For much of his life, Dorian Weber built his days around a singular goal: to become one of the best rowers in the world. It’s what propelled him to a silver medal at the 2016 Paralympic Games, at age 34, as a member of Team USA. But it also delayed something important: finding a long-term career path.
“The whole point was rowing first, and to try to get as good as I could,” said Weber, who also competed in the 2012 Paralympic Games. “To do that, you can’t really work.”
Nearing the end of his rowing career, Weber called his friend who worked in pharmaceutical sales. The call was revelatory. Weber learned that not only could he transition to the workforce, but many of the skills he honed in a boat would position him to be highly successful. The friend suggested that Weber pursue a career in sales, which he took to heart. Earlier this year, that career took him to a new role as an account executive at Salesforce, selling to small businesses in parts of Florida and Alabama.
Although Weber’s journey may seem happenstance, it mirrors a well-worn path for U.S. Olympians and Paralympians. Many high-level athletes looking for a career after sports have found a new home in sales, where some of their distinguishing traits – such as their competitive nature and their ability to deal with failure – play especially well. With U.S. Olympians and Paralympians representing the elite of the elite, it’s little surprise they make up some of the best sports-to-sales stories.
“I’ve seen that transition take place time and time again,” said Bob Berland, who won a silver medal in judo for the U.S. at the 1984 Olympic Games and now works in sales at a Chicago marketing execution firm called npn360.
“Competitive athletes like to compete, and sales is a competitive job, far more competitive than being a CPA and auditing the books,” Berland said. “You go out, you get the deal, you bring it in. You close the sale. You win.”
Berland helped another U.S. Olympic medalist, swimmer Christine Magnuson, find a job in sales several years ago. Magnuson is now a senior manager for solution engineering at Salesforce.
Part of what makes U.S. Olympians and Paralympians unique is the sheer volume of time they spend training for and competing in their sports. The Games may be on a quadrennial calendar, but for many of these athletes, it’s a year-round, continual effort that can extend well into adulthood.
Then there’s the subject of compensation. Some elite athletes earn money from endorsements, and there are financial rewards for winning a medal. U.S. Olympians and Paralympians earn $37,500 for a gold medal, $22,500 for silver, and $15,000 for bronze, among other resources provided by the USOPC. But for the athletes, it’s much more a pursuit of glory than a pursuit of income.
“You spend your 20s in a sport that doesn’t pay any money when everyone else in your peer group is all earning cash and getting wives and husbands and retirement funds,” said Weber, now 39 years old.
Born in the U.S. and raised in England, Weber moved to Australia in his 20s to train full-time as a rower. He has bilateral clubfoot, a birth defect in which both feet are turned inward and downward. While in Australia, he worked odd jobs on the side, including a stint as a librarian and another gig as a contractor.
Little did he know that his rowing career – while ostensibly delaying his professional life – would also prepare him for it in so many ways. Rowing, he said, is less about talent than it is about how much effort you’re willing to put in over time. You get out of it what you put into it, very much like sales, which he called “the lowest-paid easy work or the highest-paid hard work there is.”
A “next level” that athletes have
Plus, most people never need to push themselves to the degree that he and many other Paralympians do.
“I sat on the start line against some of the best people in the world who weren’t doing it for monetary reasons,” Weber said. “They were doing it because they wanted to be the best, and it’s very difficult to beat that person. That’s the next level that I have. So, just having that sort of mentality was always going to drive me to be successful in sales.”
Berland said some sports lend themselves to sales careers more so than others. He said that athletes in either team sports or individual sports with a strong team dynamic tend to emerge with the social skills needed to address a room full of people. Part of what prepared Magnuson for a sales job was her experience conducting swim clinics for children. “If you can hold the attention of kids for four hours, you can hold the attention of a boardroom easily,” she said.
Ultimately, sales requires finding a balance between succeeding as an individual in a commission-based role and being part of a team. Weber, who worked in pharmaceutical sales before joining Salesforce and is based in South Florida, said for some salespeople, it is very much an individual sport. But he’s learned that the best of them don’t treat it that way.
“Eventually, you’re going to need help from something I have,” he said. “And the one or two relationships I’ve kept from pharmaceuticals are people who helped me. We worked together. Their success helped me succeed, and vice versa. And I like that aspect of Salesforce. Everyone’s super friendly. Yes, we all have goals, we’re all trying to do well, but we’re all on the same team.”