Editor's Note: With the 2012 London Olympics fast approaching, this is the second in a series of articles about UCLA Anderson alumni with Olympian connections.
Atop the office desk of Robin Leamy ('86) is an inspirational saying: "What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?"
The answer, of course, is to follow your dreams. It's a notion that Leamy has adopted as his personal mantra, whether he was training to compete in the Olympics, attending business school at UCLA, marrying his college sweetheart or forming his own realty company.
Leamy spent much of his childhood world-hopping. He was born in Western Samoa (now known simply as Samoa), lived for several years in Puerto Rico, and held New Zealand citizenship. He arrived in Southern California at age 13, just in time to enter Rolling Hills High School in Palos Verdes (now known as Peninsula High).
He joined the school's water polo program, and then began swimming to stay in shape for polo. He was, he says, "a late bloomer." Only in his senior year did he begin to "pop" fast times in the pool and attract college recruiters, including UCLA.
Leamy followed his older sister, Anne, to Westwood. He swam and played polo as an undergraduate, earning All-American honors in both sports. Under the tutelage of then UCLA Head Coach Ron Ballatore, he developed into a blink-and-you'll-miss-him sprinter. At one point he held the American and world records in the 50-yard and 50-meter races.
His collegiate highlight came at the 1982 NCAA swimming championships. UCLA and Texas were deadlocked entering the final event: the 4x100 relay. With Leamy in the anchor slot, the Bruins whipped Texas, broke the American record, and tallied its first (and only) national men's swimming title. "Swimming is an individual sport, but that was the most cohesive I've ever felt on a team," he said. "It was just so exciting for everyone on the team."
Leamy graduated with an economics degree, then focused on training for the 1984 Olympics. He decided to try and make the U.S. team as a swimmer, not in water polo, even though the '84 Games did not include his best event, the 50-meter race. "I wanted to control my own destiny," he said. "With swimming, you qualify for the Olympics based on your time, not through a selection process."
Leamy made the American team and won a gold medal by helping the U.S. capture the 4x100 relay. "Competing in Los Angeles was great," he said. "When the U.S. team walked into the Coliseum for the Opening Ceremonies, it was such a rush. It took me by surprise, entering the stadium and seeing however many people cheering and screaming for you. Swimmers don't get that much."
His gold-medal dreams realized, Leamy was determined to avoid dwelling on his sports success. "As a former athlete and Olympian, you don't want that to purely define you," he said. "You can get stuck in that and not be seen as anything other than a former athlete. I think that is limiting because there's so much more to life than that."
In the fall of 1984, Leamy entered the MBA program at the Anderson School of Management. "It was the only business school I applied to," he said. "I wanted to be at a top ten business school because I admire high achievers, out of the box thinkers, and people who are driven to be around other people who want to be successful. I knew that Anderson would provide that."
He admits that he did not know initially what business field he wanted to work in. The finance class taught by Anderson Adjunct Professor Bill Cockrum helped Leamy find his way. "You'd come into class all prepared and give all the predictable answers, and then [Cockrum] would tell you what was really happening. He was real world. He'd been there and done that. He wasn't just a teacher."
By the end of his first year at Anderson, Leamy knew that commercial real estate was his future. "I wanted something tangible," he said, "versus talking in abstract terms. I wanted to be able to look at a building and know that I was associated with that. It's a little harder to feel that way if you're number-crunching in an office.
Leamy started with Grubb & Ellis in Orange County. After 18 months, he joined with Anderson classmate Greg Geiger at a start-up realty firm called Langdon Rieder. There, as Vice President, Leamy discovered his niche: locating office space for corporations.
Each job, he says, is more than just a real-estate play. It's about listening to each client, evaluating each company's office space requirements and budget, and then acquiring, creating or delivering that space. "A lot of brokers go in and say, 'What do you need?' We go in and say, 'Let's talk about your business: Where are you going to be in three to five years and what will your needs be?' We're not just talking about buildings and fulfilling a task."
After Coldwell Banker acquired Langdon Rieder, Leamy left the company to try several entrepreneurial ventures. He returned to real estate with Mohr Partners and became Managing Partner. He stayed with the firm for a decade, in the process relocating his family to Northern California.
In 2010, he left Mohr Partners to form Leamy Realty Group. Leamy says that he was driven to follow the dream of heading his own company by what he learned at UCLA. "[Senior Associate Dean] Al Osborne headed up the entrepreneurial program at Anderson, and the lessons I learned there stuck with me," he said. "I just don't like it when somebody else has my destiny is their hands. The only way to ensure that that doesn't happen is to take full accountability and say, 'If I make it, it's on me. If I fail, it's on me. But I'm not blaming anybody else.'"
Leamy admits that the challenges of launching a startup are keeping him busy. "We're a young company, and we're growing slowly," he said. "I wish I had done this earlier – that's my only regret. I can't imagine doing anything but what I'm doing now."
He often finds himself tapping into his competitive swimming experience to surmount business challenges. "Athletes have the mental ability to handle failure and then get up and keep going," he said. "Athletes know that they have to work years before they'll see success. Delayed gratification to achieve a goal is applicable in sports and in business."
Through it all, Leamy harbors a deep, personal connection with UCLA. It's where he met his wife Kris (nee Schwendinger). He was Sigma Alpha Epsilon, and she was Pi Phi; together they have five children, with oldest son Michael the backup punter on the Bruins football team. His sister Anne is married to Ed Robinson, Leamy's former water polo teammate at UCLA.
"My whole undergraduate and graduate experience at UCLA was fantastic," he said. "I would do nothing differently."