Inspire Bold Leadership
Serena Williams, on equal pay, and following your dreams
Chase and UNINTERRUPTED have partnered to create "Kneading Dough," a series of intimate and honest conversations with professional athletes about how they've navigated their unique financial and career pathways. We hope our readers are inspired, informed and empowered to make the best financial decisions.
In this video, global tennis legend Serena Williams, 35, talks with CEO Maverick Carter about her financial journey from a teenager who forgot to pick up the checks when she won tournaments to, more recently, an advocate for ending the gender gap that persists in tennis, and other industries.
When Williams began playing in major tournaments, in the early 2000s, she barely considered the monetary prizes. She was so focused on winning that she often left her business manager to collect her checks at the end of the year. "I loved what I did, and I never wanted to do anything else," she recalls, adding: "I never played for money. Athletes who genuinely do that, just tend to be greater and better."
Once she earned some money, it was always up to her what to do with it.
"My dad was always so hands on with me. But he said, 'I'll never take any money from you, like a fee, but I'm also not gonna direct you into what you spend and what you don't spend, it's gonna be your decision.' Since I was a teenager, I've made every financial decision in my life and I've had to learn how to make good ones and how to make bad ones, which I think helps you make better ones."
In addition to Grand Slam titles and Olympic medals, Williams has enjoyed considerable success off the court—and in business. For the past two years, Forbes magazine has named Williams the highest-paid female athlete in the world. She has built lucrative relationships with several major companies—including Chase—and has a fashion line for the Home Shopping Network. Williams and her sister, Venus, are also part owners of the Miami Dolphins.
Nevertheless, Williams says the majority of her investments take place out of the public eye.
Evaluating investment prospects
Williams never gambles. But she sometimes refers to investing in business as "high-stakes poker."
Williams thinks about her businesses daily, and has built a team to help her evaluate startups for potential partnerships or investments. Like other seasoned executives, there are several key things Williams considers when evaluating a company: the organization's financial record and business plan, as well as the quality of the core product—and whether it fits with her core values. "I never do anything if I don't really believe in the product, or I don't believe that I would personally use the product," she says.
Williams has remained true to herself, and her roots—proving that it's possible for people to be fearlessly authentic in business, and succeed.
The importance of equal pay
And yet, Williams is very clear that despite her well-earned success, many barriers remain. For example, professional tennis players who are women often earn less than their male counterparts—a disparity that certainly exists in other fields. "You sacrifice so much—just as much as the guy next to me that's training every day, but he gets to be paid more. And it's like, 'Well, I'm working just as hard as this guy—actually sometimes harder—and why do I have to get paid less?'"
The Grand Slam tournament—which includes the Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open—pays male and female winners equally. But other high-profile tournaments do not. For Williams, who considers herself one of the best athletes in the world—regardless of her gender—that's unacceptable. And it's something she's working to change.
"The US Open has always been equal—which is always been something that I've been really proud of," she says. Other tournaments, she observes, didn't always pay men and women equally. But slowly, that's changed. "It just speaks to just society, we're doing so much better and we're so much further along," Williams says.
The movement for equal pay, regardless of gender, is now global, and a major financial milestone for women.
Finding opportunity in motherhood
In April 2017, Williams announced that she's pregnant with her first child, with her fiancé, Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian. Because of her pregnancy, Williams will miss the US Open for the first time in years. Williams sees motherhood as an opportunity to connect with women on a different level—and to potentially share her businesses, and message, with new audiences.
"It's new opportunities for investments that I never would have paid attention to, so it's really interesting," she says. "But most of all, I just want to give the baby lots of love. Honestly, if my kid can grow up exactly how I did, I couldn't be happier. You know, with the values that my parents gave me. I think it really starts with just building a great human being and creating a spiritual background. I couldn't want anything more than that."
Here are some financial tips for new parents. It's important, of course, to teach your kids about money as soon as possible.
It's also never too early to start thinking about how you're going to shape your family's financial legacy.
Beth Braverman is a Chase News contributor. Her work has appeared in Money and Forbes magazines, among other media outlets.