What Serena Williams Learned From Nike That Helped Her in Business

Serena Williams, a Nike athlete, famous mom, tennis star and Olympian, spoke in a much different capacity Tuesday at Advertising Week New York. As the chairwoman of Verizon Media’s advisory board, the 37-year-old brand builder spoke about her guiding principles in business with the company’s CEO Guru Gowrappan. “Serena has pushed us to take us to the next level,” said Gowrappan at a panel called “Stepping Outside of the Arena,” hosted by CNBC correspondent Julia Boorstin.

Serena Williams and Verizon Media's CEO Guru Gowrappan
CEO of Verizon Media Guru Gowrappan, Serena Williams and CNBC entertainment and media correspondent Julia Boorstin.
CREDIT: Andrew H. Walker

“I’ve been an athlete my whole life, but I always knew I wanted to transition into business,” said Williams, who said the discipline she’s developed in her sports career has helped her steer a steady course in commerce. Part of the payoff: numerous endorsement opportunities.

“I’ve been with Nike for over 15 years, and I’ve been able to see the ins and outs of how to successfully run such a great consumer brands company,” she said. But there’s one thing in particular that she admires about the Swoosh: “Nike is one of those brands out there that [is] not going to be afraid to say how they feel and to stand up for what they feel is right. And that’s something I really admire. To be such a massive company and to be able to do that is … You have to be brave and you have to have great leadership.”

Williams said she’s applied that to her own label. “We definitely want to bring that … into our brand. We want to stand up for what we think is right,” said Williams. “And we want to empower people to feel comfortable standing up for what they feel is right.”

In addition to launching S By Serena and serving on the board of Verizon, Williams also owns an investment company called Serena Ventures that backs companies she believes in. She’s on the boards of Survey Monkey and Poshmark as well.

Just as Williams and her sister, Venus, helped make tennis a more inclusive sport, she hopes to do that in the business world as well. “My impact is to be more inclusive, less exclusive,” she said.

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