Sports stars and financial services – same same but different

Thursday 5th June 2014 by Penny Pryor

Life as a professional athlete or sports star obviously has a use-by date. And finding employment after a high-profile career in the spotlight can be difficult, as recent press around famous swimmers has highlighted.

It is hard to adjust to a life that is no longer about the next race or the next game. So it is interesting that many sports stars end up with successful careers in financial services. Former Olympic swimmer Kieren Perkins is a state manager for NAB Private Wealth in Queensland, former Olympic rower James Tomkins is national sales manager at UBS Global Asset Management and former rugby union players Phil Kearns and Andrew Mehrtens both have senior roles at Centric Wealth (Kearns is CEO until the end of June. View details of his move).

But the reasons that these former professional athletes ended up in the industry are not uniform.

James Tomkins James Tomkins (pictured) has had a career in financial services, in conjunction with his rowing career, ever since he left University.

He found the proximity of university and, then his office, to the Yarra River, helped him to fit in both training and work.

“I studied commerce at school and worked in a stock broking firm over summers,” he says.

“Then whilst rowing in the Aussie team I completed my degree in economics and finance. From there I entered the work force in financial services,” he says.

Because he was working in the industry from the beginning, Tomkins – who has competed in six Olympic games over 20 years, winning three gold medals – says the transition to full time work wasn't difficult.

“I think it was very important having that balance all the way through so when it came to retirement I was already doing something that I knew I would continue to do,” he says.

Andrew Mehrtens Andrew Mehrtens (pictured) is manager of investment sales at Centric Wealth and is a former rugby union All Black player for New Zealand. He scored 967 points for the All Blacks during his football career and is their second all-time highest points scorer.

Up until last year he had been continuing his football career with coaching in France and light-heartedly calls his role at Centric Wealth his first real job (View details of his appointment).

He believes that part of the reason he ended up in financial services was due to the corporate networking that goes on at the high level of the sport.

“I suppose that in the modern rugby era there has been a huge rise in player commitments at sponsor events and corporate functions so networking is something you necessarily get some experience in,” he says.

Although not the case in New Zealand, where everybody plays the sport, in Australia rugby union is known for its private school and business connections.

“Quite nicely, luckily for me rugby has got very very strong contacts in the business community,” Mehrtens says.

Phil Kearns Mehrtens was introduced to the industry by Phil Kearns (pictured), former captain for the Australian rugby union team and CEO of Centric Wealth.

The transition hasn't been too difficult for Mehrtens, who is very appreciative of the warm welcome he received at Centric Wealth and the expertise of the team he works with.

An ability to perform well under pressure in their former lives has positive outcomes in their financial services careers as well.

There are some aspects of the former lives they do miss though. For Tomkins that’s being the centre of attention and having everyone around him helping him reach his goals.

“I know it’s selfish, but it’s great.”

But it can create problems, as so recently displayed by former Olympic swimmer Grant Hackett.

“A lot of athletes fall into a trap of not having anything else in their life other than their sport. I think that’s a huge issue. If there is no other aspect to an athlete’s life you end up basing your self-worth on one race or one outcome,” Tomkins says.

Mehrtens misses the buzz of competing and being on the field.

He found it hard to get used to not receiving immediate feedback in his new job. In sport, winning or losing is usually decided by the end of the game or race. Some decisions in financial services can take months, and that has been a bit of a learning curve.

But he sums up the similarities between the two professions nicely when he says: “At the end of the day it’s about people and managing people and being motivated and wanting to do well and respecting others.”

Which should be the basis for a successful career in any industry really.

Read our Q&A with former BT chief marketing officer Carly Loder, who made the opposite transition – from financial services to sports.

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