Sanja Ancic was crowned world junior tennis champion at the age of 16. She was ranked among the top 150 female tennis players in the world, and played in all four Grand Slams; Wimbledon, Roland-Garros, the Australian Open, and the US Open.
Then, aged 17, she got injured, was forced to retire, and thrown outside the world of tennis she had known all her life.
Now, 10 years on, she’s pursuing new career paths in pharma and consulting. She’s just graduated from the full-time MBA program at Barcelona’s ESADE Business School, and is considering job offers.
When Sanja quit tennis, she went to university to study pharmacy and biochemistry before taking up internships at pharma giants Novo Nordisk and GSK. She worked as a sales manager at a pharma firm in her native Croatia for two years before relocating to Spain and choosing ESADE over IESE Business School for her MBA.
Tennis is still a big part of Sanja’s life. She cleaned up at the annual MBA Tournament – where MBA students from around the world compete in a series of sports competitions held by France’s HEC Paris – winning both the singles and doubles tennis for ESADE in 2016.
After her MBA experience at ESADE, Sanja – sister of former men’s world number seven Mario Ancic – thinks she might one day return to the sport; this time in a business capacity.
How big a challenge was it to move on into life after tennis?
Things were going really well and I was focused on becoming the best tennis player in the world. Back then, if somebody asked me: ‘Where do you see yourself in 2017?’ It wouldn’t be on an MBA program! But, life is unpredictable and I had to retire because of a severe back injury.
The biggest challenge was moving from retirement into an undergraduate program. Still, I’m happy that I had a chance to play tennis professionally because it made me who I am today. A career in sport really prepares you for a career in business. In sport as in business, if you want to be successful you need to be dedicated, committed and you need to have a passion for what you’re doing.
What do you miss the most about playing professional tennis, and what don’t you miss?
I miss the feeling of being on the court, competing, and just enjoying the game. And of course the many friends I made with people I was with from the age of 12 to 17.
What I definitely don’t miss is playing outside in Australia in 40-degree heat! (Over 100 °F) Being a professional tennis player is also very demanding because you’re travelling 40 weeks a year and the rest of the time you’re preparing for the season ahead. You spend a lot of time alone or with your coach. Now, I enjoy having a more stable life and the chance to be around the people I love.
Why did you decide to pursue an MBA at ESADE?
I needed to broaden my horizons and strengthen my business acumen in an international environment. ESADE is one of the best-ranked business schools in Europe. But most important is the collaborative environment that ESADE nurtures.
I didn’t just want to be a number in a large business school. The relatively small class size at ESADE means you really have the chance to build relations with your colleagues. The majority of students live in Barcelona. The quality of life here is amazing. Just by being here, you already feel empowered.
What should applicants think about when deciding to do an MBA?
Think about where you see yourself after the MBA. Every school is different. Doing your research, choosing the school that really emphasizes on the industry you want to go into, and setting your expectations before the MBA, are the most important things.
How have you profited from your ESADE MBA experience so far?
I’ve already received a couple of job offers from consulting and pharma companies.
I owe a lot to the school in terms of preparation for the interviews. We do a lot of case studies with colleagues and all the major consulting companies come here. I learnt how to communicate with, present myself, and build relations with company representatives who came on campus.
Besides all the technical knowledge, the experience of working in a team has been my biggest takeaway. I was an individual sportsperson and being exposed to teamwork all the time was initially a challenge. Now, as a soon-to-be ESADE alumna, I’m really looking forward to helping my peers, offering advice, and opening doors in the same way that other ESADE alumni have done for me.