ENTERPRISING ATHLETES: LAURYN WILLIAMS

As the first American to win a medal at both the Summer and Winter Olympic Games, Lauryn Williams became used to mastering new skills during her sporting career – and since retiring from competition in 2015, she has quickly made her mark in the financial services industry. Here, the sprinter-turned-bobsleigh athlete explains how she made the transition from elite athlete to entrepreneur.

For any athlete, the ability to adapt to different situations and environments is a prerequisite for success. But during a decorated Olympic career that spanned 10 years and four editions of the Games, Lauryn Williams showed herself to be more adaptable than most.

At the Olympic Winter Games Sochi 2014, when she teamed up with Elana Meyers to win silver in the two-woman bobsleigh event, Williams joined an exclusive club of only five athletes to have won a medal at the both the Summer and Winter Olympic Games.

In doing so, she demonstrated a capacity to learn, to absorb new information, and to succeed in a discipline she had little experience of – and it is these characteristics that have enabled the American to make a similarly fast impact in the financial services industry since retiring from competitive sport.

Quick start

This year, less than 12 months after setting up her own firm, Worth Winning, Williams was named in Investment News’ renowned “40 Under 40” list, which recognises outstanding young potential in the financial advice sector. But setting Williams apart from the 39 other “Class of 2017” entrepreneurs is the fact that it was her experiences in elite sport that provided the inspiration to found her business.

Having burst onto the scene as a 20-year-old at Athens 2004 with a silver medal-winning run in the 100m, Williams – who became world champion in Helsinki the following year – felt ill-equipped to deal with the financial opportunities that were presented to her as a result, so enlisted someone to help her out.

“I was a finance major at the University of Miami, so one of the first things I wanted to do after I turned professional – because I knew how important it was – was to hire somebody to help me financially,” she reflects.

“But I didn’t get the services I needed. [My adviser] didn’t understand what it was like to be 20 years old, getting sponsor endorsements and making six figures, and what that meant for me.

“I asked him things about setting up a budget, about how much money I needed to set aside for savings, and how much I needed for taxes, but he didn’t really have answers for those things; he was only interested in providing investment advice. So that’s where I really got passionate about starting Worth Winning.”

Education is the key

Dismayed by the lack of financial assistance on offer to athletes in her position, Williams endeavoured to obtain the knowledge herself while building towards Beijing 2008, supplementing her own personal research with a master’s in business administration.

“People thought I was insane to be training for the Games and enrolling in a master’s programme, but I found that it gave me structure so that my days were organised. I actually experienced periods when I was complacent because I didn’t have something else to do besides go to training,” she says.

By the time she brought a hugely successful and varied Olympic career to a close in 2015 aged 31, Williams was already working for a financial planning firm in Texas, having laid the foundation for this new phase in her life by adding the official financial planning certification to her portfolio.

“With small business ownership, I’ve found something that’s going to create a similar feeling to the one I had while I was competing.”

“It was love at first job,” says Williams. “But I couldn’t find a firm that was going to be interested in specifically helping athletes, and so that’s when I decided to go off and start my own business.”

Benefit of experience

Now, Williams is using her varied experiences – both as a high-earning young sprinter and as a bobsleigh athlete competing for little monetary reward – to advise athletes on how to arrange their finances, a service she once craved and which is already proving popular among the next generation.

Worth Winning is barely a year old, but by reaching out to contacts made during her sporting career, and meeting people at various competitions and seminars across the USA, Williams has built a stable of 38 clients from a range of Olympic sports and disciplines, including athletics, bobsleigh, boxing and swimming. And most importantly, she is relishing the challenge.

“With small business ownership, I’ve found something that’s going to create a similar feeling to the one I had while I was competing,” says Williams.

“The emotional rollercoaster that you ride is exhausting. It’s just like training; you’ve got to get up every day and put in the work, so that you can build a foundation to get to the next level of financial services. For Worth Winning, that would probably be something like hiring some other planners and starting to build a back office of staff.”

With a “wonderful” first year under her belt and plans to grow the business further, Williams is well-placed to give advice to other Olympians seeking to turn an idea into a business.

Most important thing

“The number one thing would be to do your research. Find something that you’re passionate about and learn everything you can about it, so you can see where the gaps are in the industry,” she says.

“And put earnings as a secondary priority to what it is that you’re trying to accomplish – which is something that’s going to be helpful and meaningful to people. It’s important to earn a living, but when it becomes 100 per cent about the profits – and not so much about the values of what you’re contributing and the quality of the product – then you get lost and that will set you up for failure.”

The intrinsic motivation and work ethic that took Williams to Olympic success in different sports has clearly been applied to her new business, and the 33-year-old believes athletes have all the ingredients necessary to become successful entrepreneurs.

“Athletes are extraordinarily positioned to be able to make an impact in any industry we enter after sport,” she says.

“You don’t get to an elite level if you’re not coachable, so tuning your mind into being coachable so that you can take in all the knowledge of the new thing that you’re pursuing… That’s what’s going to allow you to excel.”

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