When busi­ness and sport col­lide

What CEOS can learn from Olympic cham­pi­ons

Business First - - FRONT PAGE -

Ev­ery CEO of any com­pany in the world has made a sac­ri­fice; has put the am­bi­tions of the or­gan­i­sa­tion ahead of per­sonal stride. Yet these CEOs may still be in­formed by those who have put their lives on hold to achieve goals that leave most people in awe.

From a sport­ing per­spec­tive, you just have to lis­ten to the en­thralled si­lence of a busi­ness crowd as they im­merse them­selves in the wis­dom of AFL leg­ends David Parkin or Kevin Sheedy. Those two have the speaker cir­cuit in the palm of their hands. Olympic cham­pi­ons also have a great deal of knowl­edge and in­sight to im­part. Per­haps more. Stephanie Rice has only been on the cir­cuit for a few years, but her speak­ing en­gage­ments com­bine her in­grained de­sire to in­spire and mo­ti­vate. And she does.

To speak with her is to be ab­sorbed by an in­fec­tious pos­i­tiv­ity, which is tem­pered by the down-to-earth re­al­i­sa­tion of what she has achieved and how it can help oth­ers – from chil­dren to those in a sti­fled board­room.

We know her achieve­ments: three Olympic gold medals in Bei­jing, a Com­mon­wealth gold medal­ist and world record holder, all cul­mi­nat­ing in an OAM.

We also know Stephanie has en­dured her fair share of com­pli­ca­tions, in­clud­ing a de­bil­i­tat­ing shoul­der in­jury that ef­fec­tively de­stroyed any hope of suc­cess at the Lon­don Olympics. Through those dif­fi­cult mo­ments, the dream for suc­cess never re­ally died, it shifted into a dif­fer­ent realm. Which brings us into the present, the im­pend­ing launch of her chil­dren’s swimwear range and the way she cor­re­lates busi­ness suc­cess with ath­letic ac­com­plish­ment. It all comes down to work­ing hard. “Be­ing able to com­pete at Olympic level was a dream come true,” Stephanie says. “I wanted to be the girl who rep­re­sented our fan­tas­tic coun­try, but make no mis­take I worked my ass off to achieve it. And that hard work en­sured that ev­ery­thing lined up in the way it was meant to.”

It also meant that life was less about be­ing un­easy than it was about be­ing ab­nor­mal.

“I gave up nor­mal­ity when I was 11. Olympic gold was the only thing in the world I wanted. I didn’t go to my high school for­mal. I only did a few classes through year 12. I put ev­ery spare minute into train­ing and took my naps be­tween classes. My whole day was very reg­i­mented with sched­ules that left no chance for er­ror.”

When she tran­si­tioned out of school, life was about protein smooth­ies; gym, physio, lunch, sleep and wak­ing up to do it all over again in the af­ter­noon.

“There was no chance to catch up for a cof­fee with friends. I knew that if I wasn’t go­ing to sac­ri­fice 100% of a ‘nor­mal’ life, when other ath­letes in the same po­si­tion were do­ing ex­actly that, then I wouldn’t ful­fil my goals.”

For Stephanie, the sac­ri­fice was worth it. She thrived on the pres­sure. She says any se­ri­ous ath­lete does. And de­spite cer­tain trou­bles with nerves or gog­gles break­ing at in­ap­pro­pri­ate mo­ments, she ig­nored the pres­sure and took ev­ery op­por­tu­nity to learn and im­prove per­son­ally and pro­fes­sion­ally.

Her abil­ity to han­dle pres­sure made the tran­si­tion from sport­ing hero to civil­ian eas­ier, but it was still a hard habit to break.

“It was all a re­ally big chal­lenge. Ev­ery­thing hap­pened at one time and I def­i­nitely strug­gled. It hasn’t all been ‘easy breezy’. There have been some re­ally tough times.”

Those times were punc­tu­ated by prob­lems with start­ing up a busi­ness, yet the one way to over­come these prob­lems was to “take what I have learnt and ap­ply those lessons. I sought to meet with suc­cess­ful busi­ness people and was re­cep­tive and open to new in­for­ma­tion and ad­vice. I didn’t act like I had it all planned out. I re­lied heav­ily on coach and fam­ily be­cause sup­port sys­tems are im­per­a­tive.”

I gave up nor­mal­ity when I was 11. Olympic gold was the only thing in the world I wanted.”

Stephanie was de­ter­mined to move for­ward. So she took the ded­i­ca­tion and the sched­ul­ing of a sport­ing ca­reer and ap­plied those skills out­side of the pool. She used her nat­u­ral en­ergy and pos­i­tiv­ity to res­onate with people. She ap­plied a goal set­ting strat­egy and broke those goals down, fig­ur­ing out the path­ways to get to where she wanted to be.

