From Pro Athlete to Business Pro

by Paul Frankenberg on February 6, 2013


Erik Stiller

Princeton University, BA, Economics and Finance
Graduated June 2006

How did you pick the college you attended?
I grew up in College Station, TX where my Dad was a professor at Texas A&M.  I had three goals as I approached high school graduation:

Live in a different geography,
Attend a great college or university and
Play baseball.

I was fortunate in that I was at the right place at the right time and played in several tournaments attended by a number of great college coaches.

What or who influenced your decision?
My Dad was a key figure but he didn’t press me.  Nobody influenced my decision directly.  My final options were Vanderbilt, Harvard and Princeton. I wasn’t sure I would get much playing time at Vanderbilt, and I really liked the coach at Princeton (great guy with 10 years of Major League experience). On top of that, my father was a graduate student at Princeton, so I had some familiarity with the school. In the end, I felt that all of the options were great, so I chose the one that felt like the best opportunity – to learn and to play baseball.

What did you go to college to study?
My initial major was Operations Research & Financial Engineering.  I liked business, science and math and this major appealed to me.

Did you change majors in college and why?
I did change from engineering to economics towards the end of my Freshman year.  This was actually quite a process as I had to meet with several people and multiple layers of the University.  I was encouraged to really think about my decision.  I debated between economics and religion / philosophy.  I landed on economics.  Because Princeton is a liberal arts school I was able to use many of my electives to take religion and philosophy classes, which I did.  An economics major felt right to me as it was more aligned with my business interests.

What activities did you engage in and what internships and / or jobs did you have while in college?
I was involved in several Christian Fellowship activities during college. Personally, I like playing the guitar and writing music and played at a number of events and in the local coffee shops.

Talk about college graduation and how you chose your path.
I went to college with the primary goal of playing professional baseball.  However, I was not recognized as a top draft pick.  I went undrafted through 50 rounds of the pro draft.  I graduated on June 6, 2006 and the draft was June 6th and 7th.  I was contacted on June 8th and offered a professional contract.  I signed with the Cleveland Indians as an undrafted free agent.

Prior to graduation and the draft, I had pursued a few job applications and interviews.  I had a few job offers but had to turn them down because I wanted to wait to see whether baseball was an option for me.  I went “all or nothing” towards baseball.

It was a tough time because I wanted to play baseball but was unsure of how things would play out.  My only inputs where what my coaches were telling me, what the teams were telling me and my own assessment of my skills and abilities.  I thought I would get drafted, but what I really hoped for was an opportunity of any kind. The fact that I wasn’t drafted served to motivate me to work even harder to prove that I belonged at the professional level.

There are 6 levels of professional baseball, from Rookie ball to the Major League Baseball.  I caught a break during my second year based on a string of great performances along with an injury a few levels above me.  I moved up for what was supposed to be one week and ended up spending the entire season at the higher level.  From there, my career progressed well, but a few years into playing with the Indians’ AA team, I was let go shortly after recovering from a back injury.  I then signed to play for a short while with the Astros AA team, but was let go in July 2010.  Overall, I am proud to have progressed through 5 minor league levels and feel lucky to have had the opportunity to do so.  I am 100% positive towards my experience and I would not change a thing about it.

I left the team and went to Nashville, where my wife was teaching school.  We decided it was the right time to consider my new, post baseball path.  My wife was beginning a new school year so we were committed to being in Nashville for another year.  I began to evaluate options and thought about law or business school.  I also began to network and interview in and around Nashville.  I was unsure of what job I wanted but I wanted to understand what business options existed and where I could leverage my interest in economics.

Tell me about your career path to your current employer.
In the summer of 2010 I joined Avondale Partners as an Equity Research Intern, which was an unpaid position.  In 2011 I joined a healthcare software start-up, Syus, and was an Advisor to the CEO.  Both roles were interesting and opened my eyes to what kind of opportunities existed.  I continued to look for long-term options and reconnected with some of my college friends who were in consulting.  I considered consulting because I knew it would give me great exposure to different industries and types of roles. I didn’t know exactly what my long-term vision would be, but I felt confident that consulting could help me discover it.

I pursued opportunities with McKinsey, Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and Bain and joined BCG in their London office.  I have good friends within each firm and feel confident that my experience would have been fantastic with any of the firms.  They were all great options but I believed BCG was the best fit for me.  BCG was collegial and the size of the firm worked well with me.  I felt excited to be part of a growing company while working with business clients of all types and sizes.

Interviewers have asked me how I believe my experience in professional baseball applies to my business pursuit.  I believe that I have a strong ability to respond to failure.  I understand that roadblocks happen and I am able to learn from my mistakes and put my failures behind me.  I think these life lessons will serve me well for years to come.

In your current role, what are you responsible for?
I am a Junior Consultant, which is a non-managerial role.  My work is broad across a number of industries and functions.  Each project typically consists of a three to six person team.  Depending on the project, we may be analyzing strategy, operations, IT, finance, competition, etc.  Depending on the day, I may be doing financial modeling, competitive analysis, benchmarking or organizational workshops, among many other possibilities.

Go back to your sophomore, junior or senior year of college.  Does your current role fit with the professional passions you identified in college?
Yes.  However, like many my age I am not certain what the long-term holds for me.  However, the decisions I have made up to this point have been good and I believe I am on a good path.  My work is aligned with my college interests.

It’s interesting though because in college I lacked a clear picture of what I could do and what I would do.  I knew I wanted to work in business and economics but I lacked greater clarity in what that meant or what I would actually be doing.  What I have learned is that while I don’t know exactly where my path will go, I am doing what I like, I am learning and I’m figuring out more about what I like and don’t like all the time.

Knowing what you know now, what advice would you provide to a current college student?
This is interesting because I have thought about this quite a bit.  My sister is a college senior and we’ve been talking about her interests and pursuits.

I would tell students to really give thought to what you really like to do.  This sounds simple but it is the right starting point.  I knew baseball was my primary focus and business was next on my list.  While I knew what it meant to play baseball, I didn’t know what it meant to be in business.  I could tell you about what each day was in the life of a baseball player but I couldn’t do the same in business.  I would suggest students learn more about varying career tracks and what work you will actually do and the path it might offer.  Do this through interviews, internships and talking with friends and alumni.  This will help you determine if you get excited about what you will be doing.  Being an analyst for an investment bank might sound really interesting to you.  However, do you know what a day in the life of an investment banking analyst really looks like and do you like that picture? Does it fit with your passions and priorities?

Interview conducted Dec. 2012
Erik’s comments were compiled and condensed by:

Paul Frankenberg
Co-Author, Burn Your Resume:
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