Power. Perseverance. Passion – A conversation with US Olympian Simone Biles: Learnings for Retail Leaders

On Monday morning, 16th January, Martin Luther King Day, ARA CEO Paul Zahra and ARA Consumer Research Chair, QUT Professor Gary Mortimer, joined an audience with US Olympic gymnast Simone Biles.

Seven-time Olympic medallist Simone Biles is the most decorated gymnast in World Championships history.

Simone shared how she embraces ‘empowerment’ and ‘teamwork’ to inspire the next generation and ignite the limitless potential of all women and girls. Her presentation surrounded the concepts of ‘power’, ‘perseverance’ and ‘passion’ – these three “P’s” form the foundation of Biles’ success and serve as guidance and inspiration for young women and girls everywhere.

Martine Reardon, Chief Marketing Officer NRF moderated the session with Biles, who conveyed the parallels between sports and retail leadership.

Biles spoke of her time growing up in a disadvantaged social background, as an adopted child to becoming a globally recognised elite athlete. She suggested that the “trials and tribulations” she experienced then, aligned to those of many retail leaders today.

“My grandparents are my legal parents. I was up ‘against it’ right from the beginning, but I didn’t see me as being different than anyone else. Everyone’s path to success is not straight, there are curves and barriers”.

“It is during those tough times, you need to ‘dig deep’ and see the big picture. That is my mindset”, said Biles.

Reardon asked Biles how she continued to ‘move forward’? An Olympian at 19, already at the pinnacle of her athletic career at such an early stage. What kept her motivated to keep achieving?

Biles noted that many retail leaders get to that point of their career later in life. So, for her, setting goals, being persistent and having a sense of perseverance, kept pushing her forward.

“There is always another goal to attain, target to achieve”, she said.

Biles always set goals and that is how she manages her business interests today.  She recounted how her adopted mother would force her, at the beginning of every year, to write down short and long term goals.

“So, I use to have a ‘Plan A’ and a ‘Plan B’. If I didn’t achieve those, I’d have ‘Plan C’ and so on”, said Biles.

“Failure happens, but just have another goal. That mindset keeps you moving forward because you do achieve at least some of those goals, and that gives you momentum to keep moving forward.”

“Accomplish and celebrate those small successes with your team”.

Reardon ask Biles to explain her approach to ‘perseverance’ – how do you push through the hard times?

“I am persistent. As a child, if someone said I can’t do it, I’d just do it”, offered Biles. She recounted a story, growing up as a child, involving her brother and a trampoline. She would ask him how to safely do back flips and started to imitate him.

She offered this story and an analogy for retail leaders.

“Find a mentor and imitate what they do. Find out how to do something new, what others in order to achieve their goals. Apply those learning to your career”.

Teamwork is an important success factor in retail leadership. It’s not about one person, but what a team can achieve. Biles suggested, “when everyone does their part, we succeed together”.

Biles indicated her successes were team successes, despite gymnastics being a visually individual sport. Many don’t see doctors, coaches, mentors, team members, and others behind the scenes. Her advice to retail leaders – don’t forget to recognise those successes as ‘team successes’, and bring your team on the journey with you. Every step of the way.

Biles uses ‘motivational quotes’ to inspire others.

She spoke briefly about her new range of activewear, with motivational quotes sewed into the fabric, suggesting leader should also connect with their teams in similar ways. She encouraged retail leaders to regularly reach out to their teams, by phone, in writing, emails, messages, even ‘post-it’ notes, motivating them with messages of support.

Biles suggested throughout your life and career, you will have different mentors. You should connect with different mentors as your career develops and at different stages. Have different mentors for different reasons.

Biles recollected on a challenging period of her life – how her injuries and mental health impacted on her performance and limited her ability to compete.

“This is when ‘team’ is most important. When I was unable to complete medically, my team surrounded me and supported me. Despite my role as team captain, and my obligation to lead, motivate and sustain my team, in those difficult times, they backed me. Some of the team felt they could not complete without me, so my role as a leader was to shift the focus to encouraging and convincing my team that they could it. Sometimes, as a leader, you need to step back and let the team achieve”.

“In business, its easy when things are going well – but very challenging when things are going poorly. How you lead you team through those difficult times is the mark of a great leader.”


[image source: National Retail Federation https://nrfbigshow.nrf.com/speaker/simone-biles ]



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