When business and sport collide
What CEOS can learn from Olympic champions
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
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!”