John Grahame | Crain's Denver

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

John Grahame


Denver-based Tri-Search is a nationwide talent acquisition company focused on traditional one-off searches and customized project recruiting for companies looking to grow on a volume basis.

Before he co-founded Tri-Search in 2007, Grahame played professional ice hockey, most notably on the Tampa Bay Lightning team that won the Stanley Cup in 2004.

The Mistake:

I underestimated the competitiveness of the business world.

Coming from the National Hockey League, where I was playing against the best hockey players in the world, I just assumed that the business world wouldn’t be as competitive. I learned very quickly that it wasn’t a step down. If anything, it was a step up in competition.

In my previous career, business deals were much different than they are for me now. Being a professional athlete, you have people bringing potential deals to you all the time. That’s just how it goes. There’s always a new deal or someone wanting you to invest in something. People just bring them to you.

It’s a fairly non-stop stream of opportunity, and I got used to it. I was conditioned to think that the business world would be simpler.

When I joined Tri-Search full-time, I drew on those past experiences, but that’s not how business works. People don’t just hand over deals because they think you’re a nice person. I became a managing partner and started working with the team and leading.

I was behind the pace of a traditional executive who worked their way up over the course of 20-something years.

We lost some deals that we should have won.

Had I realized my mistake sooner, the transition would have been smoother. I don’t want to say that I wasn’t taking it as seriously as I should have, but I can say that success would probably have come sooner had I not assumed the business world would be less competitive.

Once I realized that I was still in the big leagues, I started seeing the similarities between the business world and the NHL.

The Lesson:

After learning a couple hard lessons, I started changing my perspective. Instead of letting my past experiences with business dictate my behavior, I started treating the business the same way I did my career in hockey. It turns out that a lot of the things I learned growing up in sports – the hard work, teamwork, preparation, aggression, mental strength, research and training – can easily be applied to the business world.

I took that same mindset, those hard-won traits, and I went out and pursued deals instead of assuming people would come to me. That was when my situation and our company started to take off.

It took all that and more to be successful and to be taken seriously as a leader and an executive. Those things that made me successful in sports have ultimately helped me enormously in this new career.

I don’t expect others to understand exactly my situation, but I think that’s a general lesson. You have to draw on your past successes when you take on new challenges.

Tri-Search is on Twitter at @tri_search.

Photo courtesy of Tri-Search.

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