Maria Sharapova Talks Mindset, Curiosity & Winning

Maria Sharapova Talks Mindset, Curiosity & Winning

Tennis icon and businesswoman Maria Sharapova has always had a determined mindset and a curious approach, which has helped her both on the court and in the boardroom. 

“I love to compete, and I love to win,” she said to Danone’s head of marketing Linda Bethea at Brand Innovators’ Armani Cafe activation at Cannes on Tuesday afternoon. Her favorite kind of win: the comeback. 

“When you’re down so far down, where there’s no chance that you might win,” she said. “They’re like, that’s it. I’m on my victory lap. I’m already waving to the crowd. I’m going to my press conference. And the moment that that changes around in your opponent’s mind it is so visible as a player across the net.”

The two-time French Open winner and one-time winner of the Australian Open, Wimbledon and the US Open, is also a longtime brand ambassador for companies including Danone’s Evian, Porsche, Nike and Head. She served on the board of Moncler, founded the premium candy brand and has also invested in various brands including SPF skincare brand Supergoop!, which sold to Blackstone for $750 million last year. She admits for every one successful investment, there are several that didn’t get off the ground but said she learned from the experience.

Sharapova, who attributed her success in both tennis and business to mental focus, said that as a successful teenage athlete she really had to prove herself when she got into business. “It wasn’t very popular to do more than one thing in your life, you had to swim in one lane,” she said. “People didn’t accept it until you really proved yourself. I would sit in meetings as an ambassador for a lot of brands. I was so curious to learn how these incredible CMOs and CEOs worked.”

Knowing that her time as an athlete was limited and understanding the pay gap at tournaments outside of the Grand Slam, she shadowed Adam Silver at The NBA, took courses at Harvard and immersed herself in business culture. “I got beyond my lane of being an athlete, because I knew that as a female athlete, you only have a certain amount of years to play,” she said. “I recognized that early on and set a really strong foundation for my future.”

In the middle of her career in tennis, Sharapova noted a shift from athletes as brand ambassadors to having ownership in brands through investment and sweat equity. Sharapova’s first experience investing was 11 years ago. She approached her favorite skincare brand Supergoop and after spending months getting to know the team and products, she invested. “I said here’s my money. I want ownership in what you’re building. And I want to use my platform and my brand to help you grow,” she said. 

One thing that became apparent to Sharapova early on – through the guidance of her parents and manager – is the benefit of saying no. “I’m very selective in the rooms that I go into,” she said. “It’s a very curated small group of people that I have a lot of trust with and I’m someone that takes time with building trust.”

Sharapova attributes much of her sports success to being an introvert and staying focused on the game. However, as a business woman whose responsibilities rely on relationship building and sitting on boards, she has to socialize. “I actually enjoy asking questions more than making statements, I personally get to learn a lot from them,” she said. 

As a success in different lanes, Sharapova recognizes her role to help inspire future women players and business leaders. “Every time I walk down the tunnel, I have this incredibly strong responsibility to serve this purpose,” she said. “If I could push myself head to head against the opponent that was in front of me, if I could beat them this time, the effect that I have on this young girl or boy in the crowd that has had a difficult day at school is huge.”