7 CEOs Who Were College Athletes

7 CEOs Who Were College Athletes 7 CEOs Who Were College Athletes

From a very young age, youth athletes begin to learn important skills that will help them later in life. Things like leadership, teamwork, and hard work are all skills you learn in sports that can be translated into other aspects of your life. These skills could lead you to be anything…even a CEO of a major company. The 7 CEOs listed below used the skills they learned as youth and college athletes to become some of the most influential people in the world.

1. John Donahoe: CEO of Nike

Photo Credit: LinkedIn

John Donahoe played college basketball at Dartmouth College from 1978-1982. He had an impressive season on JV his freshman year before moving to the varsity team. Donahoe has been the CEO of Bain & Company, eBay, and ServiceNow, and is currently the CEO and president of Nike. His athletic career at Dartmouth definitely aided his future career, leading him to the Nike athletic brand.

2. Brian Roberts: CEO of Comcast Corporation

Photo Credit: The Hollywood Reporter

Brian Roberts played college squash at the University of Pennsylvania from 1977-1981. He was awarded first-team All-Ivy League and was team captain. After graduating, Roberts also won silver with the U.S. squash team in 1981, 1985, 1997, and 2009, and gold in 2005 at the Maccabiah Games in Israel. His coach at Penn, Al Molloy wrote on the locker room board “No Pain, No Gain,” and Roberts said that he used that quote as one of the mottos for his life. He immediately started working for Comcast Corporation after graduation and became CEO in 1990.

3. Jeffrey Immelt: CEO of General Electrics (GE)

Photo Credit: The Boston Globe

Another Dartmouth College graduate, Jeffrey Immelt was an offensive tackle on the football team from 1974-1978. Even as a busy CEO, Immelt has still contributed immensely to the football world. He was a leader in the Football Matters campaign and the Congressional College Football Caucus. In a video for Football Matters, Immelt said, “When you ask what a CEO does: drives performance, knows how to develop other people, and knows how to set standards, and all three of those things in some way comeback to what I learned when I was playing football.” His lessons from his sport have stuck with him all through becoming one of the most successful people in the country!

4. Walter Robb: CEO of Whole Foods

Photo Credit: S2G Ventures

Walter Robb played college soccer at Stanford University from 1972-1976. Robb was the team captain and was a great leader on the team. From his soccer career, he had the hard work, leadership, and perseverance skills to find his passion in food and later become the CEO of Whole Foods.

5. Brian Moynihan: CEO of Bank of America

Photo Credit: Business Roundtable

Brian Moynihan played college football and rugby at Brown University from 1977-1981. He played football during his freshman fall and was convinced by his friends to join the rugby team for the rest of his three years. He became team captain his junior year and that same year his team went all the way to win the the Ivy League championship. When mentioning his skills that he learned from his rugby days that have transferred to the business world, Moynihan said; “the lessons of leadership do transfer—how to motivate people, how to try to get people to do more than a team can apart.”

6. Samuel Palmisano: CEO of IBM

Photo Credit: Asia Global Institute

Samuel Palmisano played football as an offensive lineman at Johns Hopkins University from 1969-1973. At the time, freshmen could not play on varsity, so Palmisano started all three years that he was eligible for varsity. He was a team captain, first-team All-MAC, and helped the team to a three-year record of 17-10. Palmisano learned a lot from his days as a leader at Johns Hopkins. He said to the president of the college; “If you’re sincere and care about whatever it is and don’t put yourself first, people will do anything. They will do whatever you want them to do.”

7. Meg Whitman: CEO of Hewlett-Packard (HP)

Photo Credit: Cincinnati Enquirer

Meg Whitman played both lacrosse and squash at Princeton University from 1973-1977. As a two-sport athlete, Whitman learned a thing or two about time management and leadership. In her book “The Power of Many,” Whitman says; “I liked team sports the best. When I’m pulling a business team together, I still use those basketball aphorisms I learned as a young person: ‘Let’s pass the ball around a little before game time.’ ‘Do we need man-to-man or zone defense?'” Much of Whitman’s success has come out of the lessons she learned at a young age from the sports she played.

* Originally published on July 3, 2023, by Bella Nevin

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