As a student at Georgetown, Joe Dillon earned a finance degree while starring for the university’s soccer team. After graduation, he went on to play professional soccer as a midfielder for Major League Soccer’s (MLS) Real Salt Lake and United Soccer League’s (USL) Arizona United, before pivoting to consulting.

Similarities across these divergent career paths have allowed Joe to successfully apply lessons from the field to his role as a Partner on the Corporate Strategy and Transformation (CS&T) team. Learn more about his unique journey below.

Q: Very few people get to choose between a professional career in the athletic and business worlds. How did you navigate the decision to turn pro in soccer, and eventually navigate the switch to consulting?

Playing professionally was always a goal of mine, but I was also aware that my career was likely to be short-tenured. The average MLS career is only about 2-3 years, so I approached it pragmatically.

I was drafted by Real Salt Lake, which was merely an invitation to preseason as most rookies aren’t guaranteed a contract offer. While I was fortunate to experience the high of making the team at the end of preseason, I quickly experienced the low of being released shortly after—a tenure markedly lower than the average! But I decided to stick with it and soon found my way to a club called Arizona United in the second division of American professional soccer, where I started and saw field time regularly for a few seasons.

Over time, it became clear that I was ready to make a career switch. It wasn’t an easy decision of course, but I had other goals outside of soccer.

I was a few years behind my peers in business, so I was looking for a fast-paced industry that would challenge me to grow and accelerate my learning curve. I wanted an environment where I’d get a breadth of different experiences and get a level of depth in the technical skills that would be foundational for the rest of my career.

I spoke to mentors and friends in the business world and everything I was looking for matched how they described consulting.

Q: What did you learn about yourself as a professional soccer player that has aided your personal and professional development? How do you look back at that period now?

So much of my personal development came from my time playing soccer. The exposure I got to different parts of the country and different parts of the world—through travel and by playing with teammates and for coaches of different backgrounds—really helped me grow and develop as an individual.

I believe competitive sports are a microcosm of life—over the course of a season or even within a single game, you face so many situations that apply to life off the field. Whether that’s working well as part of a team, overcoming obstacles, learning how to deal with failure, or celebrating success—I think these experiences translate to other aspects of life, including consulting.

Q: What other lessons have carried over from your soccer career into consulting? Both must come with a busy travel schedule! 

There is quite a bit that helps me succeed in my current role, and yes, being accustomed to a busy travel schedule is certainly part of it!

Teamwork is the most obvious crossover. What I loved most about soccer was the team aspect, and I knew I’d get that same type of experience working with a team in consulting. Dedication, hard work, accountability, discipline—you need the internal drive to facilitate your own growth, and support the team, across both career fields.

Communication is another big one. In both soccer and consulting, communicating meaningful information quickly and concisely to your team is crucial. This is true of any sport, but especially in soccer, you have to quickly analyze what a given situation calls for and make adjustments on the fly—which trained me well for consulting.

Q: How does AlixPartners compare to professional clubs you’ve played on?

They’re quite similar. At AlixPartners, I’m surrounded by talented, high-performing colleagues who push me to be at my best every day, and we’re all invested in each other’s growth and development.

I’m also always learning, analyzing new situations, and solving new problems. All of this was true of my club experience in Salt Lake and Phoenix as well.

Q: What advice would you give to others who are considering a major career switch?

The best advice I got at the time was to talk to as many people in my network as I could across various industries to better understand what they do. This is not only helpful in identifying what type of work is most interesting to you but provides a well-rounded perspective on potential career paths.

Also, don’t be afraid to take a risk. A career switch is an opportunity to step outside your comfort zone, and when you do that, you generally see the most personal growth. Using a major change to stretch yourself, and really embracing that mindset, can help you succeed in whatever you pursue.

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