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August 11, 2008

Olympic Prep for the Business World

Catherine New
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Feats of breathtaking athleticism and sportsmanship are the hallmark of the Olympic Games, but behind the televised events another story unfolds. That story is about teamwork, focus and time management. Sound familiar? Olympic performance has many overlaps with the business world. No one knows that better than Keeth Smart ’10, who will be starting at CBS next week on the heels of his third Olympic appearance as the captain of the U.S. Fencing Team. We spoke with Smart in Beijing about getting ready for his quest for the gold — and how that experience will carry over at CBS.

Public Offering: This is your third time to the Olympics. What stands out as a new experience at the Beijing Games for you as a veteran Olympian?

Keeth Smart: The thing that stands out to me the most as a veteran Olympian is how knowledgeable so many athletes are about the sport of fencing. In the past, I had to explain the sport to various U.S. athletes, while this time around it seems that many of them are far more knowledgeable about the sport. This year I have also tried to take the initiative with several of my younger teammates to help them make the most of this experience. I really want each of them to have a phenomenal memory of the Games.

PO: You have had some challenges this year as you prepared for the Games, there are many high expectations for you and the U.S. team, and a lot of media attention on Beijing itself. What is the key to staying focused?

KS: The key is to maintain the same routine while competing. It is really important that I don’t focus on the magnitude of the Olympics and instead treat the tournament as another event. My coach has done a great job in helping me remain focused throughout the lead up to the Games.

PO: You’re starting CBS orientation only days after competing in your final event. Are there any Olympic lessons you will bring with you as you start your first year at B–school?

KS: The most important lesson I am learning from life in the Olympic Village is the ability to keep an open mind and perspective to things. When you live at the Olympic Village you are taken out of your comfort zone in terms of food, sleeping arrangements and the number of people from all over the world housed in one location. I am looking forward to the opportunity to meet individuals from so many different sports and countries and to learn more about their personal stories.

PO: Are there things you have learned in corporate finance, where you worked before CBS, which are serving you well at the Games?

KS: Being properly prepared is one of the biggest assets in business and in athletic competition. In my job, whenever I delivered a presentation I would rehearse several times before the actual event. In sport, it is important to be equally prepared about my opponents. Some of my competitors overlook the importance of knowing as much as possible about their opponents, but I think that it is an invaluable asset that I have gained from working.

Another great asset I have acquired from working is knowing how to properly manage my time. At the Olympics, it is especially important to have strong time management skills because there are so many requests for our time from friends, family, coaches and sponsors.

UPDATE: Keeth Smart and the United States men’s sabre team won the silver medal at the Beijing Olympics on Aug. 17, 2008.