Q&A: Athletes in Training for C-Suite

(ATR) Consulting giant EY is helping Olympic athletes transition from the playing field to business careers.

(ATR) Consulting giant EY is helping Olympic athletes make the transition from the playing field to business careers. Kristy Ingram,EY Global Lead, Athlete Programs & Women Athletes Business Network, also supported the management of EY’s sponsorship of Rio 2016, including the development of the EY Women Athletes Business Network (WABN). A former competitive equestrian athlete in her native Australia, sheexplains why the company is keen on opportunities for athletes in this Q&A.

Around the Rings - Tell us a little about EY's commitment to helping athletes transition from sporting careers to the business world. Most of us would think it should be an easy thing, but that isn't always the case. What made EY aware that this is an issue? And why is it taking action?

Kristy Ingram - The story really starts back in 2013 when we launched the Women Athletes Business Network with the leadership of Beth Brooke-Marciniak, EY’s former Global Vice Chair – Public Policy and USOPC board member and Olympic champion Donna de Varona, in connection with our Rio 2016 partnership. We undertook research that inarguably showed that female athletes have a suite of skills that uniquely equip them to become exceptional leaders in the business world. In fact, our research uncovered that 94% of c-suite women had a sporting background. They possess a unique combination of qualities gained through sport — confidence, resilience, passion, leadership and unwavering focus — that have proven essential in breaking through the barriers everyone faces in founding, leading and scaling a business.

Within this research, we also identified that the transition of an athlete from the sporting field to a business setting was one of the main barriers to their success. This finding highlighted a gap in transition resources for athletes and prompted us to develop two programs to support athletes. The first was a mentoring program that we ran in collaboration with the International Women’s Forum, as well as our own Elite Athlete hiring initiatives. We are deeply committed to supporting athletes and sporting bodies to address the lack of resources for athlete transition, it is also an important business opportunity and one that more organizations should consider.

We believe that the qualities intrinsic to sporting achievement relate directly to how EY will fulfill our purpose in the Transformative Age, where mindset is just as important as skill set. Along with our 270,000 people, these elite female athletes bring a unique perspective to our organization and our high-performing teams through their own experience of leadership, resilience, determination and what it means to be driven by a sense of purpose.

ATR - You're about to announce some important research about the challenges retiring athletes face and why businesses should hire them. Tell us what you can about this project -- any surprises? Or does it seem to be reinforcing what you already know?

KI - Yes! We’re excited to be working on the next iteration of research on these topics. We’re really close to being able to release the report, so I don’t want to give away too many spoilers but what I can tell you is we’re diving deeper into the challenges faced by athletes as they retire, identifying best practice transition support and exploring why business should be looking at athletes as a valuable talent pipeline.

ATR - Women. Fast Forward. is EY's platform targeting gender equality. Why does EY put so much emphasis on women? How does this dovetail with athletes' transition to the workplace?

KI - EY is proud to have long been a leader in this discussion. We believe that gender equality is not a problem to solve, rather gender equality is the solution to business and society’s most complex challenges.

Women. Fast forward is EY's global gender accelerator engaging EY people, clients and communities to drivegender equality. With three main areas of focus, Women in business, Women and digital, and Women entrepreneurs; our athlete programs weave throughout each of these strategies providing a unique and diverse way to push the discussion forward.

ATR - You've had two or three 'classes' of female athletes and another is on tap for Tokyo. Tell us what you can about how they're chosen and what they will do once they're on board.

KI - We have been excited to welcome over 40 elite athletes, men and women, to the firm through our targeted hiring programs and are looking to add at least 20 more after Tokyo.

We have been working closely with NOCs, international sporting bodies and our own networks to identify interested athletes. Each will go through a profiling and selection process, and those who are successful will be matched to roles complimenting their skillsets and interests in offices near them. Nearly 80% have been placed in client-facing consulting roles but we have many different opportunities available around the world.

The majority of roles offered have been for an initial 6 months experience to provide athletes with relevant insights to EY and the business world, while acknowledging that they are in an uncertain time of their life.

If any athletes reading this are interested in career opportunities through our programs, please email me at kristy.ingram@ey.com.

ATR - Do these athletes tend to stay with the company? Or do they use EY as a springboard for other things?

KI - Our hope is that athletes will stay with us beyond this first 6 months and we are pleased to have seen an over 70% retention rate among the athletes who have joined us under our programs. For those athletes who choose not to stay with EY beyond their initial 6 months, we have seen a number of instances where they have actually returned to their sport after realizing they’re not ready to leave the playing field or moving to an industry they’ve been able to experience through their time at EY. We are committed to supporting all our athletes through their time at EY and beyond.

ATR - EY has become a sponsor of USA Rugby. As a relatively unknown sport in the US, how are you helping them develop their 10-year ‘roadmap’ towards their strategic objectives.

KI - Yes, we’re very excited that EY is the Official Principal Partner of USA Rugby. The term of this deal encompasses the USA Rugby men’s and women’s senior national teams, participating in the annual HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series, international test matches, the Rugby World Cup Japan 2019 and the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

Within this collaboration, the primary focus is to revamp USA Rugby’s digital strategy to increase audience participation, grow the rugby fan base through digitally-enabled methods and increase business opportunities for USA Rugby. Data-driven insights will support USA Rugby in further understanding the multiple personas within the rugby community and how each individually engages with the sport.

ATR - What makes rugby attractive to EY? On the face of it, it seems like a surprising partnership.

KI - It may seem surprising on the surface, but this sponsorship is uniquely aligned with work we’re doing here at EY. While rugby is only a growing sport in the US, we see this as a fantastic opportunity to help at a grassroots level and leverage our knowledge within the sporting world, our expertise in the digital and analytics space and to also drive the important topic of diversity within sport.

ATR - Anything we didn't ask that you would like to say?

KI - We’re looking forward to continuing to contribute to this discussion and encourage athletes, sporting and business organizations to join us.