Personal Branding and Career Success Lessons from the US Open

I’m a big tennis fan.  This year’s US Open had some feel good stories and some feel bad stories that provide some great career success advice.  A couple of days ago, I blogged about Denise Castelli, an amputee who made the cut as a tournament ball girl.  Novak Djokovic won the men’s tournament.  He has won 64 of 66 matches this year – and three of the four Grand Slam events – that’s an amazingly dominant year.

Then there is Serena Williams.  She could have been a feel good story.  She was injured and didn’t play in the Open last year.  Earlier this year she was diagnosed with blood clots in her lungs.  Between the two of these problems, she didn’t play for quite a while.  She came back this summer and was dominant on hard courts.  Even though she was seeded 28 (because she played so seldom in 2011) she was the favorite to win the women’s tournament.  She lost in the final to Samantha Stosur.  What a feel good story – she came back from serious health troubles and almost won the US Open.

But it turned out to be a feel good story turned bad.  In the final Serena was upset by a call from the chair umpire Eva Asderaski.  She went on a tirade, calling Ms. Asderaski “a hater” and saying  she was “unattractive inside.”  It got really bizarre.  As she sat in her chair between games berating Ms. Asderaski, she said “don’t look at me.”  Usually when someone is speaking to you, the polite thing to do is to look at them.  What was Serena talking about?

Having said all this, I admit that I’m a Serena fan.  I love her strength and the physical manner in which she plays the game.  I’m behind her every time she plays.  This made her outburst all the more hurtful for me.  It’s hard for me to support an athlete who doesn’t respect others.

If you recall, in the 2009 US Open Serena was involved in a very nasty incident with a line judge who called a foot fault on her.  That incident cost her the semifinal match.  She didn’t play in the 2010 Open because of injuries.  It seemed that every match she played in this year’s Open, the TV commentators brought up her 2009 outburst.  Every time that happened, I was saying to the TV – “OK already guys.  Give her a break – that happened two years ago and is over and done.”

Then a similar thing happened last Saturday.  I was sad – for Serena, for the chair umpire (who made the correct call) for the kids watching, and for Serena fans like me.

The US Open considered banning Serena from future tournaments.  They eventually fined her $2,000 – a pittance.  She won over a million dollars for finishing second in the Open and for winning the summer US Open series.  A lot of people – me included – think that the fine was a joke.  $2,000 is pin money for Serena.

But that’s not the important point.  By losing her temper in such a dramatic way in the last two US Opens in which she has competed, Serena has severely damaged her brand.  Tweet 64 in my career advice book Success Tweets says, “Build your personal brand.  Do whatever it takes to make sure people will think of you in the way you want them to.”

My hunch is that Serena wants people to think of her as a great tennis player, a ferocious competitor and real champion.  After her last two US Opens, people are starting to think of her as a bully and “bully” is not a good personal brand.

Let me switch gears here and talk about how to buld and nurture your personal brand.  Work at it constantly and continually.  Realize that this won’t come overnight.  You have to work at it — just like everything else that will lead to your career success.  The bad news is that all of your brand building work can go out the window in a moment’s indiscretion.

I’ll use myself as an example.  I have been working on my personal brand, The Common Sense Guy, for over 15 years.  Yet, I never miss an opportunity to reinforce it.  My business card says, “Bud Bilanich, The Common Sense Guy.”  As I’m sure you’ve noticed I tend to end most of my blog posts by saying something like, “The career success coach sense point here is simple common sense…”  When I speak, I always make sure that my audiences know the career advice I am dispensing is based in common sense.  When I complete on line forms, I always enter “The Common Sense Guy” for both my company and my title.

It’s the same when it comes to attire.  I work at being consistent and constant.  When I pack for business trips, I pull out two or three pairs of dark charcoal gray slacks, a black or blue blazer, several white shirts and striped ties.  I always wear white shirts and striped ties when I visit my clients.  Often, they tell me that I don’t need to dress up as they are a business casual office.  I always reply by saying, “I put on my tie today because I knew I would be seeing an important person – you.”  This comment always gets a smile – and from what I can tell, people are flattered by it.  It helps me create positive personal impact and reinforce my brand as a professional career success coach – someone with gravitas.

