Steve Allen, Australian veteran windsurfer, one of the worldwide top windsurfers for over 20 years, 9-time world racing champion in this field, CEO of Allen Australia and also a contender in the eighth Polish edition of Dancing with the Stars. In his interview for Business & Prestige, he shares his story of successfully combining his passion for sport and for business… in Poland.
B&P: Steve, you’ve been one of the best windsurfers in the world for almost 20 years. What qualities have allowed you to get so high in this sport? Hard work, talent and what else?
Steve Allen: Love what you do, then you will have success and longevity in that. Also determination and believing that you will be the best. One important word one manager that I worked with taught me about – when he asked how I would do in the next competition, I said that I would try to win. He told me to lose that word (try) as this always gives you a way out, always say: I will win. Of course we can not win every time and other people can make us doubt ourselves, so I learnt to phrase such goals differently. For example, by saying, there are many good guys here to win as I am. It is extremely important how we talk to ourselves, to always work on having positive self talk and belief in yourself.
B&P: In sport as it is often in life – is everything we dream of on the other side of the fear? What were you scared the most about and how did you deal with it?
At times I was worried about having enough finances to make it happen, injuries, and the right gear etc. If we don’t fight until the end we will never know.
B&P: Sheryl Sandberg, Vice President of Facebook said: “Difficult days, moments that shake you down, determine who you are. It will define you not only by what you have achieved, but also how you survived. What defines you is how many times have you won or how many times have you struggled with hardships and adversities?
Yes true, and what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, wiser and better.
B&P: Coming back… What was the most incredible moment in your career? And What was the biggest lesson you have learned in sports?
There are many moments I cherish. In general, every win is special. Just outsmarting the current World N1 currently dominating everything at that time to win just that one race, building up your confidence. Then my first PWA and first IFCA production World Titles were some of my first break-throughs, giving me a lot of satisfaction and belief in myself. Good lesson in sport and life is to never give up as you never know when things will turn around. I have had crashes on the start line leaving me in last position to somehow win that very same race, or other bad things happening early on in a race or event and I ended up winning the race or the event by always believing that I can do it and not giving up. I remember being just out of the top 16 at one major event when the Lotto had a big jackpot to win, I could probably count on one hand how many times I bought a Lotto ticket and I bought one this time. Agata asked me if I would prefer to win the Lotto or this event, as I have no control over the Lotto and did not believe I could ever win that, I said I would prefer to win this event as it was up to me. The next day I won 4 races in a row putting me into winning contention where I went on to win that event.
B&P: I can guess that ending an athlete’s career was not an easy decision to make, but now you have a great business. Can you tell me where you got the idea for this company from?
Well, actually I am still holding onto my career as a pro windsurfer as long as I can because I love that and it is still one of my main incomes. Due to my continued career in windsurfing I have not been able to fully devote myself to my business, therefore my business is not yet a huge financial success but just running on a lower scale until I fully retire. However I have managed to design the best inflatable SUP boards in the World by being the first to make V and concave bottom shaping in inflatable SUP boards, combining good outlines and rocker lines. In other words, I have the best performing inflatable SUP boards on the market. This year other large brands start to try and copy these designs. I started my SUP brand allen-australia as I started having ideas how to improve these boards to make them better. I also love developing products to be the best on the market. This is largely what I am paid for now by the windsurf companies that I work for, helping them to design the best products on the market which I have done many times:)
B&P: You have traveled around the world but You have your business and life here in Poland. What is it like to do business in Poland ? Do Polish people complain about money?
I think all around the World everyone wants a better price, but the best price will not often match the best quality. Yes, it has been difficult starting my business in Poland while still competing professionally in windsurfing. But this has taught me so much, as well as being able to communicate better in Polish;)
B&P: How do you recall your beginnings as a businessman? What did you have to learn and what surprised you the most?
I still don’t see myself as a businessman, I am just trying to develop the best product and make the people that use my designs happy. I keep my overheads very small to let the company grow at its own pace, so I do not have any stress at all. I run everything alone and just have one good friend work with me on the graphic designs.
B&P: Do you feel that experience in sport helps you in business?
Well my skills in development help me to design an extremely good products. Then I believe if I devoted myself like I do in windsurfing I could grow this company much larger.
B&P: Could you share with us what is the most important common feature for a great athlete and a businessman?
I don’t feel like a businessman yet, but determination to make things happen and not giving up in tough moments, I think are good qualities to have in what ever you do.
B&P: And now after years of experience … Are there any dangerous sides of that work is your passion? Can you get too attached to it and cross the border?
I have been very devoted to my career, yet I have managed to have a lot of time for my children. It doesn’t matter what you do, you need to find the border and leave your work on the side to have time for other things. Injuries have been the most dangerous part of my windsurfing career I guess.
B&P: What is your way to face the failures – in sport and business?
Just obstacles to get over, work harder, train harder, and never give up. I don’t think there is any World N1 or top businessman that have not had to overcome some big failures / hard times on their way to success.
B&P: What is your motto, the one that you follow in your life?
Stay positive, love/enjoy what you do, your work is the majority of your life so if you don’t enjoy that, then you are not enjoying the majority of your life.
B&P: If you could turn back time – is there anything you would like to do differently in your life?
I try not to look back in regret about doing something differently but rather in learning. With the knowledge I have now, I could have done somethings differently, but I think this is the same for everyone. I think that it is important to just learn from the past and not wish about changing anything that it is now too late to change.
B&P: And the future – are you carefully planning, setting goals or are you “getting carried away by the wave”? What is your next step?
I am currently very excited about the new discipline in pro windsurfing on foils, and about another year on tour:) I hope that foil racing can prolong my career even longer as there is no impact on my deteriorating joints when sailing on the foil:) I also just gained an importer in Japan for my SUP boards that I am excited to see how that will go.
B&P: Thank You!