Donovan Bailey Talks Success and Changing Careers

Donovan Bailey has been described in many ways: Olympic gold medal winner; world champion; fastest man on the planet; stockbroker. If the last one feels out of place, it isn’t. The legendary sprinter – who once recorded the fastest top speed in history at 27.07 miles per hour, and who was the first Canadian to break the 10-second barrier in the 100 m – only devoted himself to sprinting in his early 20s, giving up a burgeoning career on the stock market. How did he do it?

We sat down with the man himself to discuss his track and field career, and what job seekers can do to successfully change careers.

Workopolis: You are known around the world for your success on the track, but you almost went a different path. What made you move from corporate Canada to track and field?

Bailey: I was working in the corporate world, and I had a lot of clients, but I just wasn’t built to be in an office all day. The hours were long and I felt I was getting burnt out. I needed to exercise both my brain and my body, and I needed the freedom of my own schedule. Track and field was my passion, and I really felt like I needed to do it, for a lot of reasons.

How did you manage to make that move?

It helped that the success I’d had in the business world allowed me to fund my own training! But resources are not the only important thing. You also need to have the necessary drive and discipline, or else that money you’re spending is wasted. Once I made the decision to pursue track and field, I was all in.

Did Athletics Canada take you seriously at first? How did you manage to convince them about your potential?

I think if you’re dedicated and hard-working, people will always take you seriously. In my case, my race times and wins allowed me to be one of the best Canadian competitors fairly quickly.


At what point did you realize you could compete and beat the world’s best? How did you get to that point?

Well, I was blessed with some great genes and I also trained very hard. But I also met a great coach named Dan Pfaff, who helped me perfect my form and performance, plus I had a great support system of family and friends. All that helped, but it was also very important to have great competitors. People like Leroy Burrell and Carl Lewis and Linford Christie.

Are there any parallels between the business world and competitive athletics?

The exact same principles in business are the very same in sports: you need to recruit and train well, invest in research and development, and most importantly, not be afraid to fail. You can’t learn anything if you never fail.

Speaking of which, what life lessons have you learned from your past successes?

I think the greatest lesson I’ve learned from my experiences, both in track and field and in the business world, is that your results are the sum total of the work you put in. There really are no shortcuts to success.


What were some of the challenges you faced post-athletics?

I think the biggest challenge was not having a structured training regime every day. I am a creature of habit, and I like having a schedule planned out in advance. Not having that took some getting used to.

What advice could you give young job seekers when it comes to self-promotion and getting themselves noticed?

There’s always something to learn, so keep educating yourself and getting better! It’s also very important these days to maintain a positive social media presence. Make no mistake, you are being judged by your future employer!

Given that you’ve been so successful at changing careers, what advice would you give people looking for a new professional challenge? How can they stay motivated?

Always surround yourself with the best and smartest people and be a willing student. Not only will they inspire and motivate you to work harder, they will also teach you to work smarter and better. Sometimes that’s just as important. Remember that everyone you meet in life has something to teach you, but you have to be willing to listen.