Guest columns

3 startup lessons you can learn from this Texas Olympian turned entrepreneur

Whether it's in the gym or the boardroom, the ability to pick yourself up after a failure is key to success, as this former Olympian learned. Getty Images

I've hit rock bottom more times than I can count. As a gymnast, I overcame injuries that would have ended many other athletes' careers — only to watch my Olympic dreams slip out of reach. As a businessman, I built a successful startup — and then lost it all.

The main thing I've learned? Setbacks can be productive if you're willing to learn from them. Today, as I lead a successful company, I constantly inform my decision-making with the lessons I learned as an athlete and entrepreneur.

Three of those lessons can help everyone — both in the gym and in the boardroom.

First, never give up.

When I was 12, I trained under gymnastics coach Ralph Reeves, the toughest coach I ever had. I would spend hours perfecting my craft — getting up on the pommel horse as I tried not to look down at my cracked and bloodied hands. Upon finishing each routine, Coach Reeves would utter one word: "Again."

Not, "Nice work, how about one more?" or, "Can you do another?" Just, "Again." And so I would get back up on the pommel horse — again.

As the Junior Olympic Games, the pinnacle of high school gymnastics, approached during my junior year, it looked like my hard work was about to pay off. Then, I blew out my knee and tore my ACL, MCL, and meniscus while training. Refusing to let my injury determine my fate, I went on to win my first national championship.

Next, I headed to the University of Oklahoma to learn from legendary gymnastics coach — Paul Ziert. While my high school coach gave me my discipline, Paul gave me my style. My teammate Bart Conner taught me the true meaning of "first one in last one out." He led by example, encouraging the entire team to practice extra hours. His ability to inspire without uttering a single word stayed with me.

I eventually graduated from the University of Oklahoma as a five-time All-American and NCAA champion with a spot on the Olympic roster. But due to President Jimmy Carter's boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics, I never got a chance to participate.

I was devastated, but I picked myself up — again — and transitioned to the business world. More setbacks awaited.

Second, forgive others.

In the mid-1980s, I started my first company. But before I knew it, the relationship I had with my business partner had soured and I found myself broke, divorced, and living in a tiny apartment on a loan from my ex-father-in-law.

That episode would have been enough for a logical person to never open another business — to never trust anyone again.

Call me illogical. After this incident, I went on to build and sell multiple successful companies. I say this not to brag, but merely to prove my bona fides to other entrepreneurs who are just starting out and facing their own challenges.

It's crucial to forgive your colleagues, your subordinates, even yourself. I didn't dwell on losing my Olympic dreams; I moved on to compete as a businessman. And I didn't vow revenge on my ex-partner, I forgave him.

In fact, if I ran into him on the street, I'd thank him for teaching me the greatest lesson of my life. The day I stopped hating my ex-partner was the first day I felt joy again.

Finally, trust, but verified.

As an athlete, I had to trust and listen to my body, my doctors, my coaches and trainers to overcome my injuries. After my experiences, I've learned to pay very close attention to what people are saying — and more importantly, what they aren't saying — in the boardroom. Reading body language and getting to know people before you do business with them is just as important as studying their qualifications on paper.

Today, as I lead a business, I spend countless hours strategizing for and planning out my board meetings. Sometimes my preparation lasts three times as long as the actually meeting. But as I learned throughout my athletic experience, preparation is the best way to ensure success.


If you're an entrepreneur, you will eventually experience a business setback. It's inevitable. But the next time you do — pause, make a game plan, and think to yourself, "again."

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Michael Wilson is the CEO of Healthcare Highways.

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Building Houston

 
 

United Airlines plans on hiring 1,800 local employes — many of whom will be trained at a newly expanded training facility. Photo via United.com

A new study highlights United Airlines’ multibillion-dollar impact on the Houston economy as the company eyes the addition of 1,800 local employees this year.

The study, done by Chicago-based consulting firm Compass Lexecon, shows United’s hub at George Bush Intercontinental Airport along with spending by foreign visitors arriving on flights operated by United and its partners contribute an estimated $5.3 billion in annual gross domestic product (GDP) in Texas.

Furthermore, the study says United’s direct employment in Houston accounts for $1.2 billion in annual economic activity, and the local hub indirectly supports 56,000 local jobs. Houston is one of United’s seven U.S. hubs.

“United continues to be a great partner and business leader in the city of Houston, connecting Houstonians to the world and investing in vital infrastructure projects that help enhance the travel experience for millions of travelers,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner says in a news release.

The economic impact study was released in conjunction with the opening of the $32 million expansion of United’s flight attendant training center in Houston. Highlights of the 56,000-square-foot facility include a roughly 400-seat auditorium, and a 125,000-gallon pool and mock fuselage for practicing evacuation of a plane during a water landing.

This year, the Chicago-based airline is on track to add 15,000 workers, including 4,000 flight attendants. United employs more than 11,000 people in Houston and plans to hire 1,800 more in 2023.

The airline plans to train more than 600 flight attendants per month at the enlarged Houston facility.

“The best flight attendants in the industry deserve the best, most modern training facility in the country,” United CEO Scott Kirby says in a news release. “This expansion project is yet another example of an investment we made during the depths of the pandemic that will support our employees, further improve our ability to deliver great service, and set United up for success in 2023 and beyond.”

New United flight attendants will go through a six-and-a-half-week training course at the Houston facility and then return every 18 months to stay up to date on flight qualifications.

United posted profit of $737 million last year, down 75.5 percent from the pre-pandemic year of 2019, on operating revenue of nearly $44.5 billion, up 3.9 percent from 2019.

In 2022, the airline’s investment arm, United Ventures, announced an investment of up to $37.5 million in Houston-based NEXT Renewable Fuels. The company, which produces renewable fuel for the aviation sector, is developing a biofuel refinery in Oregon.

NEXT plans to go public this year through a SPAC merger with a publicly traded shell company.

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