CNBC: Tennis star Maria Sharapova took classes at Harvard Business School to grow her business—here’s what she learned
Tennis star Maria Sharapova has notched five Grand Slam titles and earned more than $38 million in career prize money. And the 31-year-old, who made it to the round of 16 at this years U.S. Open, shows no signs of slowing down.
Still, she plans for the future as if her tennis career could end tomorrow. That’s part of the reason she launched her candy company, Sugarpova, in 2012, with the long-term goal of building it into a lifestyle brand after leaving tennis.
“When you’re young and you’re successful and you’re doing well and things are automatic for you in your life, you tend to think that that will continue for years on end,” Sharapova tells CNBC Make It. “It’s important to also be realistic about what can happen tomorrow. About injuries.”
She would know: The tennis pro overcame a career-threatening shoulder injury in 2008 and then a 15-month doping ban after testing positive for meldonium, which was added to the list of banned substances at the start of 2016.
Sharapova used her time away from the Tour in 2016 productively: She enrolled in two Harvard Business School classes to develop her business skills and grow Sugarpova.
“I took a global management course and a leadership course,” Sharapova tells CNBC Make It. The experience tested her time management skills, she says. “It almost felt like a job because you wake up really early, you study for something, then you go and take all the classes. … And while I was doing that, I was still trying to stay in shape and work out, so by the time Friday came around and everyone’s like, ‘Oh, we’re going out for happy hour,’ I was like, I don’t think I can handle this. I need to go take a nap.”
But the most valuable lessons came from the people she met, she says. “I was surrounded by people that were older, wiser, that were much more accomplished in business than I personally was.”
As for Sharapova’s advice to entrepreneurs after running her company for six years, she says to be as hands on as possible. Business mistakes, she says, often happen when you take a step back and are not as involved in the day-to-day decisions that arise: “When it’s your company and it’s your name on the line, I say take initiative from the very first day from every single decision that you make. It’s extremely important. It will be much more important than maybe spending those 20 or 25 minutes on social media that we tend to do to distract ourselves.
“Find things that maybe you don’t necessarily want to wake up and do — the things that are last on the list — and try to get them done in the beginning. I think that that goes a long way.”