As you probably heard, McKinsey, Bain and BCG, along with other elite firms like Goldman Sachs, love to hire Olympians, especially gold medalists. So learn from one. In this episode of the Case Interview & Strategy Tools Show we interviewed 3x Olympian (2x gold), Sami Jo Small. Take advantage of the candid and detailed insights Sami shares to learn how to develop and exhibit the qualities elite firms so keenly seek.

“For such a long time you were taught to hate the American team because it is our main rival. But in reality… nobody else is going through the life that we are living but them. They are the only ones that really understand us inside and out.”

-Sami Jo Small [54:00]

Sami Jo Small is a legend in Ice Hockey. As a 3x Olympian and 5x World Champion, she is also a renowned motivational speaker, author, owner of a hockey school across four Canadian provinces and Stanford alum with a degree in mechanical engineering.

We interviewed Sami Jo since several readers asked if we could interview athletes who have reached the global pinnacle of their career. Sami Jo certainly fits that description. Sami’s hockey career began in 1981, at the age of five, on the outdoor hockey rinks of Winnipeg. She dreamed of playing in the NHL and Olympic Games. Standing out among peers in the boys minor hockey system was no easy task, given she was the only girl. She had to prove each day she belonged, which she did with flying colours until the day she was kicked out of the league because she was a girl. She was just 11 years old at the time.

Sami recalls, “they said it would be difficult traveling with a girl on the team”.

Sami Jo has since won five World Championships. She is also a three time Olympian and has been a member of two Olympic Gold Medal Winning teams. She is also a honorary member of the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto – the shrine to major league hockey. She helped start the Canadian Women’s Hockey League where she continues to play elite hockey for the Toronto Furies.

In this episode Sami Jo talks about how she turned things around, the secret sauce of her success and what are her main sources of inspiration. This is an incredibly useful and inspiring podcast.

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  • How Sami Jo’s childhood laid the foundation for her successful sporting career [1:30]
  • How Sami Jo ended up in Ice Hockey [4:30]
  • The power of not having pressure to perform [6:30]
  • What kind of coaching worked and did not work [7:30]
  • How Sami Jo decided to try out for the Olympic team and why it was a tough decision [11:00]
  • 10,000 hours of practice in practical terms and the secret sauce of Sami Jo’s success, and avoiding burnout [13:30]
  • How Sami Jo copes with setbacks [18:00]
  • Why not winning inaugural gold in the ’98 Olympics helped Team Canada win the last 4 gold medals [21:30]
  • Sami Jo’s favorite biographies and the danger of hero worship [24:30]
  • Sami Jo’s message as a motivational speaker and a leader [28:30]
  • Failure as a learning experience and how hope mitigates failure [31:00]
  • Practical steps to effective visualization [39:00]
  • The powerful combination of our subconcious mind and years of effective practice [49:00]
  • How far can theory without practice take you [52:00]
  • Sami Jo’s sources of inspiration [52:30]
  • What makes our closest rivals special [54:00]
  • Canadian Women Hockey League’s creation, effective format and the path to professionalizing the game [56:45]
  • Sami Jo’s condition for anyone who wants to complain [1:08:50]



Have something you’d like to share with us or Sami Jo Small? Leave a note in the comment section below!

If you enjoyed this episode, please share it using the social media buttons you see on the left side of the post.

Also, please leave an honest review for Case Interview & Strategy Tools Podcast on iTunes. Ratings and reviews are extremely helpful. They really matter in the rankings of the show, and we read and greatly appreciate each and every one of them.

QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: What do you think is the secret sauce for success when it comes to professional athletes? Do you think the same methods that enable world-class athletes to reach the top are equally effective in business, including management consulting? Please share in the comments.

Whom should we interview next? Please let us know on Twitter or in the comments below.

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5 responses to McKinsey Loves Olympians, learn from a 3x Olympian

  1. Michael,

    I found it interesting that Felix acts like a student so is treated as one (one podcast talks about this idea as well). Though I think it’s because of the culture. Asians are very respectful of their teachers/the elderly so it’s difficult to talk like peers. So you might want to keep this in mind when you see Asians struggling to talk like peers with partners when they network. It’s not that they can’t, it’s that their deep-rooted culture does not make them feel comfortable doing so. I have coworkers who feel uncomfortable addressing their mentors by first names.

    Yes, I agree that you should be sincere, don’t try to be smart and be likeable! Everyone likes to be around people like that. It’s a fact that we live in a social environment, so social skills are very important. Unfortunately we don’t pay any attentions to soft skills in science. But I found myself being a better communicator while studying from this website (it really makes a big impact with only small changes), I look forward to more!



  2. Thanks Hannah,

    We will do more.

    You quite rightly noticed that my communication style changes significantly based on the person with whom I am conversing. I never use the same style.

    I feel that is the best way to get the most from someone. In general, I was pretty easy on Felix was well.


  3. Hi Michael,

    A new and exciting style of podcast! I really like it and have some comments I would like to share:

    1. It’s very helpful to see how you converse with another person. You have been giving advice on how to communicate, but to see you demonstrating it makes it easier to understand and follow. I found it interesting to see the changes in communication styles when the relationship dynamics changes: you with Felix vs you with Sami.

    2. I was impressed at how well Sami communicated even though she is not trained as a consultant. During the podcast, I kept thinking to myself: wow, this is exactly what Michael has been talking about: story telling, lots of facts, clear, and very engaging.

    3. So, I would like to listen to more interviews with great communicators. And of course we also want to gain valuable lessons so I would love to hear from people who went through adversities and succeeded.

    4. Some thoughts on the visualization technique: I think that for it to work: 1st, one has to physically practice and master the skills (ex: hockey, presenting). Only after enough practice will visualization improve performances.

    I think the underlying reason why visualization then works is because it gives the impression of being in control. Visualization allows the user to imagine and predict future situations. So when it actually happens, the user feels that he/she has been in this situation before, therefore he/she has more control, therefore he/she can perform better. It’s the same principle as checking out a restaurant before an important client meeting.

    Overall, it was a great podcast, please do more! Thanks Michael.



  4. Hi Nathan,

    Thank you. I actually had not fully understand the principle of visualization until speaking to Sami-Jo. Her take on it, which is based on fact, is very different versus what books claim it is about.

    It was also the most interesting part of the interview for me.

    Thanks for the suggestion and we will definitely look into it.


  5. Dear Michael,

    Great interview! Your style of interviewing with continuously synthesizing and highlighting key insights made it very interesting and easy to follow.

    I personally found the part on visualization very appealing and wondered whether you know any good books or any good source material on the subject?
    The only book I read once that comes close is ‘The Art Of Learning’ by Joshua Waitzkin. The guy is an international chess master since he was 16, but also later became a world champion in an asian martial art. I believe he would also fit the criteria for making a good interviewee…

    With kind regards,

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