European Business caught up with the ever engaging Gail Emms, the retired British badminton player who tells us about the transition from Olympic winning medalist to the world of business. Always a very difficult transition for any professional athlete who normally have spent the last fifteen years sticking to brutal regimes of gym, travel and adrenaline to the world of desks , computers and bosses.
Gail became hugely popular when she won silver medal at the 2004 Olympic Games , partnering Nathan Roberston in the mixed doubles while in 2009 she was awarded an MBE.
How long have you been retired from being a professional badminton player?
I retired in 2008 after the Beijing 2008 Olympics so it’s been 10 years now. I started playing as a 4yr old so after 27 years, I decided to hang up the rackets and see what else I could do.
The article was mean to be a small piece on an online magazine called The Mixed Zone as I didn’t know what else to do other than write about my frustrations and problems. The Telegraph picked it up and my article went viral highlighting the fact that many sportspeople – and non-sportspeople, struggle in transition and there isn’t enough support out there. Since the article, I had an incredible response and I have been able to find the support needed as well as work.
How do you find the transition from professional sports to the commercial working environment?
It hasn’t been easy, but I was given the chance to work at Office Freedom (formerly Search Office Space) 4 months ago, and I love being part of a team again. In sport, that was one of the best parts – being with a group of people that knew how to get the best out of you and were together through the highs and lows. I’ll admit that I struggle sitting down in an office for long periods of time but I make sure I do lunchtime runs to keep my energy levels up!
How do you see the majority of professional athletes once they retire? The ones you know or know of – do you think they experienced similar issues .
I think it is a hard adjustment for lots of people. Sport is a unique bubble and it can be strange when you come out of it. Some people adjust fine, some not so well. For some people, the reality change hits them 2 years later and they struggle then. Everyone is unique and that’s why it is difficult to set up a support programme.
Do you know many that have made success stories in business when retiring?
There are many sportspeople that have made a success out of retirement… but they are the ones that had plans in place before they retired. Many were pre-lottery and weren’t solely focused on their sport which helped the balance. My worry is that there is an ‘all or nothing’ approach to young sportspeople and other ‘distractions’ like studying and work are discouraged to keep the focus on the sport.
You now work for in the commercial property industry. How did you come to work for them?
It was a random meeting and over a game of padel tennis with CEO Richard Smith that led to me being Head of Partnerships at Office Freedom. I believe that it is finding the right people to help you along the journey is key and Richard saw potential in me to achieve in commercial property. I am very thankful for the opportunity.
They have rebranded recently form Search Office Space to Office Freedom. What do they do as a company and is it just London they are operating?
Office Freedom are the one-stop office concierge service for any business. Whether you are a large company, SME or start-up, we have the full inventory of all the flexible working office space in London, UK and globally. If you need 20 desk spaces in Mayfair, or 10 desk spaces in Berlin, we can provide you the options. And we don’t charge a fee for our services ☺
Do you see the company having USP so you can tell our readers?
There are many serviced office operators in the market, but Office Freedom are the only broker that lists ALL of them. More and more large companies are coming to us as they expand, and the flexible working spaces are now beautiful offices to work in.
Richard Smith started as a commercial property agent and 25 years ago, started Search Office Space after recognising a gap in the market. Not all businesses could take out 5 / 10 year leases. The rebrand to Office Freedom is to tie in with the 25th anniversary.
For the future Gail – where do you see you and the company in the next two years?
Office Freedom wants to be the number one place that businesses go to for their office requirements. As a company, we want to be supporting companies on their journey as they grow and work with partners to provide the best office service possible. As Head of Partnerships, I want to work with like-minded brands to support businesses the best way possible.
You have a few of your things gong – a consultancy with after dinner talks and motivational speeches. Can you tell us what this is and how has it been going?
As an Olympic medallist, I do many talks about the journey from starting out in a tin hut in Bedford, to playing in front of 20,000 people in China. I love talking about personal resilience, the mental toughness needed to succeed and tips that can help succeed in life. I also do management coaching workshops to progress more on these topics with 1:1 business coaching. To be able to get the best out of someone but helping them realise their potential is extremely rewarding.
Is there any particular area you want to focus on? Are there any specific plans with this in the future?
At the moment, I am happy. I am learning in commercial property all the time and I finally feel I can put something on the CV other than badminton! It also gives me flexibility to be able to work on my own consultancy and keep that variety that I love so much. This time last year, I was not in a good place and I didn’t know what the future held. I still don’t know exactly, but I am ok and excited for what it will bring. Bring it on 😉