Being a Team Player: Why College Athletes Succeed in Business

Being a Team Player: Why College Athletes Succeed in Business

Perseverance. Team work. Courage and grace in victory and defeat. Intercollegiate varsity sports can create skills that employers prize and then push former players into management roles faster than their classmates, a recent study tracking the careers of Ivy League athletes suggests.

Members of these colleges’ sports teams hold higher-profile jobs and earn better salaries after graduation than their non-athlete peers, an analysis of more than 400,000 Ivy Leaguers over the past half-century finds. Eugene Holman Paul Gompers, professor of business administration at Harvard Business School, says ivy athletes earn about 3.4 percent more over their careers and are more likely than their classmates to hold C-suite roles. – the authors.

“Of course that kind of closeness means there are things you learn that would be hard to learn otherwise.”

Gompers, an All-American who graduated from Harvard College in 1986 and held Harvard’s 10,000-meter track record for three decades, says intercollegiate athletics builds valuable soft skills that help explain his career progression. Learning to work well with and lead people from diverse backgrounds are skills that can be learned better on the field and court than in the classroom.

“You spend β€” and this is true for most collegiate athletes β€” 20-plus hours a week year-round on this activity,” Gompers says. “Of course that kind of closeness means there are things you learn that would be hard to learn otherwise.”

Co-authors of the paper include George Hu, a doctoral student in the Harvard Department of Economics; Nati Amornsiripanitch, chief financial economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia; Will Levinson, a doctoral student at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business; and Vladimir Mukharlyamov, associate professor at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business.

Socio-economics is not the whole story

After compiling 5.3 million profiles from 44 institutions using website and annual data, the researchers chose to focus on eight Ivy League schools for their initial study, tracking the career trajectories of 401,785 graduates from 1970 to 2021. They combined this information with career information. Like LinkedIn profiles for athletes provided by labor analytics firm Lightcast.

The numbers show that these athletes’ careers begin 5-10 years after graduation, and the achievement gap widens 20-25 years later. Although the study did not control for socioeconomic status or race, which the researchers plan to do in future studies, the career progression applies to nearly all sports, not just prep school sports such as rowing, squash, lacrosse and equestrian. .

Researchers who used sports popular with wealthy people as a vehicle for wealth found that these players outperformed athletes from sports more common in public schools. However, the athletes with the best long-term career outcomes are athletes from teams with slightly lower academic college acceptance standards, such as football, track, basketball, and hockey, as well as athletes from racially diverse sports, including football, basketball, and track. they find authors for both women and men. These results support the conclusion that socioeconomic status alone cannot explain the superior career outcomes of college athletes.

No wonder: Many athletes go into finance

About 54 percent of the athletes in the study were men. Those men were more likely to go into finance, law or technology services, while female athletes were more likely to choose education and healthcare.

Graduates who participated in such “low academic acceptance standard” sports were more than 20 percent more likely to enter finance after graduation, while college academics was the least popular career choice at 3.5 percent.

Among all Ivy League graduates:

  • 21 percent held at least one financial job after graduation.
  • 8 percent moved into the C-suite, the highest level of management at most companies.
  • 14 percent have degrees in science, technology or engineering.
  • 15 percent earned a doctorate.
  • 12 percent have a law degree.
  • 5 percent were doctors.

β€œIn doing business, you generally work with others, as opposed to a field like medicine or a field like academics; they tend to be a little more solitary,” Gompers says. “Some of the skills you learn in athletics are very valuable where you’re interacting with others a lot.”

How to use an athletic advantage

The findings are a springboard for researchers to explore how other fields, including activities such as student media, orchestra or theater, can create the same kind of bonds. “The question is how important are these networks and friendships later in life,” says Gompers. “It’s definitely something we want to explore.”

There may also be implications for diversity, equity and inclusion in corporations and organizations. Gompers says the skills learned on various college sports teams can help in a variety of workplaces, including promoting women and closing the gender gap.

“If I were an HR person and two people were pretty similar and someone was spending 20 hours a week on women’s basketball, I’d give them the nod.”

“I spent 20 to 30 hours a week with really impressive, intense women, some of whom are still my best friends in the world,” she said. “I think it might mean that I think about these issues differently than someone who spends the same 20 or 30 hours a week with a bunch of bros or guys.”

To hiring managers and companies, the findings also send a signal about potential beyond academic performance. Gompers’ advice? Look at candidates “in a more holistic sense.”

“If I were an HR person and two people were pretty similar and someone was spending 20 hours a week on women’s basketball, I’d give them the nod,” she says. “Because I think they’re likely to have other types of skills that are harder to come by.”

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Image credit: Illustration created using AI tool Midjourney and art created by AdobeStock/master1305.

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