Lessons from an Olympic Luger
When it comes to life and work, Pavilion Member Jeff Christie CGY jumps feet first — literally. A two-time Olympian luger and the Chief Business Development Officer at R&D Tax Software Platform company Boast Capital, Christie is used to dreaming big and giving his all. And while making quarterly revenue goals might not be the same as hurtling down an icy chute at nearly 100 miles per hour, Christie says that his life as an Olympic athlete taught him a lot about how to be a successful sales leader — and an all-around go-getter.
On the fast track to success
Christie didn’t set out to be one of the world’s premier winter athletes. But when his hometown of Calgary won a bid to host the 1988 Olympics and built a luge track by his house, his parents let him try it out — and he was hooked.
Christie started luging competitively at age 12, and he rose in the rankings almost as quickly as he plummeted down the track. In 2002, he qualified for the Olympics in Salt Lake City as an alternate — a moment Christie cites as one of the proudest achievements of his life — and by 2006, he stepped onto the luge track in Torino as a full-fledged Olympian. Since then, he’s competed in the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, landed a job as a luge commentator for CBC, and flexed his sales muscles at a fast-growing consulting, turned software, company. Not a bad ROI on his brief stint at a winter sports camp.
As a young person, Christie loved luging because it challenged him.
“I liked the autonomous control over your own destiny,” he said.
And, of course, he liked to win. But as he grew from a self-described insecure teen full of bravado and swagger to a mature athlete, he most appreciates the way the sport challenged him to grow and change.
“The best moments weren’t really about winning,” Christie says. “It was about seeing myself accomplish things that I thought weren’t possible.”
A winning mentality: Applying sport to life
For years, that meant keeping his cool as he careened down the ice at 5Gs and 150 km/h. But it’s an attitude Christie has taken into his broader life, as well.
Christie retired from luging in 2011, but he has never stopped striving and pushing himself. Instead, he poured the determination, energy, and drive he’d learned from luging into building a successful revenue-focused career.
“I went into sales because I liked winning,” Christie says. “It’s a dopamine rush.” But it wasn’t just about the rush. It was about working hard and seeing results. “What I put into my work I get out of it,” he says. “Which was really attractive to me.”
And Christie has put a lot into it, using his position as a CBDO to help companies apply for and secure scientific and experimental development tax credits. Getting there was hard work — and Christie credits his Olympic background for giving him the tools to succeed.
“In management, it’s about creating goals and communicating them clearly,” Christie says. “But when I started my career, it shocked me how few people who hadn’t done sports were able to break down goals and achieve them.”
From 5Gs to 5Cs: New goals for a new phase
Christie used his skills from his luging days to make challenging but achievable goals for himself and his team — and help them take steps to achieve them. It also helped him to react and adapt to situations quickly.
“On a luge sled, If you aren’t ready to react in the moment, it’s going to go badly,” Christie says. “That’s good for sales. In the moment, you can digest it and frame it and iterate it back in the way it needs to be heard and seen.”
But not everything was a one-to-one transition. Christie had to learn that a sales career is not quite as high stakes as bombing down a mountain on a sled, and he had to adjust his approach and expectations accordingly.
“I had to relearn the allowable tolerance of risk — choosing to deploy a new sales messaging for the next three months is not a life or death situation,” says Christie.
As he’s earned more life and career experience, he’s also learned that some of the attitudes fostered by being an elite athlete have hampered his ability to communicate and relate to others.
“I thought I had to be tough all the time and couldn’t talk about what I was struggling with,” says Christie. “What a limiting belief set!”
These days, Christie is applying that same dedication he brought to sports to working with humility and empathy as a team member — and he’s going after that with characteristic passion. This year, his wife Arianne Jones, also a Canadian Olympic luger, is a commentator for CBC in Beijing. Occasionally, he also lets community leaders talk him into running 5Ks. He takes it slow and steady, eyes on the prize — and lets his fellow racers briefly experience the thrill of passing a two-time Olympian.
If you want to learn more about leveraging an Olympic work ethic, read our interview with Pavilion Member and Olympic rower Constantine Louloudis.
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