After gaining an honours degree in philosophy followed by a 13-year career as a globetrotting professional sportsman I may not have been the immediate choice to take on commercial sales for a top rugby club but that is where I found myself in February 2012.
Called into the office of the Chief Executive of Exeter Chiefs, still with five months on my playing contract to run, the bad news and good news arrived together. He informed me that I was not going to gain another contract that I so desperately craved but that he did want me to interview for a job in the corporate team.
Education and rugby were all I’d known and, with some strong games recently in the European Challenge Cup at the time I felt I was in with a shot. The news hit home like hammer.
A life plan laid out at the beginning of my pro career was kyboshed and I was awash with feelings of failure and dejection. Being so focussed on the goal didn’t allow me to get some perspective on the situation
The ironic thing is, looking back, it was the best thing that could have happened. Through the failure of a long-term goal came growth and, in that moment of failure, I took time to assess the new opportunity along with the positive ramifications.
To fully understand this story, we need to go back in time: at the beginning of my rugby career, I was inspired by those close to me. I was a second-generation rugby player with a father and uncle who both played to a high standard – ready-made heroes! Arguably my uncle, who captained the North of England, had a more impressive career that ended at 34. On that trivial fact I decided that was going to be my goal also: to play professionally until 34.
All went well for eight years with a long spell in the north west of England followed by contracts in France, Exeter, Scotland and New Zealand. I had options to stay at the far end of the world or move to top level clubs in England or France but I recalled my grand plan… I wanted to retire in six years and needed to start making moves.
Of all the offers on the table the move to Exeter Chiefs (where I’d previously had a great two seasons) was the least attractive in terms of playing level and remuneration but, in the grand scheme, it stacked up the best.
I knew my career was finite and felt there was space in the Chiefs business for me after playing, with the club being on the up. When the option came a year earlier than ‘the grand plan’, with hindsight, it wasn’t such a bad thing.
After an emotional few days coming to terms with the non-renewal of my playing contract, I dusted myself off and dedicated my spare time to getting into the business, and applying the work ethic forged during my playing days to the new career.
At first this wasn’t easy, and I remember on a training day talking with the boys in the changing room about how the day went from nine till six to exacerbated faces. Rugby players work intense short hours and the grind of a proper job took some adjusting to. However, in no time I took to the new job with aplomb and soon had the ultimate endorsement when I was told “you’re far better at this than you were playing!”
Now, I am no longer employed by the Chiefs and I juggle a few different jobs.
My day-to-day routine varies massively as I have a few different business interests. I spend a fair chunk of time working for Plymouth Albion RFC as their commercial manager. I also work in the family business, marketing firm Smithkin Baker where I am the sales specialist, advising companies on their sales strategies or, in some instances, actually selling for them.
I also run my own networking event, ‘Notworking Networking’, that has been tearing up and down Devon for a few years now (and we are about to make our first foray into Somerset, on May 13 since you’re asking!). Finally, I do a fair bit of work hosting events – from ideas festivals to charity fundraisers to awards ceremonies. I enjoy the buzz of providing my very unique form of social lubrication.
To use marketing speak I am something of a universal communicator and dynamic recogniser and certainly honed these skills working through corporate lounges at the tail end of my player career when I was injured or not quite good enough to get picked.
My advice to athletes still performing is to take every opportunity to ‘schmooze’ with the corporate supporters at every opportunity and work on your soft skills. As an elite level sportsperson, you get access to achievers in other fields that your peers outside of sport would not receive.