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"Pistol Pete", an Entrepreneur or Just a Great Athlete?

angiel
05-01-2007, 07:33 PM
http://www.businessweekly.co.uk/blog/?p=14



"Pistol Pete", an Entrepreneur or Just a Great Athlete?


Ranked number 1 in the world for six consecutive years, won 64 singles titles including 7 times at Wimbledon, and secured more than $44 million in earnings during his 15 year career. These are some highlights of ‘Pistol Pete’ Sampras’ tennis career. Most people would agree that he was a versatile bona fide champion scoring extraordinarily well, both on the tennis court and off it. Sampras’s businesslike attitude to tennis and cautious handling of the press led critics to bemoan his lack of charisma, but his natural talent and work ethic, led him to accomplishments that speak for themselves. But does Sampras also have the characteristics of a successful entrepreneur or is he just a great athlete?

Pete Sampras is one of my favourite tennis players of all times. During his triumphant career he was renowned as solid and athletic with famously powerful ground strokes and a smashing serve-and-volley game, leading to the nickname ‘Pistol Pete’. These are all traits that I tried to copy when I was playing tennis fanatically as a top ten player in Holland. Unfortunately, due to an arm injury I had to say farewell to a tennis career at the age of 18. One thing I learned from this experience, though, is that you have to be outstandingly great on all fronts to make it to the top. In other words, you have to be an all-rounder. But being an all-rounder isn’t even enough to make tennis a career choice and to make a good living out of it. You have to have the desire to win in every tournament! And in each match you have to come up with a different game strategy in order to be triumphant.

Pete Sampras had all it took to be a great champion. However, although he won almost every tournament in the world he never managed to win the French Open. Now you can think of two reasons for this; he either didn’t like the French or he was not a complete all-rounder. I think the key thing he was lacking was a great backhand that would make him invincible on every court type, something that perhaps today’s champion Roger Federer can’t be accused of. Ten years younger in age, Roger Federer has evolved tennis into a sport where simply having a great serve-and-volley game isn’t good enough anymore to make one a champion. But in the same way, Sampras advanced tennis with his game in the early 90’s, taking over the lead from legends like Ivan Lendl and Boris Becker.

Just like professional tennis players have to improve their game continuously in order to be a ‘timeless’ champion, entrepreneurs have to innovate in order to create a sustainable business with a competitive edge. And just like in tennis, in business you have to be an all-rounder and you need to have the desire to win in order to be a global player and leader in the field.

In tennis you are regarded a champion if you manage to win a large number of ATP tournaments plus at least one or more Grand Slams a year. You have to have a real competitive advantage over your opponents to achieve this. From a business perspective, the definition of an entrepreneur is that he or she has a strong feeling of a market opportunity, and is willing to accept a high level of personal, professional and financial HYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Risk” \o “Risk” risk to pursue that opportunity. Similarly, in tennis you also take huge risks when you make the choice to become a professional player. You need to spend at least several hours a day on the tennis court and in the gym and you have to pay for expenses such as your coach, travel and equipment. Additionally, because you spend a lot of time traveling, you have very little time left for social contacts and family. Considering that only less than one per cent make a good living out of tennis, the risk a budding professional tennis player takes is tremendous. However, I believe that it is the acceptance of these risks that play a key role in establishing the essential characteristics of competitiveness and desire to win, that could be translated to the success of an entrepreneur.

There are some good examples of ex-competitive tennis players who turned successful entrepreneurs. One example is the Australian ‘Dude’ Michael Ma, who founded the Indochine Group of Restaurants and Bars in 1999 and who is one of my role models as an entrepreneur. His business is currently worth about $40 million and his chain of restaurants and bars are based in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Hamburg. On a recent business trip to Singapore I met up with him where he told me about his passion to become an entrepreneur. One thing that struck me was that he used to play competitive tennis in Australia, and even played against Mark Woodford, famously remembered as one half of “The Woodies”, a doubles partnership with Todd Woodbridge. Ma took a big risk in his early 30’s when he decided to quit his job as a commodity trader to start his own business. And now being a successful entrepreneur, he is still a leading trend-setter, through constant innovation, creativity and desire to win.

Another example of a successful entrepreneur with a tennis history is BBC Two Dragons’ Den star Peter Jones. At the age of 16 he completed his Lawn Tennis Association’s coaching exam and started his own tennis coaching school. At the end of 2006, the Daily Telegraph listed him as one of the top ten entrepreneurs in the UK aged under 40, with an estimated net worth of at least £180 million. And did you know that Richard Branson excelled in football and cricket in his youth before he started his business empire and that Donald Trump used to do extremely well in football and baseball while at University? Maybe in the latter cases entrepreneurial success is not directly linked to tennis competitiveness, but it indicates that fanatic young sports people develop some of the fundamental characteristics of a thriving entrepreneur.