“I recog­nised the qual­i­ties I bring to busi­ness and those that I lack,” Stephanie says. “This phase of my life is not ego driven, I know I can’t do ev­ery­thing my­self.”

To help her, Stephanie has en­gaged men­tors. The most recog­nis­able be­ing Yel­low Brick Road CEO, Mark Bouris among oth­ers in busi­ness and fi­nance.

Bouris is also the host of Celebrity Ap­pren­tice. While it is a re­al­ity show in the very un­real sense of those types of pro­duc­tions, Stephanie’s time on that show was in­valu­able. Not only did she learn some great lessons, she won and raised over $300,000 for char­i­ties in­clud­ing the Heart Foun­da­tion.

“What I learnt from the show was the value of team build­ing and work­ing within a team. You have to take no­tice of what ev­ery­one else is do­ing. How ev­ery­body goes about his or her man­age­ment role. It’s about try­ing dif­fer­ent things in dif­fer­ent ways. I learnt that while I am happy for people to take the reins, you also have to be a fan­tas­tic fol­lower and not wait to be told what to do.”

In 2012, Stephanie ded­i­cated much of her time to start­ing up a chil­dren’s swimwear busi­ness; a long term project that com­bines her love for chil­dren with her love for swim­ming. Yet, like all start-ups she en­coun­tered prob­lems in its early stages.

“I was work­ing with a team of people and things weren’t work­ing out so I de­cided to start again. I felt like I had taken six steps for­ward, only to move six steps back. This time around I have made sure I sur­rounded my­self with people I en­joy work­ing with.”

The busi­ness and her RACERiCE swimwear brand is now launch­ing in Novem­ber 2014. Stephanie be­lieves the set­back was a bless­ing in dis­guise as she wasn’t quite ready to swing at all the curve­balls start-up businesses throw out.

To­day her team is on the same page as she is. They pos­sess the en­ergy and ex­cite­ment that Stephanie projects. The team has goals that push them in­di­vid­u­ally and will help ev­ery­one grow fi­nan­cially. And Stephanie draws on the out­side ex­per­tise of ev­ery­one she knows to en­sure those goals can be met.

“I have a clear vi­sion for the brand and how it will be sold,” Stephanie says. “Ev­ery­thing I’m work­ing on is fresh and in­no­va­tive in this sec­tor.”

Though she sets small, at­tain­able goals, Stephanie does have big goals for the swimwear line. Within five years, she hopes to be sell­ing the most pop­u­lar kids’ swimwear line world­wide and ex­pand into equip­ment. With her con­fi­dence and will­ing­ness to learn from people with more ex­per­tise than

“What I learnt from the

show was the value of team build­ing and work­ing within

a team.”

her­self, there is re­ally no doubt she will suc­ceed. Sure she has the pro­file, but it is a pro­file built on the traits that made her a suc­cess in the first place. The traits that she hopes will in­spire a new gen­er­a­tion of high-per­for­mance Aus­tralians.

Which brings us back to the clin­ics Stephanie runs, par­tic­u­larly for kids.

“I want to run fan­tas­tic clin­ics and im­ple­ment the knowl­edge I have learnt to mo­ti­vate the younger gen­er­a­tions. Men­tor­ing is an im­por­tant thing for me. And the mes­sages she im­parts to chil­dren are the same she gives to CEOs.

“I find that a lot of people are in­ter­ested in what it takes to pro­duce gold medals. It is a life that has be­come so nor­mal to me, but I for­get it is not com­mon. When I am in front of people, I share my mes­sage of what I went through: goal set­ting, sup­port struc­tures, dif­fer­ent stress and suc­cess sce­nar­ios. I don’t tell people what to do, I just tell them what I have done and what I im­ple­mented to achieve what I did. I would never tell a CEO how to run a busi­ness, but I hope to mo­ti­vate and in­spire and per­haps throw up some dif­fer­ent ways to im­ple­ment strate­gies that they may not have thought about.”

We’ll fin­ish with a quote that she didn’t give me in this in­ter­view, but one she gave dai­lyguru.com.au, which best sums up what she is try­ing to achieve.

“I’ve been lucky enough to have people like Susie O’Neill and Mark Bouris give me a driv­ing per­spec­tive at dif­fer­ent stages in my ca­reer. I now love be­ing able to do the same for oth­ers and en­joy be­ing in­vited to speak and in­ter­act with teams of busi­ness people and other groups. The re­sponse I get is hum­bling and a beau­ti­ful re­minder of what I have achieved and how that has af­fected people. If I can in­spire just one per­son in a room to help them achieve what they are on their way to do­ing, then that’s a great day for me!”

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