My First Million

November 16, 2012 5:49 pm

Going for gold on the speaking circuit

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Marc Woods on his post-Paralympic business success
Marc Woods©Guzelian

Paralympic gold medallist Marc Woods, 43, was the lead pundit for Radio 5 at the London 2012 Paralympics, and an ambassador for the Paralympic Games.

At 17, when he was a county swimmer, Woods developed cancer and had his left leg amputated below the knee. Six months later, he was swimming quicker with one leg than with two. Eighteen months after completing chemotherapy, he represented Great Britain, and went on to win 12 Paralympic medals, four of them gold.

Now retired from competitive swimming, Woods is in international demand as a motivational speaker. He has also taken up new challenges: trekking and mountaineering in Nepal and South America. His first book, Personal Best, was published in 2006 and reprinted this year. His second, Beyond the Call, is out this month.

He lives in a village near Lincoln with his wife Petra and their daughter Evie, aged two, with a new baby due in December.


Did you think you would get to where you are?

No, I did not. Certainly, as a teenager I could never have envisaged I would end up where I am now. I swam for the county, but I was lazy and not terribly proactive to take the sport further.

I was in the middle of my A-levels when I was diagnosed with an osteosarcoma. I must have had some latent positivity, because I immediately decided I did not want to feel sorry for myself. That thought process, and the fact that I didn’t know how long I had left to live, contributed to how I coped then and how I live my life now.

When you realised that you had made £1m were you tempted to slow down?

I would have accumulated earnings of £1m a couple of years ago. I cannot slow down. I am still pushing forward and trying to earn more, because it seems to be the more you have the more you need. But it is a prudent thing to do in terms of aspiration for my family. I am on an upward earning curve at the moment. In my first year of public speaking, I made one speech – now I make 100 each year. The bulk of my earnings have come in the past few years. Last year, 20 per cent of my income was from the sponsors of the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

What is the secret of your success?

I think it is probably resilience, which has played a huge part in my life, both during my cancer treatment, and my Paralympic career. Today in business, we all need to be resilient. My achievements are down to this one quality, the ability to keep going, whatever happens.

Where is the money in competitive swimming?

The money for me came after my retirement in 2004, when I was 35, as my career ended before this enormous upsurge of interest in Paralympic sport. Much of my income now is from speaking, which is me going to events and sharing my personal story.

The other income stream is from my corporate learning and development business, SladenWoods. The area that now really interests people is discretionary effort in the workplace, going the extra mile.

Besides a small amount of sponsorship, the bulk of my funding between 1997 and 2002 was from the Lottery. I received just over £20,000 a year, which covered my living and training expenses, and that was it. Before that I used to scrape by, with a huge input from my parents.

The money does not help you train more, but critically it gives you the time to rest in between each training session. When there were quiet periods I did a small amount of business consultancy work to top up my income.

I was self-funded in the final two years of my career, as I had started making reasonable money on the speaking circuit.

Do you have time for personal financial planning?

I have a financial adviser but I’m quite lazy. I put everything on to direct debit. I am not very easy to sell any product or service to, but once I buy I tend to stick with it. I do keep an eye on interest and mortgage rates, but not obsessively.

What has been your basic career strategy?

I did not have one really. Initially, I chose to swim because I wanted to see how good I could be. Then I kept finding other ways I could become better at it. I think I almost got to the point where I was unemployable, as I did not have a profession outside swimming. I consider myself fortunate that I found a product I could sell, which turned out to be myself.

Do you want to carry on till you drop?

I really want to aim for a balance, because my father died at 57 of a stroke. I don’t intend to carry on for the sake of it, having made an awful lot of sacrifices in the past. I want to spend more time with my friends and family. I can see myself working until I drop, but it is more likely to be on my own terms, rather than because I have to.

Have you made any pension provision?

I’m having a pension holiday, as my focus right now is reducing my debt, renovating my house, and renting out my investment property, a flat in a converted church in Manchester. Though I’m ambivalent about my pension, I will pay into it again.

What is your commitment to charity?

I have been a supporter of the Teenage Cancer Trust for 20 years, and I am on the board of the Youth Sport Trust. I am also a patron of the Bone Cancer Research Trust, and the Bone Cancer Awareness Trust. I reckon that over 20 years I have helped to raise at least £1m for these charities, either directly by my own endeavours, or indirectly by encouraging some of my clients to make donations.

Do you allow yourself the odd indulgence?

I did actually buy myself an Aston Martin about five years ago. I really loved driving it, but then we had our first child, and it was impossible for the three of us to travel in the same vehicle. The other indulgence is heating our open-air swimming pool to a higher temperature than the local authority pool.

Have you made a will?

I made a will in my late 30s, as before then I had no income and few possessions. Currently, I’ll leave everything to my family. However, if my income continues to rise, there will be some money for good causes too.

Your most prudent investment?

It is probably where we live, an eight-bedroom house in 1.7 acres, with a swimming pool and tennis court. It’s an investment in my family’s way of life, which is more important than a financial investment. I came to the property market quite late, towards the end of my swimming career, because I could not easily get a mortgage when I was a full-time athlete.

What is your money-saving tip in the recession?

If you haven’t got it, don’t spend it. I only use a debit card. I have never had a credit card, which made it harder to secure a mortgage. It struck me as odd that I have to prove that I owed money so that I could borrow to owe even more!

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