George Bridgewater has had two stints as a professional rower interspersed with a successful career as a trader in Asia. Here he gives us his insights
Life After Sport: what approach to planning for life after sport did you take when you started:
GB: When I started rowing in the NZ team, it was not funded, so my immediate priority was learning skills that would be useful further down the line. To support myself I was forced to self-market and learnt from a very young age how to structure a presentation and how to sell myself (IMO harder than selling any product) to sponsors etc.
This included other skills like public speaking and media interviews. I feel that there is more nannying of athletes which can make said athletes a little less resilient.
Life After Sport: How did you go about finding your first job post rowing?
GB: Landing a job in the city was tough in 2009. London wasn’t really hiring and the US introduced a no immigrant hiring at graduate level. Half of our Oxford MBA class couldnt get jobs straight out of business school. By being prepared to move (and my wife too), we identified that Asia was hiring and i was part of the intake in Hong Kong for Morgan Stanley.
Life After Sport: How did you find living and working overseas?
GB: It was great for accelerating work experience (particularly from NZ). The first two years were tough, because I was making mistakes and at the bottom of the pile. It was of course a shock coming from being world champion/Olympic medalist to graduate and some employees loved to put me in my place. I had forgotten what it was like at the bottom (as i suspect most of us do after a few years pass). But, I strongly believe that if you want a meaningful career following sport, then you need to start at the bottom, be uncomfortable and learn again. Any ego needs to stay on the sporting pitch (although its not particularly healthy there either).
Life After Sport: After five years in work / education, you returned to rowing. Did you have a plan post rowing?
GB: The second time around I was able to leverage my sporting profile to get some decent media coverage for our business. It can be really beneficial to use your sporting profile while you’re still in the game and not waiting until afterwards - much like many employment changes. I was also working on my own food company for 20-25 hours a week while training full time, which was demanding but actually helped me managed the load. I realize that not all athletes would be given that opportunity and working in your own business requires some previous business experience…
Life After Sport: What advice would you give to an athlete starting out?
GB: I would say absolutely be a team player, but you have to look after yourself and your long term career aspirations. Most administrators do not give sufficient focus on your career post sport and want you to focus every ounce of your energy for their performance metrics (sporting performance).
Clearly there is a tension in that the Administration determine your success in sport (e.g. selection, or resource allocation etc) so there is a healthy balance. If you’re not seen as a “team” player in their eyes (and for some autocrats that might mean you don’t do exactly what they say) then your sporting days could be numbered, so tread carefully.
Additionally, be natural about your self-promotion, but do not be ashamed of it. Learn to talk to older adults, business people, politicians, coaches, superior athletes, school children - everyone. Ultimately communication gets us where we need to go, and as I have said to audiences before, no other 21 year olds have broader networks than athletes - many successful business or politicians want a piece, so use that. Learn their language, and how to get what you want. You’ve earned the soapbox off of which to speak, so use it.
Lastly, strike when the iron is hot. Use your profile as an existing athlete to get the next opportunity rather than waiting until you are done (and perhaps their interest has passed).