Learning with Olympians

Alex Dolinskiy
Mar 4, 2018 · 4 min read
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Half of the world’s population (about 3.6 billion people) watch Olympic Games while only three to eleven thousand participate in them. Yet there is still a way for all of us to get some first-hand Olympic experience — by learning from Olympians and their coaches teaching in executive education programs all over the world. To keep the Olympic spirit alive for just a few more days after the Closing Ceremony in Pyeongchang, we decided to put together a list of amazing executive education faculty who were connected to the Olympic Movement at some point in their career.

While living by the informal Olympic motto “The most important thing is not to win but to take part!” can get you fired from almost any company (especially if you are in sales), we can certainly benefit from having more Olympic spirit in business. Striving to be “faster, higher, and stronger” while maintaining integrity and being respectful to competitors, embracing meritocracy and equal opportunity at the same time, celebrating individual success and team spirit, are just a few things we can learn from the best Olympic squads.

If you saw the thrilling and nerve-wracking ladies skating final, you would understand why we are starting the list with Skating and Ice Dance.

Karyn Garossino, an instructor for the Smith School of Business Coaching for Challenging Conversations program, is a former ice dance Olympian, who placed 12th in 1988 Winter Olympics and was Canada’s champion in 1989. Byron Darden teaches in the Developing Your Leadership Presence course at the same school and, as a leadership coach, has been involved in executive-level programs at various schools in the US. He is a professional figure skater and coached Olympic-level athletes.

Another representative from Smith is Peter Jensen who is on the faculty of Sales Management and Leadership programs. He is currently a mental training consultant of Canada’s Olympic Women’s Hockey team, which placed 2nd in Pyeongchang after being number one in the 4 preceding Olympics. Peter has been involved with Team Canada for many years, worked with 40+ athletes at 6 Olympic games.

It’s not surprising to see several educators from the Smith School at Queens University, since the school has a strategic partnership with the Canada Olympic Committee, helping athletes “plan for success beyond sports.”

Daniel Lyons, a 1988 Olympian and a world rowing champion, teaches one of the most interactive experiential leadership courses at Darden. He is also the Founder of an experiential learning company Team Concepts, which employs several other Olympians, including his 1988 teammate Richard Kennelly, who won silver in Seoul (1988) and competed in Barcelona (1992).

Another Olympic rower, Malcolm Baker, who placed 4th in Barcelona, teaches finance at HBS and is involved in custom programs for corporate clients. At some point, he was on the faculty of Advanced Management Development Program in Real Estate at the Harvard Graduate School of Design.

John Neal, of Ashridge, who is on the faculty of several senior executive programs, contributed greatly to Team Britain’s exceptional performance in London (2012) and Rio (2016). Leading up to the Olympics, Ashridge and UK sports agency signed a deal to train 30–40 coaches per year in order to fulfill the promise of 4th place in the medal count (Britain was 3rd in London and 2nd in Rio). The program was run by John Neal’s Sports Business Initiative at Ashridge and taught athletic coaches how to apply business skills, like appraisals, goal-setting, and feedback-seeking to their work.

Steven MacGregor, who is part of the Orchestrating Winning Performance (one of the most flexible executive programs, featuring the opportunity to select from multiple tracks and topics) teaching team at IMD, did not win any gold medals, nor did he qualify for the Olympics. He is a national duathlon champion, though, and did train with Stanford’s track team, and given that Stanford is second only to USC in the number of Olympic medals won by its students, it’s quite the feat! Moreover, Steven’s athletic experience was an inspiration behind his health and performance program for executives, which he delivers at business schools and independently.

Richard Knapp, who teaches innovation and entrepreneurship at USC Marshall and is a seasoned entrepreneur and investor himself, won bronze in Paratriathlon in 2011 pre-Olympic competition in London.

Alain Goudsmet, a renowned expert in mental fitness, has been long involved in Tennis, but most recently served as mental coach to the Belgian Men’s Field Hockey Team (2008) and Belgian’s Women Field Hockey Team, which qualified to the Olympics for the first time in 2012. You can meet with Alain in a business school setting by taking INSEAD AMP.

John K. Coyle, Founder of The Art of Really Living, won his silver medal in short track speed skating in the 1994 Olympics (Lillehammer). He teaches design thinking independently and as faculty member in various executive programs, including Tec de Monterrey’s program in business innovation.

The last but not the least educator on our list is Eythor Bender. He is part of the core faculty at Singularity University and teaches robotics. Not an Olympian himself, he spent 13 years on the executive team of Ossur, which created Cheetah-Flex Foot — a prosthesis “used by nearly every medalist at the Paralympics.”

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