Fabian Cancellara: “Sometimes you have to take a fall before you can rise up again, stronger than ever before”
From athlete to entrepreneur: how life, priorities, and goals change.
Fabian Cancellara is a truly exceptional athlete, whose career from 2001 to 2016 saw him take two Olympic golds, four World golds, a Milan-Sanremo, three Tours of Flanders, three Paris-Roubaix, a Tirreno-Adriatico, and a Tour de Suisse, as well as many other honors. Today, Fabian has quit racing and turned his hand to business. He is also an ambassador of the Laureus Switzerland Foundation, working on sports projects to help disadvantaged Swiss youth.During the event organized by Credit Suisse to celebrate the creation of the “Entrepreneurs’ Club” in Ticino, we took a moment to discover his business side.
Fabian, from athlete to manager, what has changed in your life?
Fabian Cancellara: In recent years, I have spent a lot of time with my manager, from whom I have learned a lot. Yet, day-in day-out, I realize that I still have so much more to learn, and this is precisely why I have chosen to attend a Sports Marketing and Management course at the University of St. Gallen. After 16 years as an athlete, I have decided that I want to share my experience with sponsors, friends, and enthusiasts and give something back to the world of sports, for example as in the triathlon project I am currently pursuing. Today, I have what would be classed as a more "normal" lifestyle; I have more time to spend with my family, even if the learning curve and my business keep me pretty busy and I put long hours in. Just like in sports, it takes commitment, perseverance, and hard work to achieve goals.
What is the most important factor in your new role as an entrepreneur?
Security is essential for me, in business as in sports. Today, security means being able to rely on trustworthy collaborators and partners, who support you when you most need it. Alone, we achieve nothing: It is when we work together that we manage to develop projects and achieve our objectives.
This applies to banks too – what do you expect from your bank?
Certainly not returns of 6, 7, or 8%! Although nothing is impossible, the risk must be considered. Given that I aim for security, for me it is essential that I have a competent interlocutor, who is available and reliable in the bank, with whom I can openly discuss my projects, who listens to me and advises me with banking. Moreover, the bank regularly organizes events that I personally believe are extremely valuable for networking and to make new contacts.
But no matter how carefully you prepare, sometimes unforeseen events happen. How do you deal with them?
During my career as an athlete, I have at times failed to win, for example in Mendrisio, or have made mistakes or fallen. This was often due to my being over-confident, too sure of myself. And in fact, it was perhaps when I wasn’t feeling 100% that I put even more effort into it and ended up improving my results. In these aspects, sports are a school of life that help you learn to face up to difficulties in other areas too. As an entrepreneur, I must constantly remain aware of the fact that the unexpected can happen, often when you least expect it, and so you need to work even harder. Mistakes are an important part of learning and help you keep improving. Sometimes you have to take a fall before you can rise up again, stronger than ever before.
Do you feel the same adrenaline rush in business as in sports?
It is a different type of adrenaline. Today, I have a strong motivation that gives me the boost and energy to tackle new situations. As yet, I have not achieved any concrete results, but I can see things moving forward positively and this drives me to continue. Clearly, in sports, instinct and emotions are very important. In business, however, what matters are the figures: There is a business plan to follow and adapt if necessary. But you cannot base your decisions on instinct alone; you need to consider data, research, and concrete trends.
What is your recipe for success?
I have to be willing to put 100% into what I do and make sacrifices. In sports, I made a great many sacrifices, from what I ate to not seeing my family for long periods of time. In business, I need to be willing to invest a great deal of time, to learn and improve constantly, to listen, and to persevere. Nothing is obtained without commitment and sacrifice.