Serena Williams on Becoming a CEO: ‘I was on a fast track to burnout’

Running one’s own business is not for the faint of heart. Even a superstar athlete like Serena Williams, who has trained for endurance, can be tested by the rigors of establishing a company.

Williams, the winner of 23 Grand Slams, launched the direct-to-consumer clothing line S by Serena in May 2018. Meghan Markle, one of her friends, made her “boss blazer” a best-seller after she wore it during the royal tour of Australia.

But Williams admits that she was working herself to the point of burnout.

“When I first started, I was close to burnout because I was working from 9 a.m. until 3 a.m,” Williams said in an interview with The Business of Fashion published last week. “I would be on calls and sending emails because I was acting as the CEO, the COO, and the president. I was on a fast track to burnout.”

According to Harvard Business Review (HBR), there’s evidence that entrepreneurs are more at risk of burnout because “they tend to be extremely passionate about work and more socially isolated, have limited safety nets, and operate in high uncertainty.”

In a study to measure burnout, HBR asked participants questions like whether they felt tired when they faced another day on the job, whether they doubted the significance of their work, and whether they felt exhilarated when they accomplished something at work.

“We found that the entrepreneurs who reported high scores of obsessive passion were more likely to say they experienced burnout than those who reported high scores of harmonious passion,” HBR reported. “We also found that among entrepreneurs with obsessive passion, those with a fixed mindset were even more prone to burnout.”

Meanwhile, “the entrepreneurs who reported high levels of harmonious passion reported experiencing high levels of concentration, attention, and absorption during their work.”

Though Serena Williams’ passion for her clothing line was leading her down the path to burnout, she realized how to prevent that from happening.

“You need to have a good team, be able to delegate and have great communication with your team,” she said.

The road to entrepreneurship has been challenging, but Williams said her career in tennis helped her in her journey.

“Everything that I’ve been doing in my life and tennis, I can relate everything to entrepreneurship,” Williams told BOF. “Everyone can win when people are supporting them or giving them money and backing their careers.

“Of course they’re going to win. But if something happens and you fall, how do you recover? How do you come back? How do you change the narrative? How do you be true to yourself and be authentic? For me, it’s the same for the greatest entrepreneurs.”

Related Story: Serena Williams Wants to ‘Take Burgeoning Entrepreneurs to the Next Level’

On April 17, Williams announced that for the past five years, she has been investing in entrepreneurs through Serena Ventures. Her venture has “the mission of giving opportunities to founders across an array of industries.”  


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