Webb takes different post-career path
February 25, 2008
Vanessa Webb of Toronto made a seamless transition from professional player to her new career, mostly because she did not have much choice.
"I went from tennis to Wharton [the prestigious business school in Philadelphia] 10 days later," Webb said. "Wharton was so difficult, it didn't give me time to think about having stopped playing."
That was in August of 2003. Since then she has led a life much different than the one she had during more than a decade on the international tennis circuit (with time away to graduate from Duke University in 1999 with a triple major in economics, Canadian studies and French, and win the U.S. National Collegiate Athletic Association women's singles title in 1998).
After graduating with a master of business administration degree from Wharton in 2005, she joined the Parthenon Group, a Boston-based consulting firm and recently relocated to Mumbai to help open up a new office in the Indian metropolis.
"Mumbai ... Bombay, people call it both," she said on the phone from her office last week. "I'm actually unclear as to what to call it."
Webb, who had a gritty, left-handed tennis game based on a good serve, sound volleys and hardscrabble ground strokes, got as high as No. 107 in the WTA Tour rankings in 2000.
About her latest career move, she said: "It's an opportunity to be part of creating something. India's full of opportunity and growth. You listen to business leaders here speak and there's such pride in their voices."
In a revealing remark, she added: "Any time something is different, that makes it harder. I think I like that."
Webb, 32, is uncertain, because of her recent move, whether she will be able to defend her title (on grass courts) as the 2006-07 women's champion of Boston's storied Longwood Cricket Club.
"I'm now a very happy, sometimes frustrated, club player," she said.
These days she has another outlet for exercise.
"I go for my run in the morning," she said. "It's not like Toronto, I'm dodging tons of people and cars and dogs and cows. It's surreal. Sort of makes it interesting though."
Last year at Wimbledon, the WTA Tour player council recognized Webb's impressive background by electing her as one its representatives on the tour board of directors.
"Tennis matters to me," Webb said. "I thought I could help because I understand the problems from a player's perspective, but can also step back and look at the issues from a business and financial perspective."
She sits on the finance committee and has worked on the player pension plan as well as helping "put a little more order in our financial management and our investment management - just creating more transparency."
Webb cites the organization naming of Larry Scott as chief executive officer five years ago as a turning point.
"The WTA has become profitable. We're now spending money on marketing and our revenue generation from sponsorship is far higher, as it is from TV," she said. "We actually, for the first time, have a reserve. We have an $84-million [U.S.], six-year contract for the year-end championships [2008-10 in Qatar and 2011-13 in Turkey]."
The tour's main current focus is its organizational reform plan, Roadmap 2010.
Webb is optimistic initiatives such as reducing tournament commitments, increasing prize money and implementing fines will solve the problem of big-name no-shows at events, something that has plagued Canada's Rogers Cup the past few years.
Reflecting on her experiences so far, she said: "You really have to learn to balance a lot of points of view and deal with different constituents. The players have many different motivations and desires than the tournaments. I've learned a lot about revenue-sharing agreements."
A political junkie who has worked on federal Liberal election campaigns and is the granddaughter of former Pierre Trudeau cabinet minister Alistair Gillespie, Webb was asked if revenue-sharing experience might be useful to someone wanting to be prime minister of Canada some day.
After a robust laugh, she replied: "Possibly, that's a good point. I never thought of it that way"
There was more laughter when she was informed she had not actually denied having prime ministerial aspirations. "I did not deny it. I just said I hadn't thought of it that way."