Inside One Equity Partners are as many as eight Olympians and even more of their world- or Olympic gold medals, said managing partner Dick Cashin, who competed internationally as a rower and now hires former college athletes while recommending others do the same.
“Everybody thinks sports is about winning,” says the 60-year-old Cashin, who didn’t earn a medal as a member of the 1972 U.S. Olympic team. “For me, it’s more about losing and then figuring out a way to win. It’s those things that make working with athletes and hiring former athletes a reasonable thing to consider.”
Seeking accomplished jocks with good grades, especially women, for entry-level positions is becoming de rigueur on Wall Street, where New York-based Drum Associates in February opened what it describes as the first division of an executive search firm that caters exclusively to current and former college athletes.
“Companies love to see an athletic background,” said Carly Drum-O’Neill, a former Penn State University varsity tennis player who founded the firm’s athlete-focused unit, dubbed Division I. “And with all of the diversity needs that companies have, strong women are definitely in demand.”
While athletes have for years worked in finance-related jobs, companies these days demand more than just a famous face with glory-days tales shaking the hands of prospective clients, says Keith Murnighan, the Harold J. Hines Distinguished Professor of Management and Organization at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management in Evanston, Illinois.
“In the old days, the only skill required was signing autographs,” Murnighan said in a telephone interview. “Now they’re not just hiring any athletes. They’re hiring smart athletes -- people who are disciplined, used to taking direction but able to take initiative. The other thing is they have a high pain tolerance. How does that sound for Wall Street?”
Liz Boardman, a former Georgetown University field hockey player who conducts senior-level assignments for sports organizations at executive search firm Russell Reynolds Associates in New York, called the sports-focused recruiter “a great, progressive idea.”
Division I counts a major international bank, a U.S.-based bank and a pharmaceutical firm among its five-client stable that Drum-O’Neill said soon would include investment banks.
The major international bank, which the 36-year-old Drum-O’Neill declined to name, recently asked her firm to fill five of the 16 positions in a training program. It hired two former college football and baseball players as well as a lacrosse player. Drum-O’Neill said firms are seeking to replace baby boomers, two million of whom will reach age 65 this year. That number, she said, will climb to about four million a year by 2020-2025.
“If you’re a swimmer or tennis player, you’re working with a greater-than-I sort of mentality,” says Boardman, who led the search that resulted in Val Ackerman, a four-year starter for the women’s basketball team at the University of Virginia, as commissioner of the Big East Conference. “That’s the most coveted thing at a corporation, especially at the executive level.”
Drum-O’Neill joined the family business located about two blocks from Ground Zero after the 2001 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center to help with sales. She had been working in sales at ESPN, which she said targeted ex-athletes for two reasons: the network’s sports focus and the fact that they were often overlooked because their schedules precluded internships.
Ed Erhardt, president of ESPN global customer marketing and sales, said in a telephone interview that about 60 of the 300 people in his group played competitive college sports. More than 50 percent are women, as is half of the senior management, he said.
“The fact that a person played collegiate sports only enhances our ability to identify them when they have all of the other skills,” says Erhardt, whose father, Ron, was a college and National Football League coach.
Cashin attributes the rise in female participation in college athletics to Title IX, the 41-year-old federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in any educational program or activity receiving federal financial aid.
“Pre-Title IX, a great sports experience wasn’t available to normal college female athletes,” said Cashin, whose undergraduate degree and Master of Business Administration come from Harvard University. “Now that women have, it’s transformative.”
ESPN made it easier for athletes by staging recruiting seminars on Tuesday nights, according to Drum-O’Neill. She said her colleagues at the Walt Disney Co. unit included a female University of Virginia volleyball player, male and female soccer players from Michigan, a male track athlete from Rutgers and a male lacrosse player from Johns Hopkins.
“Even though we were competitive with each other, we’d all stay late and help each other,” she said. “That’s what we do.”
Drum-O’Neill is helping athletes with what she said is a familiar lament -- that firms often would hire a non-athlete with a 4.0 grade-point average before a jock with, say, a 3.8.
“Let’s remember athletes have a 40-hour commitment besides school,” she said.
The attributes of commitment, competitiveness and time management aren’t lost on Paul Hubert, managing director at Citigroup’s private bank. His team includes Anthony Di Santi, a former baseball player at the University of Connecticut and managing director of the bank’s sports finance and advisory group, and Jesse Neumyer, who played football for the late Joe Paterno at Penn State in State College, Pennsylvania.
Neumyer, 32, said he keeps his helmet in his office as a reminder of lessons learned from Paterno, who would tell his players that you’re never as bad as you think when you lose or as good as you think when you win.
“The takeaway was the even keel,” Neumyer said in a telephone interview. “It’s something I translate into my day-to-day.”
From an employer’s standpoint, Neumyer says, having played college sports shouldn’t be all that different from a candidate with an MBA.
“Somebody had put this individual through a very difficult training program,” said Neumyer, who graduated in 2003 and then got his MBA from Penn State. “They’ve been tested and proven they can get through it -- whatever it is.”
About 4 percent of college graduates played intercollegiate athletics, said 34-year-old Chris Smith, a former Hawaii and Missouri State football player who is chief executive officer of Kansas City-based Career Athletes, which he described as LinkedIn for ballplayers and whose clients include KPMG LLP.
Two of those ex-jocks are now working for Drum-O’Neill, who recently added a former University of Michigan hockey player and Granville, Ohio-based Denison University football player in positions that seek to expand the client roster.
Cashin, the former rower at One Equity Partners, said 90 percent of people get 90 percent of “stuff” done.
“They tend to confuse that activity with progress. Progress is getting 100 percent of it done,” he said. “People working in teams, who are willing to work at working in teams, they get more done.”