Siberia to Harvard

63MariaSharapovaNew Sweet time: Maria Sharapova at the Maria Sharapova Sugarpova Chocolate Launch in Chicago, US | Getty Images

After the doping ban, Maria Sharapova is going to do an MBA

  • Sharapova is following in the footsteps of another celebrity entrepreneur, Tyra Banks, a former Victoria’s Secret angel and the host of the television show America’s Next Top Model.

Maria Sharapova didn’t play in this year’s Wimbledon as she fights a two-year ban from tennis after failing a doping test. It is a bitter blow to the Russian player, who won the tournament at the age of 17 by beating the defending champion Serena Williams and was one of the game’s stars until her career went so spectacularly off the rails.

Will she sit glumly in front of her television, throwing her racket across the room in frustration, after seeing arch-rival Williams win her 22nd grand slam singles title? No, Sharapova is far too busy packing her bags for Harvard Business School.

Yes, you read that correctly; the “Siren of Siberia” is swapping the courts for the classroom. And not just any old classroom. She is to attend the Ivy League institution where the elite of the business world gather to sharpen their skills. “Not sure how this happened but Hey Harvard! Can’t wait to start the programme!” Sharapova posted on Twitter as she pointed delightedly to the Harvard Business School sign on its campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Impressive, huh? The 29-year-old obviously has brains as well as brawn because the master of business administration course at this vaunted B-school is known to be extremely difficult to get into. Last year there were 10,000 applicants for 940 places on the two-year course. Those who make the cut go on to become billionaire entrepreneurs and CEOs. The course’s lofty mission is “to educate leaders who make a difference in the world”.

MBA students take courses with titles such as Big Data and Critical Thinking, Entrepreneurship and Global Capitalism and the Microeconomics of Competitiveness. They learn operations management, how the larger political climate affects businesses and the difference between cost-based and value-based pricing.

Previous graduates include Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook, former US president George W. Bush and Walter Haas, who took his father’s small Levi jeans business and turned it into one of the world’s biggest clothing companies.

64Sharapova Business as usual: Sharapova stands next to a Porsche at the Grand Palais in Paris | Reuters

But not so fast. Sharapova is, like other celebrities before her, being a wee bit disingenuous when she lets everyone jump to the conclusion that she is doing an MBA at HBS. In fact, she will be taking a course on Harvard’s executive management programme, for which there are no formal educational requirements.

As the owner of her chocolate and candy company, Sugarpova, she is likely to have signed up for the owner/president management course, which costs a staggering $41,000 for a three-week session—though this does include tuition, course materials, accommodation and most meals. Chump change for Sharapova, of course, because she has won $36 million in prize money since turning professional in 2001 and earns millions more from endorsements.

The blurb for the course reads: “Building and running a successful company can be an all-consuming challenge that leaves little time for business owners to focus on their personal growth. Through a unique and intensive learning format, the course enables you to assess your strengths and weaknesses, identify and exploit emerging opportunities and transform your company and your career.” On completing the course, participants are given alumnus status and gain access to Harvard’s vast global network.

65TyraBanks Tyra Banks, TV host, who had a short-lived stint at Harvard.

It seems Sharapova already has some connections to the Ivy League school and maybe this wasn’t such an off-the-wall idea. She was the subject of a paper called Marketing a Champion by Anita Elberse, a professor of business administration at Harvard and an expert in the media and sports sectors.

Elberse is no stranger to celebrities in her lecture rooms. The hunky actor Channing Tatum and the rapper and actor LL Cool J attended one of her four-day courses about the entertainment industry, and pictures of them looking studious were duly posted on Twitter. It is, of course, good advertising for Harvard.

Sharapova is following in the footsteps of another celebrity entrepreneur, Tyra Banks, a former Victoria’s Secret angel and the host of the television show America’s Next Top Model.

Sharapova tested positive for meldonium at the Australian Open earlier this year and has been banned by the International Tennis Federation until 2018.

She plans to fight the ruling because she said she did not intentionally violate the anti-doping rules. She had been taking the drug for ten years because of a magnesium deficiency and family history of diabetes, and had been unaware that it had been banned last year.

The “love and support” of her fans had, she said, got her through the “tough times” when she heard of her ban, and has resolved to get back to tennis as soon as possible.

In the meantime, there is Harvard, and Sharapova is likely to take advantage of the full college experience. There will be lectures to listen to, Excel spreadsheets to pore over, but there will also be the thrill of living in dorms at Harvard and wandering through its beautiful courtyards. There may even be some campus drinking games such as the luge, where participants drink vodka poured down a channel carved out of a block of ice. And, of course, Harvard has a tennis team. Already, it has been rumoured, players are queueing to play opposite the five-time grand-slam winner.

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