A Happier, Smilier SAS


I am truly humbled to stand before you today. You have always been, and remain, the very elite of New Zealand’s armed forces. It is a privilege as Defence Minister to be in your presence.

The New Zealand SAS has a long and distinguished history, and SAS men have performed exceptionally in every field of combat they have been posted to.

Nevertheless, no organisation can rest on its reputation and past achievements alone. The world is a changing place, and institutions must adapt to those changes or risk becoming obsolete. In that respect the New Zealand SAS has always led from the front in its training and tactics.

But in 2008 the world changed in another way. It will not have escaped your attention that we live in difficult economic times. The government is being forced to run large deficits, and we will soon be forced to make some tough decisions if we are to protect the economic viability of this nation. We need to find new sources of revenue if we are to continue funding our defence forces at current levels.

The Defence White Paper has identified that our military needs to be able to adapt to changing strategic environments. Flexibility and adaptability will be critical to our defence forces in the future. Gentlemen, I am giving you the opportunity to lead from the front, as you always have, and to embrace change eagerly. You have always been role models and an inspiration to our younger men, so I ask you to take this opportunity to enhance your standing and prestige within a new group: middle-aged corporate executives whose best days are behind them.

I want to talk to you today about your next mission. I’ve called it Operation Big Cheque. From next week we will be changing your rotations so that, when you are on-base, you will be working with us on revenue-gathering activities at least 50% of the time.

From recent activities involving large groups of big swinging dick executives, it’s clear that corporates will pay big dollars to get to handle our toys, to shake the hands of real SAS men, and to brag to their colleagues about the SAS training they underwent. It may be tough financially for many businesses, but there’s money to burn in the corporate world for this kind of thing. It’s an opportunity we mustn’t let slip.

I won’t pretend the new emphasis on corporate entertainment will be plain sailing. It will require hard work, training, and, for some, an attitude shift. For example, I’m aware that your force has a reputation of recruiting emotionally hard men who perhaps lack social graces. This will have to change. If we’re going to take cash off CEOs and company directors we have to do it with a smile. For some of you that may mean customer service training. Others many even need counselling or intense psychiatric interventions. What we must always remember is that the customer is always right. Let that be our motto.

Talking of the motto, that’s another thing we need to refresh. “Who Dares Wins” may appeal to the corporates on a certain level, but it won’t really reflect the new 21st Century SAS. That’s why from 1 January next year the new motto will be “He Who Pays Gets To Play”.

We would also be foolish to ignore the power of the SAS brand. That’s why we have been in negotiations with a number of parties for naming rights. I’m pleased to announce that you will soon be known as the Vodafone Special Air Service.

There are some remarkable individuals in this group, none more so than Corporal Willie Apiata. Corporal, let me just say how much I have admired your courage and bravery. You are an asset to this organisation. Like all good business assets you need to be at front of shop, where the public can see you. We’ve hired you a publicist, and Brian Edwards has been engaged to give you media training. Before we unleash you onto the celebrity circuit we’re going to give you a whole new wardrobe and makeover. We want to see you as a regular feature on the pages of the gossip mags and women’s magazines. We’ve also developing a “fly on the wall” reality TV show concept for you to star in. I’m afraid this will mean no more killing, because we think the viewing public won’t be keen on a TV star who spends his days shooting insurgents.

The most important thing is to ensure your corporate guests relax when they’re in your company. You might be a group of highly-strung emotionally damaged ruthless killers, but don’t let them see that side of you. When you are with these people you need to be able to talk in their language.

To help you with this we have compiled a new set of phrases to use. You will be required to memorise these, and to use them when you are with your guests. But I would urge you to make this the new lexicon of the SAS, and to make these words your own. Let’s go through some of the key phrases you will need to learn.

  • The chain of command will now be known as the “responsibility curve”. Officers will be known as “stakeholders”.
  • Taking prisoners will now be known as “taking ownership”.
  • “Horizontal marketing” will be the term you use to describe the inflicting of casualties.
  • Killing large numbers of the enemy will be “disincentivising”.
  • “Leveraging core competencies” will be taking the right people on a critical mission.
  • “Getting all your ducks in a row” will be the technical term you use to describe ambushing an enemy column along a narrow mountain track.
  • A “level playing field” will describe an area of the battlefield with no ground cover.
  • “Moving the goalposts” will describe the situation where an attack goes badly wrong, requiring a sudden change in tactics.
  • An “aggressive marketing strategy” will describe a firefight with the enemy.
  • “Key performance indicators” will be used to describe the numbers of enemy killed.
  • “Change management” will be dealing with a surprise attack.
  • “Exploiting synergies” will be the term used for giving your comrades supporting fire.
  • “Blue sky thinking” will be planning a parachute drop into enemy territory.
  • “Low hanging fruit” will be the name for an enemy force caught on a level playing field.

Like all organisational changes, I expect this one to take time. But change is critical. If we can put on a smile, laugh and be at ease with our guests, they will be more likely to part with their cash.

Finally, let me finish with a song. To me this says everything about the new SAS business model. I want you to take this to heart.

Gray skies are gonna clear up,
Put on a happy face;
rush off the clouds and cheer up,
Put on a happy face.

Take off the gloomy mask of tragedy,
It’s not your style;
You’ll look so good that you’ll be glad
Ya’ decide to smile!