Both successful professional sports people and entrepreneurs would agree that a good dose of hard work, confidence and optimism are vital ingredients to become a winner. But probably most important is to take action. Positive ‘action’ differentiates proactive from reactive, catalysts from inhibitors, tennis champions from the average tennis player, and entrepreneurs from idea generators. You have to ‘walk the talk’ or as Richard Branson would put it, “Screw it, just do it!”. Pete Sampras definitely ‘just did it’! Even though he suffered from thalassemia minor, an inherited disease that limits physical and athletic endurance and causes those who have it to feel fatigued when forced to perform athletic feats, Sampras showed the world that nothing could stop him becoming a genuine champion.

Given all the above reasons, it would seem as if Sampras does have what it takes to become a successful entrepreneur – he is focused, innovative, hard working and has confidently demonstrated that he is willing to take huge risks to get to the top. Unfortunately, (and at the risk of sounding fatalistic), these characteristics alone will not guarantee your success in business. They will get you far, but to be a true success you need that extra edge, that little something that isn’t always available to everyone – acumen – and perhaps a bit of luck. Therefore, we’ll never find out if Sampras would be as successful an entrepreneur as he was a tennis player, until he actually starts up his own venture. But in my eyes “Pistol Pete” is still a true entrepreneurial and legendary athlete!

Game, Set and Match.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, April 11th, 2007 at 3:53 pm and is filed under Entrepreneurial mindset. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


3 Responses to ““Pistol Pete”, an Entrepreneur or Just a Great Athlete?”

Dr Yen Chua Says:

April 13th, 2007 at 8:35 am

Great article! I absolutely agree that all the skill, talent and knowledge in the world does not guarantee you success in business. I wonder what Pete Sampras thinks of his business capabilities..

mscannjr Says:

April 18th, 2007 at 12:28 pm

A good start my friend. Both Arnold Schwarzenegger and American basketball legend Magic Johnson are reputed to have made fortunes in business after retiring from professional sports. I would like to emulate them.

However, many athletes do not possess good business judgment and end up wasting their winnings on foolish projects. For this reason it is important not to assume that every business venture started by your favorite sports star is a success as the health of these businesses is often difficult to ascertain. For example, I doubt the Aneres fashion line started by Serena Williams has generated much revenue. If she loses a million dollars or two chasing this dream, she will hardly notice the financial impact.

In future posts can you give us some insight into your experience with SimuGen?

Matthijs van Leeuwen Says:

April 18th, 2007 at 10:30 pm

Yes, I agree that not all great sportspeople will succeed in starting a business. You may nurture some key characteristics of an entrepreneur, but possibly nature will also have an impact on the net result. And that’s exactly that bit of business acumen I was talking about that should be part of the package of an all-rounded entrepreneur.

It is an interesting phenomenon that being financially independent, like a lot of sports champions are, could potentially work unfavorably in continuing the desire to win. There are all sorts of reasons for this, i.e. people might become arrogant or lose the sense of the value of money, with as consequence investing time and money in ill-considered projects.

Conducting sound market research is vital in seizing the right business opportunity, something I talk about in my next article ‘From Business Plan Competition to Investment Pitch’.

the_natural
05-03-2007, 10:29 AM
I dont think this guy knows pete that well, he had a phenomenal backhand, it did get worse over time, less consistent more for fast courts/shorter points, but he was never born on clay and cos he didnt hug the baseline it was natural for this to happen.

He is also talking out of his a%% when he says that Federer has evolved the game to a level where SV "simply isnt enough" nemore, Agassi was the guy who invented the attacking return of serve and vast improvements in String technology (even more than racket technology) allowing with slower/less reactive courts and heavier+larger tennis balls have done the rest (Along with most of the guys coming from clay court countries). :rolleyes: good article but off in many ways

angiel
05-03-2007, 05:23 PM
I dont think this guy knows pete that well, he had a phenomenal backhand, it did get worse over time, less consistent more for fast courts/shorter points, but he was never born on clay and cos he didnt hug the baseline it was natural for this to happen.

He is also talking out of his a%% when he says that Federer has evolved the game to a level where SV "simply isnt enough" nemore, Agassi was the guy who invented the attacking return of serve and vast improvements in String technology (even more than racket technology) allowing with slower/less reactive courts and heavier+larger tennis balls have done the rest (Along with most of the guys coming from clay court countries). :rolleyes: good article but off in many ways


A lot of people have underestimate Pete to their own perils:mad: :devil: and they alway found out not to do so, but they never learn, nothing new:eek: :eek: I was watching Sports on ESPN wednesday and they were saying how far boxing has fallen and only tennis is in the same boat as boxing, so to say that Roger has evolved the game, well most of us don't see it, but to each is own.:wavey: :D :worship: :angel: