COB alumni and faculty compare being a competitive athlete to a successful business professional
The number of ways to compare athletic events and business are endless. One can look at anything from having the right training program to never losing sight of the competition to find the similarities.
Four University of Wisconsin Oshkosh College of Business alumni and one retired faculty member share how they take what they have learned in the boardroom on the road to be successful competitive athletes.
Race day conditions are not always ideal but the race goes on
Marathons take place during torrential downpours, heat waves and snowstorms.
“There are very few things in life that you can control,” said Melissa Putzer (BS ’92, MBA ’09), a patent facilitator for Kimberly-Clark and Oshkosh resident. “But three things you can are your attitude, your choices and your preparation.”
Competitive athletes like Putzer know there is only one choice when conditions are not ideal¾stay focused on the course for the long haul and push through to cross the finish line.
Putzer remembers the day of her fourth Ironman. It was only 50 degrees.
“Everyone was faced with the same challenges,” Putzer said. “However, I could control my attitude, had made the choice to pack things like a rain jacket and had prepared by not being a fair-weather rider in my training.”
Each year Paul Frederickson, UW Oshkosh College of Business professor emeriti and competitive bicyclist, competes in a 12-hour distance race in Ohio as a training event. He recalls one race day when the weather was windy, rainy and cold and many of his competitors did not finish the race.
“Relative to the competition, I had the best day ever because I was able to ride through adverse conditions,” Frederickson said.
In relation, business professionals are faced with less than ideal conditions when markets crash and the economy takes a turn for the worse. Frederickson believes the best business professionals strive to be successful even in such conditions.
“Good business professionals succeed even when the market is down because they capitalize on the opportunities opened when their competitors drop off,” Frederickson said. “The best portfolio managers will make money and the best real estate agents will sell houses. Be the person who succeeds in adverse conditions—expect them and be prepared.”
It was during a time when conditions weren’t favorable that Putzer decided to return to the UW Oshkosh’s College of Business to pursue her master’s degree in business administration.
“I chose to not feel depressed and angry about the job cuts I faced at work,” Putzer said. “I knew that I couldn’t control the decisions my employer was making or the economy, but I could control how marketable and educated I was.”
Success takes training
Competitive athletes know if they don’t make the time for the proper training, they will pay for it on race day.
“I change my training when I find myself performing at the same level and try different endurance events to keep me on my toes,” said Kathy (Allen) Fredrickson (MBA ’99), a marketing consultant in Neenah and running enthusiast.
Last September, she achieved her goal of running her first half-marathon and is focused on training for a 90-mile bike race around Lake Winnebago next year to celebrate her 40th birthday.
She prefers to use training programs designed by professionals, doesn’t cut corners and has recently discovered a love for running in the morning.
“I am always striving to get better,” she said. “I challenge myself to do more speed and hill work. It does not feel natural, but I know I need to do it to get faster.”
Most competitive athletes agree that pushing themselves outside of their comfort zone garners the best results on race day.
“Physically, my workouts are structured and always have a purpose,” Putzer adds. “They include things like recovery rides, intervals, base building, break-throughs and warm ups to build endurance and teach my body to be efficient.”
Putzer compares this to the way she operates as a business professional.
“Meetings in business should always have an agenda even if is just open discussion,” Putzer said. “Just like my training schedule, every meeting I organize has a purpose, a process and a desired outcome.”
In the same way, business professionals would not be successful without the proper education and on-the-job training.
“I never thought I would be a morning person, but I enjoy getting up early and watching the sun rise,” Fredrickson said. “The same thing is true for studying and performing well in school. You need to set aside time every day when you know you will not have other distractions and get your work done.”
Just like she follows training programs designed by professionals, she believes in listening to the advice of business professionals and educators to achieve goals as a professional. This, along with hard work and perseverance, is the perfect formula for success.
Success doesn’t happen overnight
Some bicyclists train for more than a year for one race while marathon runners may choose an intense ten-week program. With only so many hours in a day, competitive athletes have to practice strong time management skills to fit it all in.
“Schedule time, keep track of everything and have a mileage goal,” said Randy Damkot (BBA ’90), part business owner of Alpine Insulation in Sheboygan and 23-time marathon runner.
Damkot gets up early so running does not affect his family or work schedule.
“I have kept a log of my running since Nov. 1, 1983, and am approaching 70,000 miles,” he said.
He uses his daily mileage as motivation to keep running.
“I do not like writing down zeroes,” Damkot said. “When I start training for a marathon, I have a time in mind. When running the race, I break it into segments, focusing on the first and then starting over. It helps me not to worry about the rest.”
Often times it is these short-term goals that make the unachievable a reality.
“Experience gets me through the race,” said Tim Mulloy (BBA ‘76), who recently retired after 35 years in the insurance industry and has completed 270 triathlons since 1986. “I know what to do and in what order to be successful and achieve my goals.”
Mulloy and Damkot also feel it is important to know when to change the course.
“It takes experience to know when to rethink your goals and adjust your strategy,” Mulloy said.
The same is true for a new business owner who has not been able to recognize a profit in the first few years of operation.
“You need to accept that things don’t always go your way,” Mulloy said. “Take a look at what happened and factor in where you fell short.”
Damkot uses his goal-setting approach to running a marathon in the office as well.
“Sales goals seem more attainable when they are broken down,” said Damkot, who feels looking at monthly or weekly sales goals seem more attainable than from an entire year’s perspective. “Things are not going to happen instantly.”
Combination of skills and attitude contribute to success
Competitive athletes need to be in good physical shape. However, most say once the race is underway, the challenge becomes as much mental as it does physical.
“A good athlete has mental toughness to get through the tough times during a race,” Frederickson said.
Putzer recalls a recent bicycle race when she gave herself a talk to not give up.
“I started to catch other riders and ended up finishing third and making the podium as a category three rider for the first time,” she said. “The right mind set is huge.”
Being mentally prepared and having a positive attitude is as important as possessing the right skill set in business. It is the same mental toughness that gets a business professional through losing a big contract and the confidence they need to get back on track.
Being mentally in the game also allows an individual to know when to change the course.
“I held an international position a year ago and the travel demands were wearing me out,” Putzer said. “I wasn’t happy because I was missing weekends with friends and family so I found a new position within my company doing something completely different.”
Frederickson also knew it was time to make a change when he made the decision to retire from the College of Business last spring.
“I want to be physically active in retirement and there are only so many years I have left to compete,” said Frederickson, who recently bought a home in Arizona so he can participate in bicycling races year round. He also plans to stay active in his field by becoming a mediator.
One person cannot get the job done
Even though it’s individuals crossing the finish line or receiving a medal on the podium, there are several people that support competitive athletes along the way.
“Just like any human being, I tend to avoid the things that hurt or that I’m not good at,” Putzer said. “But those are the things I usually need to work on to get better.”
To give her motivation, Putzer has hired a trainer to help her prepare for her next Cyclo-cross race, which is a cross-country race on bicycles.
And just like a trainer helps during a grueling workout, family members and friends who travel to cheer on their loved ones are part of the team as well.
“I am a successful athlete because I have a supportive spouse and family base at home,” said Mulloy, whose wife travels with him to most of the 15-20 triathlons, half-marathons and road races he participates in each year.
Just as Lance Armstrong couldn’t win races without his dedicated staff of trainers, Steve Jobs wouldn’t have been so successful without a brilliant team of creative people behind him.
As a business professional, Putzer credits her mentor at work with helping her stretch outside of her comfort zone.
Mulloy adds that his family has supported him in his career, which has forced them to move 12 times over the last 35 years.
Stay focused on the competition
Both athletes and business professionals need to stay alert to competitive changes.
“I focus on the competition a lot,” Mulloy said. “Because I have been competing for so long, my goal is to be on the podium.”
Mulloy always looks at the list of participants to see who is racing in his age category and familiarizes himself with who he will be competing with that day.
“If one of my competitors passes me up, I may approach them after the race and ask them to share their training strategies with me,” Mulloy adds.
It is no different than identifying your competition as a professional and trying to learn as much as you can about what they are doing right.
“Working in the large commercial insurance industry, I always kept an eye on the competition,” Mulloy said. “We benchmarked ourselves against them. If they are successful in certain areas, we had to learn how they were doing it.”
Individuals can do impossible things when they put their minds to it
Even things that are difficult can be fun and rewarding. Frederickson says anyone is capable of achieving their goals if they put their mind to it.
“I have been asked how could I bike for hundreds of miles,” Frederickson said. “Lots of people have done it and so can I.”
In 1996, Frederickson was part of a group who set out to bike across the country from Washington to Virginia in just 24 days.
“It would take most people a couple of months, but we set a goal and achieved what we set out to do,” Frederickson said.
He adds that it is no different in business especially when an individual has a vision and plan to support a new product or service.
“Who would have ever thought that someone could convince consumers to buy water by the bottle when it comes out of the tap for free?” Frederickson said.
Both athletes and business professionals often obsess over having the perfect equipment or latest technology because they feel it will help them succeed. The best bike seat ever made and the latest version of the newest Smartphone don’t bring success. The right attitude to stay the course, a proper training program that sets attainable goals and a supportive team does and will help pave the way for success in the race or in the boardroom.
Are you also a competitive athlete, new or experienced? We’d like to hear your story. Please share below.