After retirement, what do Olympians do next?

Ever wonder what happens to Olympic athletes once they pass their prime? Well, if you're a rower, you go on to make waves in the business world.

by Michael Northcott
Last Updated: 19 Aug 2013

New research by consultancy Bain & Co. shows that rowers consistently do best at breaking into the world of business after their athletics career is over. The research showed that around 8% of British and American medal-winning rowers between 1972 and 2000 went on to get top jobs in publicly listed companies. They’re good at paddling their own canoe, you might say. That may leave 92% who don’t find a seat at the top table, but 8% of any group of people is a large proportion to be reaching board level in their ‘second’ career.

The study analyzed the full careers of around 840 US and UK Olympic medal winners from seven different Olympic sports: sailing, swimming, basketball, track and field, gymnastics, boxing, and of course rowing. Sailors and swimmers did comparatively well, with around 1% ending up in board level jobs. 

The partner who wrote the study, Patrick Manning, did say that an important reason for the success of rowers was their attendance of elite universities. The Oxford/Cambridge boat race, the varsity competitions between Harvard, Yale and Princeton – these are where many of the top rowers emerge from. In some ways then, their future successes in the boardroom are no surprise…

So what on earth gave Manning the idea to investigate post-Olympian career paths? Oh yes, sorry…it just so happens that he was an Olympic rower himself back in the early 1990s. And now he’s a partner and Bain & Co. Straight from the horse’s mouth, then.

But as anyone can imagine, the will-power, determination and sense of goal that Olympians posess are often enough to propel these athletes into respectable careers long after they are over the hill.

If you want to know what MT thinks Olympians and sportspeople do after their sporting career is over, read our feature on athletes from past decades, and the lessons they learnt which could be transposed into the business sphere. Furthermore, we look at how the lessons of business could be applied if only they'd known them back then. To read this article, click here.

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