As the 2010 Winter Games wind down, it's time for Olympians to plan their next move.
"In training, it can get so micro you're only thinking about this five-minute piece you have to do let alone the one you have to do a minute after that, never mind dinner and laundry and what am I going to do after the Olympics?" rower Kyle Hamilton says. "When you're in the moment you're in the moment."
Mr. Hamilton was a star of the Beijing Summer Olympics, a member of the men's eight team that won gold. He and fellow gold medalist, coxswain Brian Price, were torch-bearers for the Winter Games, and they passed it to the next generation of rowers.
When Mr. Hamilton, Mr. Price and a third world-champion rower, Jeff Powell, ended their competitive rowing careers, it didn't mean they were ready to stop competing, or to stop thinking like athletes. They combined to create Podium First Consulting, a Victoria-based enterprise devoted to transmitting the lessons of Olympic excellence to young athletes and to businesses.
"It's something we wanted to pursue at the level we're used to pursuing things," says Mr. Powell, who was on gold medal-winning world championship teams with Mr. Hamilton and Mr. Price in 2002 and 2003.
Champion athletes making the transition to the business world often do "very, very well," says Charlene Zietsma, assistant professor of strategy and entrepreneurship in the University of Victoria's Faculty of Business. "The qualities that make an athlete strive to be a champion are the same qualities that make a good entrepreneur."
Ms. Zietsma says those qualities include passion, focus, discipline, deliberate practice, persistence, the ability to delay gratification, as well as teamwork and leadership abilities. "And rowing is one of the most demanding sports when it comes to teamwork.
"In addition, champion athletes pay close attention to their external environment; they can predict the competition's moves and change their own strategies to stay out front."
Athletes who become successful entrepreneurs "have a deep knowledge of their sport" and use that to excel in business. Ms. Zietsma cites Nancy Greene's success with Sun Peaks and other ski resorts. She makes reference to several other athletes who have succeeded in business in addition to Ms. Greene, including Mario Lemieux, Donovan Bailey and Wayne Gretzky.
But some, she adds, fall into the "success trap:" they've won big in their athletic endeavours, they assume they'll be successful in other areas, and they fail to seek out the strategic, marketing and human resources expertise their businesses require.
Podium First thinks it has what it takes to avoid the trap. "There's an experience with excellence (among the three partners)," Mr. Powell says, "so Podium First was created to transmit that experience with excellence to people who are motivated to the same kinds of success.
"Many of the same factors are at play in the boardroom just as they are in the locker room."
The Podium First plan to transmit knowledge about excellence is three-fold: Offering guidance and assessment to school athletic programs, teaching self-assessment through seminars, and providing mentorship. Its clientele ranges from individual athletes, to private schools and post-secondary institutions, to corporations "looking to develop a culture of excellence," Mr. Price says.
"There's accumulated knowledge here that's based on experience rather than theory. It was learned in about the most competitive environment you can imagine."
As a result, Podium First is made up only of its three founders and they are also the only investors. They have looked ahead to when more resources might be needed: "Any new hire would either be a world or Olympic champion in their respective sport. Our clients can be confident that they are dealing with only the best, excellence from top to bottom," Mr. Price says.
Podium First offers advice on how to define goals and attain them. For athletic programs, they can look at coaching, policies, facilities and make recommendations.
In a seminar format, they teach skills such as critical self-evaluation, accountability, and teamwork to help athletic directors, coaches, business managers and executives evaluate their own endeavours. Last December, Podium First gave a seminar in Chicago to The Association of Boarding Schools (TABS). They saw it as a marketing and promotional vehicle for their new company.
"We would like to get schools seriously thinking about their athletic programs, where they are at, where they want to be and the value that an effective athletics program can have for their school," Mr. Price says.
"The more people see us, talk to us and find out what we do, the more likely they are to hire us. We have a unique product, as well as a unique target market, so getting the opportunity to introduce ourselves and our service to exactly the people we are trying to reach is an invaluable opportunity."
The third means of transmission is mentorship: one-on-one, or with a team. And again the Podium First crew is teaching from experience.
"There's probably no problem that an athlete, particularly young athletes, will face that one of us hasn't faced," Mr. Hamilton says. "We've all had big issues with the coach, we've all had big issues with each other, we've all had giant slumps … that's the experiential, really valuable stuff that athletes can get from one-on-one mentoring."
Mr. Powell says it gives the athlete the chance to ask any question they want "knowing that the answer they get has been tried."
Mentorship is all about relationship building, it's "not a one-off, go have coffee with my kid" type of thing, Mr. Hamilton says. At least three or four phone calls or meetings a month are arranged to develop a relationship with a client.
"One of the big strengths (of this group) is knowing how each other thinks," Mr. Powell says. "The communication issue that so often crops up for people in business is so much less of an issue because we can absolutely say anything to each other and have confidence that it will be taken in the spirit in which it's intended and we're pretty well-versed in each other's non-verbal communication. We have a really good understanding of how each other ticks and if you're going to try to ascend those kinds of heights this is the kind of team you want to do it with."
Mr. Hamilton says rowing taught him "to rely on your teammates and to be reliable" and entrepreneurship feels like it will be more of the same.
"Rowing? We were the best in the world at that. And that's where we want to take Podium First. We want to be the best at what we do."
Mr. Hamilton joined us to talk about his athletic career and how that experience prepared him for the business world. Click here to access the discussion page.
Special to the Globe and Mail
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