My white shirt and striped tie look has become so well-known among people whom I see regularly, that they are surprised when I deviate from it.  A couple of months ago, I was getting dressed and noticed a favorite foulard patterned tie on my tie rack.  I decided to wear it.  Sure enough, one of my clients asked if I were changing my look – from striped to patterned ties.  This little story illustrates the power of consistency.  I had never discussed my preference for striped ties with this woman.  However, at some level, she noticed my white shirt and striped tie presentation.  It must have registered, or she would not have mentioned it when I deviated from my normal tie selection.

What is your personal brand?  What do you do every day to reinforce it?  What else can you do?  If you want to learn more about personal branding, Dan Schawbel and William Arruda are the two best sources I know.  Google them.  Check out Dan’s personal branding blog, and William’s site.  William was featured in the August 2010 issue of Money Magazine.

The career success coach point here is simple common sense – see what I mean about being consistent and constant in promoting your brand? :).  Follow the common sense career advice in Tweet 64 in Success Tweets.  “Build your personal brand.  Do whatever it takes to make sure that people think of you in the way you want them to.”  Develop and nurture your personal brand by beingconsistent and constant in all that you do.  If you do just this, you’ll create powerful positive personal impact and build a solid personal brand.  But remember, all of your great brand building work can be quickly nullified by poor behavioral choices.  Serena Williams, probably the greatest women’s tennis player of our time, has done severe damage to her brand by her behavior in the last two US Opens.  Take a lesson here.  Don’t let a moment of anger destroy the brand you’ve worked so hard to build – and your career success.

That’s the career advice I took from the Serena Williams incident in this year’s US Open.   What do you think?  Please take a minute to leave a comment sharing your thoughts with us.  As always, thanks for reading my daily musings on life and career success.  I value you and I appreciate you.


PS: If you haven’t already done so, you can download a free copy of my latest career success book Success Tweets Explained.  It’s a whopping 390 + pages of career advice explaining each of the common sense tweets in Success Tweets in detail.  Go to to claim your free copy.  You’ll also start receiving my daily life and career success quotes.

PPS: I opened my new membership site on September 1.  It’s called My Corporate Climb and is devoted to helping people create career success inside large corporations.  To celebrate the grand opening, I’m giving away a new career advice book I’ve written called I Want YOU…To Succeed in Your Corporate Climb.  You can find out about the membership site and get your free copy of I Want YOU by going to

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  1. @jay_rombach says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more Bud. As a leadership coach myself, I advise others that everything we do and say defines us in the eyes of others. We are on stage with every word we say, every e-mail we send, and every action we take.

    This will define Serena. Yes, she will be remembered as one of the greats on the court, but not a great champion (or brand). Talent and success aren’t enough anymore. Character matters most, in sports, business and life.

    This may not seem fair, as we all have our faults and have let emotions get the best of us at times. Yet we have to find better and more appropriate outlets. Many years of success on the court for Serena, only to have two “meltdowns” define her much differently in the public eye. In today’s world of “instant sharing” through social media, there is nowhere to hide.

    The hope, in my opinion, is for Serena to own her behavior and lead with her vulnerability. Take responsibility for her mistake and apologize. No excuses. That is to be human…and a true leader’s only choice in circumstances like this.

    Thank you for the post.


  2. Thanks for your very thoughtful and insightful comment Jay.
    I really like what you say about being on stage with everything we say and do.
    You’re so right. You can do incredible damage to your brand in a few short moments of frustration.
    I hope that Serena can recoever from this too. I really love to watch her play tennis.
    All the best,
    PS — This is the type of thoughtful comment I hope to see more of on this blog. I promise that I will respond to every comment. I hope that we can turn this blog into a learning community. And, I hope everyone has a great weekend. It’s beautiful here in Denver.

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