From Olympic Games to commercial real estate … a natural transition


suzanne powellBy SUZY POWELL
NAI Benchmark

Every four years the world is captivated by two major sporting events: the World Cup and the Olympic Games. For 16 years, I competed as an Olympic athlete in track and field (discus) representing our country in three different Olympiads (1996, 2000, 2008).

Last year I retired from professional athletics and began a career in commercial real estate.  So how did I make the transition? Believe it or not, there are many similarities between life as an Olympian and life as a commercial real estate broker. While one does not need the physical gifts of an Olympian to be successful in business. There are many parallels. Let’s take a look at how the rules of the sports world apply to the business world — specifically, commercial real estate.


Born out of a desire to succeed in whatever you are doing, determination is the foundation of success in sports and in business. It’s hard to measure determination. However, you usually know a tree by its fruit. Determined people are resilient in the face of failure, they are not intimidated by others, and will find a way or make a way to their goal.

We see this in the sports world when a team or athlete comes back from certain defeat to win the game. In commercial real estate, determination is doing whatever is required to close the deal, even if it means driving two hours, then sitting another five hours in a waiting room to get a signature, door knocking local businesses to find the right tenant, or days spent driving markets to identify sites for a retailer.

Getting your paycheck

When I played high school basketball, I would sometimes do everything perfectly, break free of the defense, do some fancy ball-handling move, break to a lay-up and then miss the shot. Inevitably, my dad would say “everything but the paycheck, Suzy.” Was my dad being mean? Nope. He was teaching me the truths of sports and business. Congratulations. You did all this hard work, however, without the desired outcome of scoring or getting paid, who cares? The cold hard truth in sports and in business is everyone wants to win and collect a paycheck.

In Olympic sports, the actual “paycheck” can be pretty small. Metaphorically, the paycheck is the medal, the record, or whatever goal the team or individual has set.

In commercial real estate, there is a big difference between a signed listing agreement and a closed escrow.  Deals take a long time to procure and a long time to close.  And most often they don’t make it over the finish line even after heroic moves.  It takes vigilance, focus and expertise to successfully bring a commercial real estate transaction to closing or lease signing.  Without these skills, you end up with “everything but the paycheck.”

Delayed Gratification

We all hate this one … at first. This is the part of mental toughness that deals directly with discipline. The discipline needed to spend copious amounts of time, energy and resources to accomplish a goal. A goal or outcome that may or may not happen. Olympic filmmaker Bud Greenspan once said, “An Olympian toils in obscurity for a chance to enter the arena and achieve greatness.” Notice the word choice of “toil” and “chance” of greatness. Nothing is guaranteed in the sports world. No truer words were ever spoken about commercial real estate!

In commercial real estate, you must be willing to exert a lot of time and effort with no guaranteed outcome. Commercial real estate deals usually take months, if not years to materialize, and often apart at the last minute. Developing the mental discipline to work without immediate reward, knowing there are no guarantees will go a long way to actually delivering the results you desire. If you can mentally outlast your opponent, you will win the battle of attrition. Simply put, if I can suffer more than you now, at some point, I will be rewarded for my efforts later … maybe.

The roller coaster ride of beginning my new career in commercial real estate has been challenging and rewarding.  Yet in many ways my experience as a world class athlete has prepared me with the mental stamina needed to succeed in the business.




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