While athletes excel on the sporting field, entrepreneurs can stretch similar athletic muscles in the world of business. Glenn Lurie, former President and CEO of AT&T Mobility and Consumer Operations, as well as a former professional soccer player, explains that there are “absolute parallels” between being a successful athlete and being successful in the business world.
Here, we’ll share Lurie’s sporting background, how playing soccer influenced his career, and three lessons business leaders can take from team sports.
From Scoring Goals to Scoring the First iPhone
Throughout a fruitful career, Lurie has applied the same drive to the evolution of wireless tech as he once did on the soccer field. Over 30+ years, he built three new businesses, led huge organizatons, etc. for AT&T and as well led the company’s negotiations with Apple to launch the first iPhone and iPad.
But Lurie says he wouldn’t be where he is now “without soccer” and credits his success in the business world to his experiences playing the team sport with his alma mater Seattle Pacific University (SPU).
Lurie earned a Bachelor of Arts in Business and Marketing from SPU but admitted that “going to college would have been hard” without his passion and talent for soccer, along with the scholarship that comes with that. In 1983, he agreed to play for the SPU Falcons.
Lurie and his teammates had an amazing run, with the Falcons playing four straight National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) title games, winning three national championships.
Meanwhile, Lurie excelled in the Business School at SPU, netting almost “all A’s” in his major of business and marketing. He describes falling “in love” with the Business and his professors, some of whom he still stays in touch with.
Although he was “obsessed” with the sport during college, Lurie recalls how his time at SPU taught him that there was more to life than soccer. He learned that he could transfer his hard work, passion and skills as an athlete into the business world while still finding fulfilment working and competing with others.
Lurie went on to play professional soccer after college for teams in Portland, Cleveland, Atlanta, and Milwaukee but eventually swapped soccer for wireless business or Cellular business as they called it in 1990. Over the next few decades, he became a leader in the telecommunications industry, helping to usher in the modern smartphone, IoT business and more..
Three Lessons That Team Sports Can Teach Entrepreneurs
While Lurie’s sporting passion is soccer, he is a firm believer that all team sports can offer important lessons that cross over into business. Team sports can teach individuals important leadership skills, plus how to:
- Solve problems effectively and with others.
- Work well with others and always find a “good place” with everyone.
- Compete successfully and always find a way to win.
Lesson 1: Fast, Efficient Problem-Solving
Business professionals who share a sporting background tend to have commonalities in the way they approach work, including problem-solving. Some of the best business people find innovative ways to solve business challenges, and team sports can teach fast, effective and real-time problem-solving skills.
Lurie explains that, whether executing a particular play strategy or a business plan, there will always be “bumps in the road” — unplanned circumstances, things out of your control or challenges from competitors that you must work as a team to overcome”.
When these situations arise in team sports, athletes must problem-solve in real-time and make split-second decisions to find ways to win “no matter what.”
The skills that allow athletes to find rapid, efficient solutions and make necessary adjustments to achieve the desired outcome are also valuable to entrepreneurs. Even wrong decisions provide excellent learning opportunities, and quick problem-solving allows business leaders to execute plans faster.
Lesson 2: How to Work Well With Others
In team sports, individual athletes share a common goal and must find a way to collaborate with teammates to win. Business organizations are similar in that teams of employees must collaborate to achieve set targets and fulfil the company mission.
Lurie explains that all aspects of working with others are “enhanced by athletics” and notes that some of the best people he’s worked with are former athletes. He warns that you must find a good place with the people you work with in sports and business.
However, team sports can provide essential skills that allow people to successfully navigate business relationships, find common ground, and build partnerships.
Lesson 3: Competing Without Ego
Both athletics and business share a competitive element. Athletes must practice discipline and apply unwavering focus to achieve their best results for the team and outperform competitors, which is also pertinent to business.
However, the two worlds require different approaches when dealing with competition. Lurie was “ultra-competitive” growing up, but his time in the business world taught him how to control his competitive streak and use it for good.
He explains that successfully competing in the boardroom requires a “smarter” approach and that winning in business requires “dropping your ego” before walking into a meeting and looking for the best solution for company.
About Glenn Lurie
During a career spanning nearly 30 years, Lurie played a crucial role in the smartphone revolution and has positioned himself as an important figure in the wireless and telecommunications sectors.
Lurie launched his career at McCaw Cellular in the early days of the wireless industry. He spent 27+ years with telecommunications giant AT&T in several leadership roles, including president and CEO of AT&T’s Mobility and Consumer Operations.
Lurie joined Synchronoss Technologies in November 2017, where he served as president, CEO, and member of the board of directors of the software company for three years.
Lurie is still very active as he currently serves on multiple boards including Avis Budget Group, Inc., Pivotal Commware, Inc., Teal Communications, Inc., and Blue Link Wireless, Inc. Lurie is also a General Partner at a venture capital firm called Stormbreaker Ventures.
Lurie won the Atlanta Telecom Professional of the Year Award in 2009 and Wireless Week’s Telecom Leadership Award in 2010. Russell Reynolds Associates named Lurie as 1 of 10 “MobileGameChangers” in 2014 for enhancing people’s lives through innovative, mobile-first services. The Global Telecom Business “Power 100” has also included Lurie multiple times as a recognized leader in the global telecoms industry.