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Katrina Adams’ journey from the tennis court to the C-suite
Hari Sreenivasa: Katrina Adams has been a force both on the tennis court and in the boardroom. She was the youngest and first Black person to become CEO, chairman and president of the United States Tennis Association.
In her new book, "Own the Arena," she details how her experiences helped prepare her for leadership news on weekends.
Christopher Booker spoke with her about the book and being tested both on and off the court.
Christopher Booker: So how did you decide to approach? Is this a book about your playing career? Is this a book about your time as president of USTA?
Katrina Adams: It's a combination of everything. I like to say it's kind of like a "This Is Us" book. You know, it talks about current or what was current at the time situations and then I reflect on how the lessons I've learned through playing tennis, growing up in the sport experiences that I had kind of relate to or prepared me for different moments that I talk about in the book. It's more of a leadership book. There's 12 chapters, so I call it in 12 winning match points or 12 takeaways, if you will, as to how you can take some of these stories and, and put them into your own life.
Christopher Booker: So how does your experience as a player and knowing the game as well as you do and performing in the game as well as you do, how does that translate to leadership?
Katrina Adams: Well, you know, I think I'm very fortunate as a, as a tennis player in particular, as an individual sport, you know, you're out there alone. You have to figure things out.
First of all, you've got to be self-motivated to even want to go out and practice every day. You have to have the discipline to do it. You're, you're learning tactical skills, strategic skills. You're building your self-confidence, your self-esteem, all the things that we need in our professional lives as we navigate through this world and so I rely on a lot of that that I've learned not just in my upbringing, but even more so in my competitive days of being in pressure situations and having to make a decision as to what kind of shot I'm going to hit, etc.
It's the same thing that we deal with in business and I think one of the biggest examples of that was, you know, I open up the book reflecting on the Twenty Eighteen Women's US Open final with Osaka and Serena Williams and the moments after the match being on the dais where my words were misconstrued by many people.
Katrina Adams: These two weeks, you two have shown your power, your grace, and your will to win. Perhaps it's not the finish that we were looking for today, but Serena, you are a champion of the-- of all champions.
Just being in that spotlight, in that moment, having to think on my toes and stay calm, and poised in my delivery and in my intent and and so that was a situation where I feel that tennis, as well as my broadcasting experience, I was able to to fire that up.
Christopher Booker: Yeah. I can imagine sitting there and kind of getting yourself into the headspace of like, OK, I've been down a point. It's a match point. This is, this is a different kind of pressure, but maybe this isn't the same kind of pressure.
Katrina Adams: Oh, it was very different. But, but it's rewarding. Part of the 12 points is, you know, owning your table, you don't just have a seat at the table, own the table. And not so much as saying, OK, because you're the chairman of that board, that you're owning it, but it's really owning your presence at that table, owning your knowledge, owning your input when you're at the table, and not just kind of sitting back and being shy. You're invited to the table for a reason. Make sure you own that opportunity.
Christopher Booker: Was there a moment in your management and business career where you came to that revelation of ownership?
Katrina Adams: I've kind of ascended through an unorthodox way. I mean, I didn't go to business school. I didn't really go into corporate America. You know, I really tennis has been my life and so all the experiences that I've learned have been through that. I wasn't following a cookie-cutter plan, if you will, but a lot of my way of doing things is kind of learning on the fly and then, of course, obviously in tennis, you know, practice makes perfect.
So you go out with different tactics, different strategies, et cetera, and you have that coach that you're relying on that you're working with to get advice from. So I don't have a problem getting advice from anyone. I know what I don't know. And I think that's the beauty of recognizing my weaknesses so that I can become stronger.
Christopher Booker: And then last question, after your experience in the boardroom, particularly as president and CEO, if you were to somehow magically go back in time, do you think that would alter how you approach the game as a player?
Katrina Adams: Probably not. I think, you know, I think how I played as a player or approach the game as a player prepared me to even get to this point of being in that boardroom. So had I been different as a player, I might not have had the same tenacity or same desire to be in a boardroom. So I don't regret anything as I look back over my career.
Of course, I would have loved to have won multiple grand slams or even one grand slam. That did not happen. But I'm a firm believer that the course that I took was for a reason to allow me to do all the other things that I was interested in.