Anna or “Prata,” as most call her, is one of a kind. Today with a broken wrist, she tells me, “Hey, I figured out how to do push-ups with the cast AND carry my sled.” (Her sled is a skeleton sled which weighs 77 lb., while Anna herself is a size 0) This unusual human who is both a successful business woman and competitive athlete lives a mantra of “leaving it on the field every day.”
Her athletic life and her professional life are both what we could call “extreme.” Prata’s profession is as an interim executive with 22 years of experience in the specialized field of corporate turnaround. Anna holds a JD and is considered one of the top ten interim executives according to interim awards and ranking in 2009. She has been featured in Bankruptcy Professional in July 2010 and has been panelist on a variety of business webinars including “Winning in the Turnaround World, The Top Signs of Distress?” Although a JD and specializing in turnaround, Prata prefers not to do bankruptcy work. “I prefer to save a company from bankruptcy and get the company to the next stage of its life-cycle. Bankruptcy, for me is akin to going to a funeral.”
Anna works with both private and public companies of any size. She is also industry agnostic and has experience with oil and gas, food, chocolate, printing, manufacturing, international real estate, software, retail, M&A, professional services and finance to name a few. Prata grew up in Seattle, holds a Bachelor’s degree in Public Administration from Seattle University and a Juris Doctor from The University of Puget Sound School of Law. Anna is also a credentialed and successful mediator as well as a certified arbitrator. She also has additional formal education in crisis management, negotiation, facilitation, finance and some engineering. Prata works in both W-2 or contract roles and generally relocates to her clients’ location even on foreign soil in order to “facilitate the right changes in the right time frame.” She currently resides in Texas.
I had the chance to meet Anna and decided her story is unique, inspirational, honest , and like Anna, no-nonsense, and just what the country needs; someone with unmatched determination, tenacity and willpower to make a difference everywhere she goes and with courage to cut a new path if that is what the situation requires.
First, tell me, what is skeleton?
Skeleton is a sliding sport that occurs on the same track as the Bobsled. We slide on what appears to be a giant dinner platter, head-first, at speeds up to approx. 81 MPR (miles per hour).
I grew up in Seattle and loved sledding. Seattle has hills and ice. In the winter we would put garden hoses on one particular hill and cover it with ice. It was steep and this ensured no city vehicle could get up the hill. I always slid headfirst, like in skeleton, and we would reach decent speeds. This sensation stayed with me, perhaps buried, but a flicker that finally re-ignited.
This flicker fully re-ignited in 2004, when I was working in Alabama on an assignment. The U.S. Bobsled & Skeleton Federation was hosting tryouts at the University of Tuscaloosa. I knew in my gut I had to tryout. At this point, I was thinking of “piloting a bobsled.” (Meanwhile, at the tryouts, there was a skeleton sled lying on the grass; I laid on it. Chills ran down my spine, but I dismissed the feelings because I was focused on bobsledding). My sprint and other test times were good, but I was in a quandary. My rational brain said “stay in business, build a retirement and forget about a dream.” A decision I regretted. Then came the 2010 Vancouver games; both the passion for the sliding sports and the regret was still there. I was older, but could no longer justify the sidelines, and had to go for it! I drafted an email to the head of the Federation in May 2010 and started the process. In July of 2010, at a bobsled and skeleton tryout in Oklahoma, I found out that I was too small for bobsled. So skeleton and I were now destined to be together.
Why Park City?
There are only 14 ice tracks in the world. Here, we train and slide at night so I can work during the day. I have full flexibility to travel and work remote or be on site with a client. I have competed and trained for some sport every day of my professional life. I train between 3 a.m. and 6 a.m.
Why not? This is the way life has worked out.
On November 30, 2010, I commenced skeleton driving school which was the next step to trying for the U.S. Olympic development program. I was the only female in the class and it was my first time on a skeleton sled on the ice. I knew in my first 4 seconds of having the coach let go of my feet, and as speed was building, that I belonged there. Never in my life have I done something that totally captured me like this. It is not the speed – I am not an adrenaline junkie-this is different.
I fell in love with the ice. The smell of the ice (hard to miss when your head is 2.5 inches off the ice), the sound of the runners; it is extremely peaceful and spiritual at the same time. This is a solitary sport. It is just me, my sled, and the ice.
What got you ready for this?
My whole life! Others say that I am determined, persistent and tenacious as they come-and they are correct. I never give up. A friend once said to me; “I have never met someone who knows so precisely and intentionally their purpose on earth at any given moment as you do.” I think this says volumes! I grew up with a great deal of responsibility and always set high expectations. The world of distressed work is certainly a gritty choice for a professional career and requires highly unusual skill sets to be successful and survive. It is funny how analogous skeleton is to turnaround.
Seriously? Come on, how are they alike?
Neither skeleton nor turnaround are for the faint of heart; one must remain calm under extreme pressure; one must possess grand confidence in their decisions; speed and precision are critical to ensure success and prevent disaster; head first is symbolically synergistic; intensity and focus are demanded in both arenas; you must trust yourself always.
Do you face any obstacles?
Care to share?
The obstacle of age is significant. At the end of the day if I do not sprint fast enough, then so be it. But I always have a backup plan! This is part of my nature of never giving up.
Obstacles are a part of life for all humanity. I have had a great deal of death and loss in my life and I am not good at that. I have been told “no” because you are too old, “no” because you are a woman, “no” because you are too confident and have faced a plethora of other criticism. As I meet others who continue to drive forward, it appears that people with courage to survive are also singled out to be destroyed by those with great insecurities. We all must move beyond that which tries to hold us back. Gratefully, a few prior U.S. Olympians are backing me with emotional support.
What are you hoping to accomplish?
I would like to rank in the top 10 percent as a skeleton athlete while bringing attention to the sport.
More important, is the broader message to all, that age, sex, race, criticism, and even sabotage should not stop a person. I have great passion for this country. My mother had Native blood and was proud of her heritage and this country. We, as America have come a long way, but this country is on a precipice. People are giving up, companies are poorly run, people are paid well for not delivering results, and there is not yet equality. We need different input in corporate America; we need people in corporate America who want to be accountable. Business and the universe have changed so we need to do things differently if we are going to get back on track.
Ego is the single greatest reason a CEO flies a company into the side of a mountain. Almost always it is preventable by getting help or listening to a different opinion.
What is your time frame to accomplish this sports goal?
That is unclear; however, I do know that any time one falls in love, all you know is you have to play it out!
Susan Goldberg’s company, SGES, conducts retained executive searches for companies with innovative leaders and provides career coaching for individuals who are determined to change their career path. Her website is www.susangoldbergsearch.com, and Susan can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. She can also be followed on twitter @suzebizcoach
Anna Prata’s company, Reengineering Capitalism’s website is www.ReEngineeringCapitalism.com. Anna can be reached at email@example.com.