In many schools, there’s still a tradition of dividing kids into the smart ones and the sporty ones, with those who excel at athletics expected to do poorly in other areas, if only because they have less time to devote to study. If anyone doubts that sports stars can succeed once their playing careers are over, however, they need only look at some of the athletes who have gone on to make a name for themselves in business. Many of them are right here in Australia.
Although a good education remains valuable, business isn’t just about what you know – it’s about how well you can apply yourself. Coming up through sports provides a lot of very valuable transferable skills. Athletes have to be disciplined and hardworking. They have to be patient and willing to listen to advice. They need determination and grit. All these qualities, when brought to bear in business, can help pave the way to the top.
Few people have made as much of an impression on golf as Greg Norman, who was world number one for over six years and won no fewer than 91 international tournaments. What the Shark has done since, however, has taken him into different waters, as he’s built up a massively successful global corporation with interests that have expanded beyond golf course design and sports apparel to take in real estate, interior design, private equity and more. He has also become a celebrated philanthropist.
Andrew Welsh was famed for his speed and skill when he played in the AFL, and after a series of injuries forced him into retirement, he made the headlines with his move to Hollywood in pursuit of an acting career. Where he’s really succeeded, however, is in real estate, building up a multimillion-dollar company that develops not just houses but also whole residential estates and has interests in the Melbourne and Geelong areas. Despite being a busy managing director, he still plays football when he can.
A successful rower in his native Italy, Roberto Blanda competed in two sets of Olympic Games before stepping back from the sport to pursue his longstanding business interests. After taking on leadership roles at Toyota and Daimler in his native land, he moved to London, where he went on to become Head of Human Resources and General Services at British American Tobacco. He has credited his love of competition, developed in sport, as a key factor in his success.
Hayley Lewis was just 15 years old when she won five gold medals and a bronze in swimming events at the Commonwealth Games in Auckland. She also won silver at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992. After a brief but successful career in television, she went into business, opening a swimming centre in Brisbane and later going on to open a gift and homewares store. Alongside this, she has enjoyed success as a writer and is known for her books on business.
Once a celebrated tagger for the Cats, and now a popular commentator, Cameron Ling has also built up a successful business, purchasing a string of bars and restaurants in Geelong. He also owns a hotel in Newtown. His tremendous local popularity has helped him to get ailing establishments back on their feet, and he now employs over 250 people. Ling says that he still loves sport – he also runs marathons now – but that he wanted to develop a career with long-term potential.
After 15 years on Australia’s national netball team, including four as its captain, Liz Ellis could be forgiven for wanting a quiet retirement, but that’s just not in the former Sydney Swifts player’s stylebook. The toughness that she showed in recovering from her 2005 knee injury also showed in her determination to keep on supporting her sport after retiring as a player, and she has built up a successful coaching business as well as becoming a well-known commentator and television sports personality.
Several of these athletes also do mentoring work to support young people both in their sporting careers and in gaining the skills and confidence they need to go into business. They understand the value of developing that self-belief at an early age and learning how to face up to a challenge. With their help and that of others like them, some of today’s top athletes could well go on to become the business stars of the future.