"An effective team is essential for me to do my best."
From tennis player to global brand: Roger Federer spoke with us about tennis as a team sport, his family firm, and his special relationship with Credit Suisse.
You started playing tennis as a child – now you're at the head of a small family firm. How does that feel?
Very special. You play as a kid because it's fun. You learn about your forehand and backhand, how you can improve your foot work, and how to build mental stamina for the break point.
Now your focus is on sponsors, prize money, traveling, and a lot more as a father of four kids. How big is the Federer family firm?
Between 10 and 20 people handle various tasks.
And you are the manager who keeps it all together.
I don't consider myself the boss; I'm first and foremost a tennis player. Just because I pay my coach for his services doesn't mean he's my employee.
That sounds very modest.
No, it's just reality. Every day, these people do everything to help me perform better on the court. Tennis is an individual sport, but an effective team is essential for me to focus on the game and do my best.
But when there's a problem, you have to get tough.
I have to delegate a lot. It's important for me to give other people power. I feel proud when everyone around me thinks for themselves about how best to manage a situation. If there's a problem, I sit at the table with everyone involved. Of course, sometimes I have to pull the rip cord. At the end of the day, I make the decision and take responsibility for it. I don't want to put this burden on anyone else's shoulders.
You have parted ways with multiple coaches in your career.
That was never easy for me; it was upsetting. But we never parted acrimoniously. I was always very grateful for what they had done for me.
The fact that your coaches were 20 or 30 years older probably didn't help.
No, I often thought that my world was ending. But the coaches usually took it in their stride. Older people are more relaxed than younger people. It's like the 16-year-olds who break up with their sweethearts and think their lives are over. (laughs)
How do you keep major events from having a negative impact on your game?
You have to respond quickly and openly to issues. You have to take responsibility. For me, that's a question of leadership. I'm a Leo and I like to be in the spotlight, but not all the time, of course. I also feel relieved when it's over and I can return to my normal life.
Are you a born leader, or did you have to have training?
It came naturally. I had a lot to do with people older than myself, who I could learn a lot from. However, I also like working with young people. They approach things differently, as they have nothing to lose. This mix is what matters and it allows me take risks without fear. In tennis and in business, risk pays off.
How did working in the marketing agency Team8, and serving as president of the ATP Player Council and the Roger Federer Foundation help you build up your entrepreneurial skills?
Those are three very different areas. One is pure business, one is finding a consensus between players and event organizers, and one is about charitable projects. However, they all provide valuable lessons.
You've also met some very famous people.
Muhammad Ali and Bill Gates impressed me a lot. It's striking that many of these exceptional people went through tough times where they had to buckle down. When things go wrong, there are always opportunities in business and sports, but you must be able to identify them.
What's your secret?
You need to have the winner instinct. You must have self-confidence, but without overestimating yourself. Make it as tough as possible for your opponent to beat you. My finish line's not the next point. My finish line comes in a couple of hours.
You are one of the world's highest paid professional athletes. Forbes Magazine estimated your income from sponsorships and prize money at 68 million dollars last year.
Today I'm profiting from the fact that I was not greedy as a young person. I was very selective in the beginning and I waited for the right sponsors. That patience paid off. Today, some very prestigious brands are associated with my name. Credit Suisse sponsored only team sports for a long time, such as Sauber in Formula 1 and the Swiss national football team. We didn't start working together until 2009.
What is special about your involvement with Credit Suisse?
When I was four months old, my parents opened a savings account for me. The first money I made with tennis went into a Credit Suisse account. I have friends who used to work there or still do, including my sons' godfather. So it was natural to work together. The fact that the bank gave me a ten-year contract underscores the trust and respect in this relationship. That's a very long contract for an individual athlete. It's a terrific compliment to me personally and makes me proud.
What is important to you in a partner and sponsor?
Ideally, there are synergies. I always promised that I would remain true to myself. I've had to make some adjustments, but I don't let anyone tell me what to say or how to say it, or how to act. Athletes must be natural, with a mind of their own.