A personal insight into how 4x Olympian Bo Hanson and businesswoman Liz Hanson grew their sports business from an unexpected beginning
By Liz Hanson, CEO of Athlete Assessments
NAKHE (National Association for Kinesiology in Higher Education) asked Liz Hanson to write a feature article for their 2019 Summer Edition Magazine and we thought you’d appreciate reading it too.
What people find most interesting about Bo and me, is that our family live on a boat and that we’ve built an international business based in the competitive sports industry from a beach town in Queensland (Australia). What isn’t immediately obvious is that these two very different aspects to our lives are deeply connected.
The story begins 14 years ago this month. We were living in Sydney, Bo was one of the top corporate trainers, working with some of the biggest and best Australian companies and I had a successful leadership development company. When our daughter was born, let’s just say things didn’t go smoothly and it was one of those life changing moments. While we both physically and emotionally recovered, it was a very traumatic time.
It was in a dark moment of my recovery in hospital, that I saw the light. We had to pack up and take off on a long boat trip! Bo had always talked about wanting to do a significant boat trip, I would be encouraging of this dream but in my mind, I believed that it would never happen or that it was so far into our future that I couldn’t imagine it. But, as crazy as that dark moment idea seemed, it was exactly what we did. Within 29 days Bo had bought the boat and within a few months we had packed up our house, I’d sold my share in the business, Bo had put most of his corporate contracts on hold and the three of us set off. In our 37-foot boat, Bo, our 5-month-old daughter Summah and I motored through Sydney Heads and literally turned left.
For the next 14 months we travelled most of the east coast of Australia, from Sydney to past Cairns, turned around and then came back to the Sunshine Coast, just north of Brisbane. That year was all about the quintessential Australian coastline, as picturesque as you can imagine. From secluded coves where we were the only ones there for days on end, to snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef and hiking tropical forests on remote islands. We fished and caught an abundance of fish (which we traded for fine wine from the boats who couldn’t fish as well as Bo!), and on occasion we were part of the bustle of holiday resorts and marinas. It was magical.
We learnt an enormous amount about ourselves, each other and life. When we escaped the trappings of the ‘real world’ it gave us perspective and sharpened our focus on what was most important to us. It broke the shackles of what is expected and gave us the freedom to make choices that we truly valued. As a family, it was precious time to heal and grow and a blessing to have that much time with Summah as a baby (and the rocking of the boat is great for sleep too).
It was only after about three to four months of paradise that we realized that while it was a phenomenal experience, it boarded on indulgent and we felt that it lacked purpose. It became clear that we needed to contribute to life in a meaningful way. We realized that retirement or working towards retirement was not what we wanted. That didn’t mean we abandoned ship, quite the opposite. We committed to completely enjoying this time and knew that when it came time to moor up for the last time, we would pursue a life that we deliberately chose and would only work on what inspired us and was aligned with our values.
The luxury of time to consider how we wanted to spend the rest of our lives was the greatest gift of that experience. Bo was greatly missing all that competing at four Olympics involves. He missed the constant pursuit of excellence that being an elite athlete brings, it just isn’t replicated in the corporate world. As much as companies aspire to high performance, few rarely achieve it, and fewer can maintain it. It’s just not the same. His idea was to take the professional development that he delivered to organizations back to sport. He believed that team and personal performance could be further improved with lessons from the business world. With my background in investment banking and having started another business successfully from scratch and then sold it, I knew I could be part of making this happen. Both Bo and I were using DISC Behavioral Profiling in many of the programs we delivered for companies on communication, leadership, conflict management and teamwork, and yet had never seen it being used in sport. This was where the idea for Athlete Assessments was born.
Now over twelve years in business, Athlete Assessments’ DISC Profiles are used around the world – from Australia, New Zealand, Scotland, Japan, Germany, Hungary, North America and the United Kingdom. Our services are utilized by Olympic and professional teams, hundreds of US College athletic programs, by some of the top sport psychologists and within numerous sport faculty academic programs.
We have stayed true to the commitment we made during our boat trip, that our lives would be dedicated to making a contribution to others, that we would work in an area that mattered, that we would chase our goals just the same as if we were chasing Olympic medals and most importantly, we’d love what we do. The company values for our business, Athlete Assessments, are Love, High Performance and Serve. Our team live these values in all that we do, every day.
