Bill Stapleton has pretty much done it all in the world of sports and entertainment, so when he came to speak to a group of fellows from the Center for Sports Leadership & Innovation, he was able to dole out advice and wisdom on a wide variety of topics.
The longtime agent for cyclist Lance Armstrong, Stapleton holds a bachelor’s, MBA and law degree from the University of Texas where he was the captain of the swim team as an undergrad. After representing the United States at the 1988 Olympics, Stapleton joined the athletes’ advisory council to the United State Olympic Committee and latter became the Vice President of the USOC.
Midway through his career, which also included a stint as the CEO of a pro cycling team and heading up the sports marketing efforts for the Livestrong Foundation, Stapleton began to diversify his business interests, and he founded the Austin City Limits music festival and Lollapalooza and started a group of hotels and restaurants in Austin.
Here are three key takeaways from the meeting between Stapleton and the CSLi fellows.
1. Success is all about developing good relationships.
Stapleton was an excellent student and has two advanced degrees, but those degrees stopped mattering after a few years into his career, he said, and he reminded the students in attendance that the same would eventually be true for them, too.
What does matter in the long term, are what kinds of relationships you build with people.
“A lot of people want to work in the sports world,” Stapleton said. “It’s a business where you can look at a million resumes, but if I call somebody and I say, ‘you need to take a look at this person,’ that’s way more important than a 4.0 at UT. It’s way more important than the classes you took. If I say, ‘She’s a badass and you should look at her,’ guess what happens? They look at her and they go, ‘OK, tell me more.’”
2. Fight for what you believe in.
When Stapleton first joined the Athletes Advisory Council to the USOC, he wasn’t super jazzed about the gig, saying he “got talked into it.”
But he grew to love it and became an advocate for athletes’ rights when Olympic athletes didn’t have anyone else sticking up for them.
“If you’re in Major League Baseball, you had Don Fehr [former executive director of the MLB Players Association]–you always had somebody to speak for you. In the Olympic movement, what happens is you never made any money, you were afraid to speak up, you retire, now you’ve got to get a job and you don’t care anymore, right?
“So in the ’90s [the Athletes’ Advisory Council] really became a group of people that fought for athletes’ rights. Things like NGBs [National Governing Bodies] spending all their money on administrators instead of on a stipend for an Olympic Luge person that doesn’t have any money, and if they had $5,000 a month they could quit their job at Home Depot. So we started fighting for that, and it started working.”
Stapleton remains involved in this effort, despite leaving almost all of his other sports ventures behind, and he’s stuck with it because of his passion for the work.
3. Sports bring people together.
Stapleton opened his remarks by telling a story about his 11-year-old son, Ben.
When Ben was in fourth grade, Stapleton and his wife decided to move him from the public school he was attending to a private school where all his sisters were already enrolled. Off the bat, Ben had a hard time making friends, but he was a basketball player so Stapleton knew, once basketball season rolled around, things would change.
“[Ben] started the basketball season, had no friends, and by the end of the basketball season, he’s right in the middle of all of it, getting invited to all the parties because he’s an athlete, and that’s what I’ve always loved about sports,” Stapleton said. “I was a swimmer. I swam at UT, I swam at the Olympics, and I’ve always loved the ideals of sport and that’s how I ended up in it.”
Even though Stapleton doesn’t work in the sports world anymore, his passion for sports served as an entry point for a storied and successful career, and his story shows how working hard and focusing on relationships can take you on many great adventures.