From tennis court to business deals

John Feaver in action during his playing days John Feaver was a ranking player on the ATP circuit from 1973 to 1986

When John Feaver was one of the top British tennis names back in the 1970s and 80s, cash-strapped players had to sell T-shirts and racquets on the side to get by financially.

Renowned for his blistering serve - he once delivered 42 aces in a match at Wimbledon - the now-59-year-old also had to scrape together his kit by cadging free tennis shoes.

However, since those penurious playing days, he has gone on to spend a successful quarter of a century in the business world.

He now spends two days a week working alongside Dragons' Den entrepreneur Peter Jones, as well as being director of commercial partnerships for sports charity Street Games.

He also does work for Mr Jones's National Academy for Enterprise.

"We launched the academy for youths aged 16 to 19," he says.

"It is for those who were OK at school but maybe did not like being there, or were not sure about what it could do for them.

"They are youngsters who want to be enterprising and start their own business, not go to university to study traditional subjects."

He adds: "The students are competitive, and they really want to make a difference."

Meanwhile, a number of business ventures he launched in his crossover period from sport to business, in the mid to late 1980s, are still going strong.

Cricket to tennis

"I was not a great tennis player, but it was a career," he confesses.

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"I actually started out with a cricket scholarship and switched to tennis when I was 16.

"My main playing asset was my big service."

Fortunately he was also quick on his feet off the court, and in 1985 at a dinner in Japan to promote Wimbledon, he nimbly took advantage of a chance remark by a fellow guest.

"I started talking to someone who said he worked for Yamaha - at that time I did not know they were a maker of tennis racquets and golf clubs," he says.

"They said they did not have a representative in the UK, and I immediately said I would do it."

Profitable venture

He was soon selling their tennis racquets and bicycles to British customers, and before long went back to the Japanese firm to ask for a bigger market - Europe.

"Fortunately they agreed, and as I was on a percentage of the turnover I made money from the venture and was soon out of debt," he says.

John Feaver Mr Feaver is working closely with Dragons' Den entrepreneur Peter Jones

Which was just as well because, the way he describes it, being a lower-ranking tennis player was far from a life of jet-set glamour.

Often he entered doubles tournaments by pairing up with scratch playing partners, and once in Italy he was pelted with coins when taking on a local favourite.

However, it was on that men's tennis tour where he first discovered his entrepreneurial spirit - selling tennis racquets and Fred Perry and Slazenger T-shirts on his travels to help pay his way.

"We used to take tennis shirts over to Europe and flog them when we were playing there," he recalls.

'Sport and business'

And when he contacted the company then known as Inter, and now called Hi-Tec, to ask for three free pairs of tennis shoes, he hit on another business venture.

"Once again, sport and business crossed over for me, and the company founder Frank Van Wezel was happy to do business with me," recalls Mr Feaver.

JOHN FEAVER - TENNIS FACTS

  • Reached number 98 in world rankings in 1973
  • Played Davis Cup for Great Britain from 1977 to 1983
  • Held record of most aces in a single Wimbledon match from 1976 to 1997, achieved in match against John Newcombe
  • Won one doubles tournament - Bordeaux in 1980
  • Runner-up in nine other doubles events
  • French Open doubles semi-finalist in 1982

"I became their UK representative and signed up all the British players that I could, and the business flourished. I still do work for Hi-Tech to this day."

Meanwhile, he had overseen the transfer of the Yamaha concession from himself to department store chain Beales.

After those initial commercial ventures, he paused to take stock of what he had learned from the world of business.

"It had been a real learning curve," the former right-hander says.

"What I had learned was: play to your strengths, do business with people you trust, don't get out of your depth, and be honest.

"Loyalty is also very important."

He said that, having brought the discipline of a sportsman to business, he actually found it easier in some ways than life on the tennis court.

Famous wins

On the court his career on the ATP men's tour had lasted from 1973 to 1986, with one unusual highlight being his feat of beating Bjorn Borg twice in one week at the Beckenham tournament in the mid-70s.

Bjorn Borg Mr Feaver proved too good for Swedish legend Bjorn Borg twice in one week

"Not many people can say that," he says. "I beat him in the final of the under-21 event and the quarter-final of the men's event.

"I beat him 6-4 in the third set both times."

Back in the world of business, his next venture after his sports equipment deals was into the world of consultancy, with US public relations giant Hill & Knowlton.

Further high-powered posts followed as commercial director and international director for tennis governing body, the LTA.

"That came about because I contacted them and said I wanted to bring my skills into the business," he says.

Money issues

For the duration of this year's Wimbledon he will be director of player relations at the tournament, a post he has held for the past 21 years.

Start Quote

Do business with people you trust, don't get out of your depth, and be honest”

End Quote John Feaver

For an ex-pro like himself from an earlier era, he must have noticed the huge amounts of money now in tennis and other sports.

"People nowadays might see success in sport by how much people earn, or by big sponsorship deals," he says.

"But it is about what you win and how you present yourself, and a top professional in any sport would tell you that."

But one thing has not changed from his experience - the pressure on tennis players lower down the ladder struggling to make a financial living.

"You also cannot get into certain tournaments unless you reach a certain ranking level," he says.

"So when I hear people [talking] about the pressure at the top, I think that they should have a look at the financial strain on those at the other end of the sport."

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