Another day another game: The drive and determination needed to succeed in a sporting career can be valuable assets in business, yet few stars cross from the playing field to the boardroom. Nigel Cope reports

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The Independent Online
Alan Pascoe, the former 400-me tre hurdler, is sitting in his swish offices in Drury Lane, London. Framed posters of top sports stars such as Will Carling and Linford Christie line the walls. Copies of business journals, such as the Financial Times and Marketing Week, lie on the coffee table. Tall, tanned and looking fit from regular lengths of the swimming pool and a new-found passion for skiing, Pascoe talks quickly and confidently - not with the bland cliches of the sports star granting a trackside interview, but with the precise, well-structured sentences of a businessman used to dictating letters and running meetings.

Since retiring from competitive athletics in 1978 with an Olympic silver (Munich in 1972) and Commonwealth and European golds, Pascoe has set up a thriving sports sponsorship business. Alan Pascoe Associates has four divisions. They include a TV production company that produces most of the BBC's snooker coverage and a personality management group that looks after celebrities such as Michael Aspel. The group made profits of pounds 1m last year.

Pascoe the athlete transformed himself into Pascoe the managing director during 1977, when a bad injury prevented him from training for three months. He started getting involved in business deals, largely in sports sponsorship and the staging of athletics meetings, which he felt was being handled poorly. It started to become addictive. 'I was getting this tremendous buzz from business,' he says. 'And I started to think, 'well, you've got to start earning a proper living sooner or later'.' He spent the rest of the 1977 season building up as many business contacts as he could.

His sporting background, he says, was an enormous asset. 'I'm convinced there is a carry-over between sport and business, particularly in individual sport. You have to supply your own drive and determination. When you have to get up in the dark in winter and lug out all the hurdles before you can even begin training, that toughens the mind. Why do athletes do it? They do it because they want to get one up on the competition. It's the same in business. You've got to keep banging away.'

Pascoe is one of Britain's sporting business executives, an elite band of double achievers who have succeeded on the field and in the boardroom. Tony O'Reilly is the most notable example. The former rugby wing three-quarter, who played for Ireland and the British Lions, is now - among other things - chairman and chief executive of Heinz, the international food company. In one year, 1991, he earned dollars 71m ( pounds 47m).

Francis Lee, the bustling footballer who made his name with Manchester City, built up a successful paper business (called F H Lee) before selling it to concentrate on a third career as a racehorse trainer. Phil Edmonds, the Middlesex and England off-spinner, holds stakes in several quoted companies as well as a Hertfordshire country club called Stocks. David Lloyd, the former tennis player and elder brother of John Lloyd, runs an indoor tennis centre company that was floated on the stock market earlier this year. These are just a few.

Most say that success in sport has helped them to carve out a second career in business. Individual sportsmen - the athletes, golfers or tennis players - cite the single- minded determination and the drive to train to be the best as key ingredients that have helped them in business.

Team players from football, rugby and cricket mention team building, motivation and people management as skills that have transferred well from the sports field to the boardroom. 'Rugby has been the template of my life,' O'Reilly is fond of saying.

But why should a successful career as an international sports star offer a leg-up the corporate ladder? Is there a link between sporting prowess and entrepreneurship? And if so, why do so few rise above the level of TV pundit, sports shop proprietor, or pub landlord?

The corporate arena is littered with sports idols who have found the commercial going too tough. The late Bobby Moore, the 1966 England World Cup captain, was a hero on the field but almost everything he touched in business turned sour, including a clothing business with Jimmy Tarbuck and an Essex country club with Sean Connery. Golfer Tony Jacklin got his fingers burned with a company that offered golf handicaps. Motor racing champion James Hunt, who died in June, lost money on property and (like a lot of other sports personalities) underwriting at Lloyd's.