These values mean that we must love what we do, we love sport and love coming to work. We are driven to perform at the highest standards and chase the 0.1% improvements. We are mindful that we don’t have a business without our clients and are dedicated to serve them to a level that they don’t experience anywhere else. When we love what we do, when we strive to deliver our best and truly serve our clients, we are winning. We are as committed today as we were when the idea of Athlete Assessments was created.
The premise of our work is that sport is played by people, coached by people and managed by people, so for consistent top performance it is imperative to get the people side right. Especially in elite sport, where most elements are comparable across programs. The top programs have phenomenal facilities, strength and conditioning, analytics, game plans and the list goes on. But, they all do. The only true competitive advantage that exists is at the non-physical level such as relationships, communications, team culture and leadership. This is where our work makes the difference.
Our assessments are founded in DISC Profiling, which has been used successful in the business world for decades. Ours are unique in that they are specifically for sport and we have a different assessment for athletes (the AthleteDISC Profile), coaches (the CoachDISC Profile) and non-coaching staff, management and other professionals (the Sports ManagerDISC Profile). The primary purpose of using DISC Profiles is in developing self-awareness and providing a framework to understand ourselves, then build effective relationships with others.
We see that DISC Profiling is the fastest and most effective way to develop the people side of sport and provides practical strategies to improve performance. Consistent with the use of DISC Profiling in business and industry, our profiles are used in sport in a range of applications from improving team effectiveness and interpersonal relationships, to leadership development, recruitment and professional development plans.
While a significant proportion of our business is working directly with teams or wholesaling our assessments to sport psychologists and other consultants who work with teams, about a quarter of our business works with academic programs within sports faculties. This includes sport management, coaching, kinesiology, human performance, sport psychology and other health sciences programs.
Within the classroom, our suite of DISC Profiles are used by the students to assist in developing their interpersonal skills and prepare them for future employment. Whether their career goals are to stay in academia, be an athletic trainer or coach, become a sport psychologist, college administrator or general manager of a professional team, their ultimate success will be helped or hindered by their people skills. Our program complements the technical and academic side of study by providing access to the assessments, an online student handbook and Bo does a live guest lecture via video conference to each class to debrief their results and tailor what he covers to their specific class. By sharing his experiences as an athlete, coach, consultant and businessperson, Bo provides very relevant and practical examples for students to take away.
On a personal level, building our business has meant an enormous amount of work and it hasn’t always been smooth sailing! We’re most proud that we’ve built a great team of people, are living the values we committed to at the beginning of this journey and are contributing to sport and life in an important way. We continue to live with our two daughters on a boat as our home (it’s now our third and much bigger than the original) with our office only 5 minutes drive down the road from the marina.
About Bo Hanson
Coaching Consultant, Director of Athlete Assessments
Bo Hanson, has been working within sport and the business sector for over 20 years, delivering leadership, management and coach development. In addition to his own athletic career, comprising of four Olympics and including three Olympic medals, he has worked for many years with coaches and athletes from over 40 different sports, and various countries. His ability to improve coaching strategies and performance with clients has resulted in over 18 National Championships, Olympic medals and Pro team Premierships in the last five years alone. Long-standing working relationships and consistent high-quality feedback from his clients is testimony to his ability to understand, connect, design and deliver exceptional work.
About Liz Hanson
CEO and Client Director of Athlete Assessments
On the surface, Liz Hanson has an unlikely background for a career in sport. As a self-confessed ambitious workaholic, Liz graduated with an Honors Degree in Accounting and Finance while working full-time and was awarded the prestigious University Medal for receiving the highest academic marks. Her professional career started in investment banking, working in Australia, Asia and South Africa as a specialist in the Mining and Resources sector. From investment banking, she became the youngest ever General Manager of Finance for the global gas and engineering company BOC Gases and it was within these predominantly male environments that one of Liz’s true passions emerged. Liz co-founded Xplore, a leadership development company for women, which grew into the leading provider of its kind within Australia. Now the CEO and Client Director at Athlete Assessments, Liz looks after their key clients and consultant relationships, as well as manages marketing and new business development. Her slogan is ‘when our clients are successful, we are successful too’.
At Athlete Assessments, we’re here to provide you with excellence in service and here to help you be your best. If there is anything we can assist you with, please Contact Us.