Sep 18, 2016
SARACENS’ SECOND CAREER PROGRAM SETS THE STANDARD
Analogies between sports and work life break down at some point. In work, for example, figuring out the score can be more complex than looking at a scoreboard, spotting competition is trickier than looking across a field and even finding the goal line can take great vision.
As a result, the transition from rugby to the corporate world might be foreboding to even the toughest, most successful players.
“At Saracens, they talk heavily about what a player is going to do after rugby when they retire or — in the worst case — have an injury,” says Charlie Hodgson, the freshly retired Sarries playmaking fly-half who was recently hired by the club to be its first Head of Scouting.
Fortunately, Saracens’ new leadership jumped ahead of the professional sports world by introducing the Second Career Program, which helps players progress from jerseys to white collars as smoothly as possible. Hodgson sat down with front office members of the rugby juggernaut, and they worked out a remarkable plan to create a new role that alleviates some of the heavy workload endured by the Director of Rugby.
“My role is to take the pressure off of the Director of Rugby and do the player research. Seeing what our squad looks like now and what it will look like in twelve months and in two years, and seeing where potential gaps may be and therefore what positions we need to target,” he explains.
Hodgson has taken to his new role with the same intelligence and tenacity he’d shown on the pitch during his illustrious career, where he was widely regarded as one of the best playmakers in the game. “In times gone by, this job was handled by the Director of Rugby and the coaches. They handled recruitment of future players and signings,” Hodgson says. “The way the game is going and how popular it’s becoming, they wanted to take a look out at how the NFL does things in the States, and football here in England, and they wanted to have someone in charge of that side of things. I’ve spoken to the professional football clubs, and the NFL about their scouting networks. I do the research and report back to the coaches and to the Director to give them my opinions on who is available and how they’d fit into the way we play."
It’s one thing for a sports organization to have a progressive post-playing career program under its roof, and quite another to have a corporate sponsor like CME Group, who fully embraces Saracens’ Second Career mission, as exemplified by their recent hiring of Nils Mordt to their Banks and Intermediaries team in a client-facing role.
Prior to retiring from the pitch and joining CME Group, Mordt was living a double life that included rugby and an internship.
“Every day I had off, I would go into CME and was based around client development and sales,” he says. “From that base I would spend days in different departments, and it was a huge learning curve for me.”
That’s because the Second Career Program is not a toe-dipping experience; it’s immersing players into the reality of switching from a field to an office. For Mordt, that reality is now upon him on a daily basis as he learns on the job from co-workers who are happy to lend a hand.
“It’s been constant mentoring by a few of the guys that are on this team already, and on a wider scale, it’s been spending as much time as I can with our BLN’s [Business Line Managers] who come up with the products and have an in-depth corporate knowledge,” explains Mordt. “I’ve got a course planned in September that CME is putting me in. It’s an introduction to derivatives and all things exchange-related. A little studying and a lot of on-the-job learning and hopefully I’ll get there.”
It is not all company-give and player-take, though. In Hodgson’s case, it was about showing a deeper understanding of the specific DNA that makes Saracens the championship-level squad it is now and will be in the future.
“I’ve been in this environment [Saracens] for five years,” says Hodgson. “I understand what we’re looking for from a playing point-of-view. We’re very much into people — what they’re like, how they are off the field and making sure we have a group of people who enjoy each other’s company first and foremost. It’s about finding that balance of their playing ability, but it’s about their personality as well.”
Hodgson’s story of moving from field to front office will make him a popular person to seek out when younger players start thinking about what’s next.
“I’m always in the camp of having young players think about what they’ll do after rugby,” explains Hodgson. “It’s so important to have something lined up when it’s all over. I’m very fortunate that the club offered me this position which allowed me to stay here. We encourage the players to take part in something off the field, whether it is at University or work experience in the city. The club massively encourages players to do this, and I’m a big supporter of it.”
The answer, as any good career counselor will tell you, is finding the right fit. What can you do well, what do you like, what culture suits you best, what are your end goals? The questions are varied and take a lot of discovery. That is why working at a company like CME Group has such positive implications, Mordt says, and he is already sketching out some general insights about his future.
“A rugby player’s skills lend themselves to being client-facing, and therefore I am best suited to be in sales or client development,” he says, adding that the he feels incredibly fortuitous to have the opportunity to work for such a prestigious organization. “This was a great opportunity … I was very fortunate to get a chance to come to a company such as CME, which is doing very well, and also one that has given me an opportunity to learn on the job. Even though I do miss rugby, I think it was just the right time. For me to get this opportunity makes me feel like it was definitely the correct decision.”
The transition, of course, means more than simply finding the next job. Leaving a sport after spending most of your life mastering it is difficult on many levels.
“What I’ll certainly miss are the emotional highs and lows of sport which come with winning or losing, or going on a trip,” Mordt says. “Playing so many games in the Premiership and eventually winning the championship, along with the European Championship, and the feeling after those, is hard to replicate. That’s what I’ll miss the most.”
Maybe he will find just that in a new kind of teamwork. For now, Mordt is just focused on developing new skills.
“I want to be confident in what I’m doing,” Mordt says, “and therefore continue to educate myself and progress.”
Hodgson and Mordt have successfully moved into a prime opportunity that athletes around the world would love to have. For now, Saracens is leading by example in helping them get there.