But while some have failed, top sports stars clearly hold a few aces when it comes to starting a business. The most obvious is their fame. This opens doors that would otherwise remain closed, and gives them a marketing edge. Most are quick to realise this and incorporate their name into the company: hence David Lloyd Leisure, Alan Pascoe Associates and Cotton Traders (the mail-order clothing company set up by former England rugby international Fran Cotton, with team-mates Tony Neary and Steve Smith.) 'It does help in the early years, because people remember who you are,' says Pascoe. 'But if I talk to a secretary who's under 30 now, they've never heard of me.'

Finance is another asset. Professional sports stars accumulate wealth and often leave the sport after valuable testimonials. This helps them over that first hurdle, which can leave many small business people in hock to the bank or with a remortgaged house.

According to psychologists, however, a key advantage a sportsman has is the mental discipline honed through years of training and competition. George Sik, an occupational psychologist with the London practice Saville & Holdsworth, says those who take part in competitive sport tend to do better in psychometric tests - the questionnaires that provide a profile of a candidate's personality. 'They tend to be more flexible, more driven and have better interpersonal skills,' he says.

Barry Cripps, a sports psychologist who wrote a PhD on the social and psychological differences between winning and losing football teams and who now works with the British archery team, feels the connection is stronger: 'Sports people are more resilient. Their sport teaches them not to give up, and they keep going for the ball right until the end.'

Mike Burton, the former England prop forward who played in Bill Beaumont's grand- slam winning side of 1980, feels his psychological make-up, honed in rugby days, has helped him in business. 'I was a 17-stone rugby forward and it was like being embroiled in a battle. Prop forwards always think they've won. They will come off the pitch and say they gave the other guy a pasting. I was looking forward to retiring. But when I did, I needed another game to play.'

He set up Mike Burton Travel, a corporate hospitality business, in 1981. The company, which now has annual sales of pounds 6m, runs tours to rugby competitions accompanied by former stars such as Barry John and Derek Quinnell. Burton runs the business the way he played rugby, in a kind of head-down fashion, which has led him into several brushes with authority. He fell out with the rugby establishment over buying up tickets at Twickenham for corporate clients. 'But I'm still there,' he says defiantly. 'I'm still selling tickets.'

The notion that businessmen can learn something from sport is not new in the United States, where current and former sportsmen are regularly invited by large corporations to run management seminars on team building and man management. The concept is in its infancy here, but Will Carling, the 27- year-old England rugby captain, is one who has made the connection.

Carling's background gives him the perfect platform: a degree in psychology (an ordinary class degree from Durham), a spell in the army, two years in marketing at Mobil Oil plus five years as England captain. When he set up Insights in 1990, his idea was to present motivational seminars to captains of industry given by captains of sport. He hires others to help, including Gary Lineker, the former England football captain, and Mike Brearley, the former England cricket captain who is now a practising psychoanalyst.

'It just seemed to me that management practices were not nearly as efficient as what a coach would demand in sport,' he says, sitting in the basement of his new Fulham offices. 'Coaches can and do elicit tremendous performances from their teams, and I thought that in management and business these practices were not being applied with the same desire.'

Carling talks of imparting confidence, building trust and enhancing self-belief. He breaks down seminars into small groups of four or five and talks to them about what they are trying to do and why they might not be achieving what they should. Why should they take this from him? 'Like it or not, people do listen to what you say. If any old manager gets up and tells them something, they will probably forget it. But if someone like Tony Jacklin or Mike Brearley tells them something, they will probably remember it.'

He adds: 'In a good team, players are encouraged to take risks and make things happen, rather than just play for safety. In business, I think people are just frightened of making a mistake.'

Though the evidence is only anecdotal, it does seem more common for team sportsmen to go into business than those from individual sports such as tennis and athletics. Golfers, like Tony Jacklin, tend to stick to the sport - in his case in a course-design capacity. Tennis players, like Roger Taylor who runs a coaching centre in Portugal, also tend to stick to what they know. David Lloyd, whose indoor tennis centre company now has sales of pounds 15m a year, is perhaps an exception, but then Lloyd was something of a team man, his major successes coming in the doubles with his other brother Tony and in the Davis Cup, which is as close to a team event as tennis gets.

