have to meld into a team and maintain as a team.”

Will Oxley (34) is one of two Australian candidates. A marine biologist monitoring the Great Barrier Reef, he manages scientists who go to sea. He, too, has no doubt the skills needed to be the best in the next race. “You need stamina,” he comments. “The skipper has to be smarter, fitter and faster than the rest of the crew, but you need to win their respect. The question is whether you can get the best out of your crew.”

To help them manage and inspire their crew, the potential skippers are being trained in coaching, delegating, assessing personality types and team behaviour, resolving conflicts and in motivating people.

The 12 skippers who will sail in the race, plus two reserves, will be chosen in the next few weeks and announced in November. The fleet of new Rob Humphreys designed steel 72-footers they will race is to be launched in the spring. It is then up to each skipper what race training he or she does before the start of the race in September 2000.