Five Business Lessons Learned from Rowing

From fencing to volleyball as a youth –  to the boardroom and pre-dawn rowing as a business executive –  Laura Gamble’s competitive energy fuels her success.

Baltimore, Md. – Laura Gamble, PNC Bank regional president in Greater Maryland, craves competition. It’s what pushes her to get up at 4:30 a.m. several days a week and take on the strenuous day head. But her morning doesn’t start at PNC’s regional headquarters in Baltimore – it starts on the water.  

Gamble is a competitive rower for Baltimore Rowing Club’s Women’s Master’s program. She’s no stranger to competitive sports, having played basketball, softball and volleyball in high school. In college, she was encouraged to try fencing. Her competitive spirit and quick mastery of the difficult sport earned her a walk-on spot on the fencing team in her sophomore year.

From Beginner to Masters

After the rigorous training and time commitment required in collegiate sports, athletics took a back seat in Gamble’s life while she focused on building a successful career in the banking industry, running a business and raising her two children. When her children were grown, a friend suggested she try rowing. She started in a novice class, enjoyed it enough to join a recreational group and in 2010 made the leap to competitive rowing in the Women’s Masters’ program.

“It’s a difficult sport to master, but I like that it uses all the major muscle groups and it demands concentration on technique. I enjoy being on the water in a relaxed but highly focused state.”


Watch video (:26) of Laura Gamble as she rows in Baltimore

To get in top shape for the June through October competitive rowing season, training starts in late March. She rows for 90 minutes, four days a week plus two days of strength conditioning and one day of rest. Her team competes in multiple categories from singles to teams of two, four and eight people in a boat with distances ranging from 1,000 to 5,000 meters. Last year, Gamble and her training partner won a silver medal in the Masters National Women’s D2 race after an exciting photo finish.

“Competition is grueling. It takes you past your anaerobic threshold. Your brain and muscles are telling you to stop, but you have to override it.”

That same focus and competitive spirit fuels Gamble’s career success. Her lessons learned from competitive rowing that apply to her professional life include.  

1. Aim for peak level performance

“I’m not an exercise person. For me to exercise, I need to have a goal and that goal is winning.” Gamble applies that commitment to performing at the highest level to succeeding in the business world.

2. Use focus and discipline to overcome adversity

“Rowing requires intense mental discipline. In business and life, those with mental discipline will go farther. You have to stay on course whether conditions are good or bad. When conditions are bad, you don’t pack up your equipment and go home. In business, we have to focus on staying the course, whether faced with economic headwinds, regulatory changes or new competitors."

3. You’re only as fast as the slowest person on the boat

“In rowing and business, you want to put your best team out there. If you have a weaker team member, it’s going to affect the team’s performance. In both circumstances, you need to support team members to help them improve their technique or performance. But it’s on the individual to take that support and do something about it. Otherwise, leaders shouldn’t be afraid to change the lineup to put their team in the best position for success.”

4. Hold yourself accountable

“If you are in a boat with a team and someone doesn’t show up, the group can’t compete. Knowing that my teammates are depending on me keeps me motivated to show up before the sun rises.” It’s also what drives her to train during the winter months when she can’t be on the water.

In business, you need to be accountable – whether it’s hitting goals or delivering on projects or deadlines. It’s more than showing up, it’s being responsible for consistently giving your best.

5. Find your passion outside of the office

For Gamble, her commitment to rowing is non-negotiable. “This is what I do. There are very few things in my life that rowing takes a back seat to and I can’t imagine walking away from it. I love that there are 80-year olds that still compete. That’s my goal.”

PNC advocates for work/life balance as part of the company's culture. “It’s important that employees find that balance in their lives, whether it’s a physical activity or something else that they are passionate about. Bill Demchak (PNC's chairman, CEO and president who competes in triathalons) is the best example of how PNC lives this value.”

Learn more about PNC's leadership and performance values

Laura Gamble
Laura Gamble competes nationally and internationally, including rowing competitions in Canada and Italy

I tell my kids that they don’t have to compete, but they need to find a physical activity they enjoy so they can do it consistently.