Rugby figures more than most. As O'Reilly says, the game teaches people that they are dependent on others. Simon Halliday, a former team-mate of Will Carling and now an equity sales manager at UBS, the stockbrokers, agrees: 'At the end of a game, everybody wants to talk to Jeremy Guscott or Rory Underwood because they are the most visible. But what they don't realise is that without the rest of the team behind them, those people wouldn't be able to do anything. It's the same in business: you've got to pull together.' Halliday has noticed much in common with his rugby coaching and the team building now being encouraged at UBS. 'I've applied quite a few things at work that helped make England successful,' he says. He cites communication and 'finding out what makes people tick' as examples.

Team captaincy seems of little importance. Carling is captain of an international side, but O'Reilly, Cotton and Burton were not. Francis Lee, one of the most entrepreneurial figures football has produced, was a gifted team player but did not skipper any of his sides. Lloyd played in the Davis Cup team but rarely captained it, while Edmonds spent much of his career as deputy to Mike Brearley, for Middlesex and sometimes for England.

Of more significance is the status, amateur or professional, of the sport. It is surely no coincidence that more double achievers come from rugby and athletics - amateur sports where participants have jobs throughout their careers. As Carling puts it: 'It's no good if a footballer goes to a company for a job when he's 35, having done nothing but play football for the last 15 years. The company is going to say, 'thanks but no thanks'.'

Pascoe also thinks his amateur status helped him. 'As an athlete, I'd seen the world, stayed in nice hotels and met a lot of interesting people. If I wanted to maintain that lifestyle, I had to get on and do something. A footballer can put a bundle away during his career and not really worry about it.'

Business incentives are, if anything, decreasing in some sports, as the opportunity to keep playing widens. Golfers, for example, can play on the senior tour when they reach 50; tennis players can compete in over-35 and over-45 tournaments.

The footballers on our list, Terry Venables and Lee, are exceptions for a number of reasons. They were playing in an era when wages were significantly lower, and they combined football with a business career. Both also had strong parental guidance - Lee from his father, Venables from his mother. 'Even while I was playing top-class soccer, I had other jobs thanks to the advice Colin, my father, gave me when I started at Bolton Wanderers at 15,' Lee says. 'He said that even if I made it to the top, I should have a business or trade to go into.'

Venables turned himself into a limited company at 18, at his mother's suggestion.

Class may be another factor. Football is still predominantly a working-class game, and most footballers leave school at 16, turn professional and gain few further qualifications or experience beyond soccer. Rugby remains dominated by the public schools. The top players are often university-educated and have established careers. As Cotton puts it: 'Rugby has been good for contacts. A lot of the people I was playing with are managing directors now.'

But for all this, why are there not more sporting businessmen? If they do have all these advantages, why does the list of double achievers start to drift into minor businesses after a dozen or so? Burton has an interesting view. 'A lot of people realise their ambition in their sport,' he says, adding that most players prefer to take a salaried job in an existing business rather than set up something themselves.

David Perry, who captained the England rugby team in 1965 but had to retire after a serious injury when he was 27, thinks his early exit from the game might have been a blessing. 'It meant I could get on and start working my way up in a company.' He chose a printing company, left to join John Waddington, the print and packaging group that makes Monopoly, and is now chairman and chief executive. 'Just because someone is good at a sport, it doesn't mean they can run a business,' he says.

The traffic is not all one way. Pascoe, who admits his grasp of financial matters is not all he might like it to be, hired a finance director, Edward Leask, to handle the number- crunching. Mr Leask, now a partner in the company, is a Pascoe in reverse - a businessman turned sportsman. He took up yachting and came fourth in the 1988 Olympics.