Serena Williams Encourages Everyone, Even Brands, to Stay Humble and Always Aim Higher

Superstar athlete and entrepreneur spoke at Adweek's annual Brand Genius awards

Serena Williams at Adweek's Brand Genius awards gala Sean T. Smith for Adweek
Headshot of Katie Richards

Tennis champion Serena Williams accepted the 2018 Brand Visionary award this evening at Adweek’s annual Brand Genius awards gala, held at Cipriani, 25 Broadway, in New York’s Financial District.

Ten top brand marketers were awarded for their impactful campaigns and creative ideas, but the highest honor of the evening is saved for Adweek’s Brand Visionary—awarded each year to someone who has spent his or her career building a lasting brand and one that truly inspires and connects with people. Previous honorees include Anna Wintour, who presented Williams with her award this evening, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Arianna Huffington.

While Williams is of course known for her many achievements in tennis, she received the award for accomplishments that go beyond her fierceness and dominance on the court. Beyond the many brand partnerships and sponsorships with the likes of Nike, Chase and Gatorade, Williams has also proven herself to be a successful businesswoman and entrepreneur—she launched her own clothing and jewelry line with HSN, sits on the board of SurveyMonkey and has a stake in the Miami Dolphins.

Where it all started though, Williams said, goes back to when she was 3 years old and she had “a little fire in her belly” that told her one day she wanted to win the U.S. Open. Williams now has six singles U.S. Open wins under her belt (not to mention the 23 total major titles). But the road to success has not always been easy for Williams, in life, in tennis and in the world of business. Just this summer, the world watched Williams’ triumphant return to the U.S. Open finals and subsequent loss to Naomi Osaka but will remember the match more for Williams’ grace and humility in defeat and her ongoing fight for women’s rights and equality. 

Williams offered some important advice that anyone, especially brands, can take with them during turbulent times. “One thing that I truly believe in is that success does not define a person,” Williams said. Instead she believes success is earned through failure. “A lot of the people who truly inspire me are not about those who are wildly successful, but those who are wildly successful after they fail and they get back to being super successful again, and that for me is what fuels a successful brand and a successful person.”

Williams also shared a key to her unrivaled success: “I have to say that hard work and dedication are cornerstones to success and if you believe in yourself. Once you set your goals, always aim higher.”

Now in its 29th year, the Brand Genius awards honor 10 brand leaders behind some of the most creative marketing campaigns with major business results of the year. This year’s honorees include American Express CMO Elizabeth Rutledge, Peloton svp of brand marketing Carolyn Tisch Blodgett and Bud Light VP of marketing Andy Goeler.

@ktjrichards Katie Richards is a staff writer for Adweek.