William Walker: Navigating The Storm To Build An Empire

William Walker: Navigating The Storm To Build An Empire

William Walker , CEO

William Walker


An unexpected professional downfall or losing a job might not be an ideal way to learn a lesson, but the drive that comes later can elevate someone's potential to be a business owner. Once such failure happens, people can do two things: they can either grieve around feeling defeated or take the opportunity and time to achieve something more. William Walker gained a desire to start over and build his kingdom after one such failure. Today, he owns one of the most reputed swimming academies in Abu Dhabi. He tells CEO Insights about that period that changed his life and takes us through his journey.

Take us through your professional journey and the inception of Storm Swimming Academy.

In my journey to founding Storm Swimming Academy, my life took a dramatic turn after a series of pivotal events. Initially, I was a PE teacher in the UK, passionate about teaching and nurturing young minds. However, the bureaucratic restrictions on educators began to stifle my enthusiasm. In pursuit of a more fulfilling teaching experience, I accepted an opportunity in Abu Dhabi despite having little knowledge about the place. Little did I know that this decision would set me on a path toward entrepreneurship. Teaching in the Middle East was similar to the UK and presented challenges. I eventually became discontent with my teaching career and found myself looking to change career paths.

My life took an unexpected turn when I lost my job, and my family's financial situation became dire. I vividly remember sitting on the edge of my bed, tears in my eyes, unable to afford even a basic necessity like food for my one-year-old son. It was a low point and the first time I'd cried since arriving in Abu Dhabi 11 years ago. Turning adversity into an opportunity, I sought justice through the labor court and received compensation for my unfair termination. With this, I saw a chance to pursue my dream of having my swimming academy. It was a risky endeavor, as this was the first time I had ventured into business and was starting from scratch.

As COVID restrictions began easing in January 2021, I started coaching over 150 children weekly in private lessons. The workload was intense, but it was the beginning of a promising journey. Realizing the demand for high-quality swimming lessons, I expanded and brought in more coaches. I hired a fantastic team of dedicated professionals who shared my passion for teaching. I focused on creating a work environment, prioritizing staff happiness, and ensuring a loyal and motivated team. Storm Swimming Academy has grown significantly, with 53 employees and counting. We're not just teaching swimming; we're changing lives, nurturing future champions, and giving countless families the opportunity for a better future.

What life skills do you teach to children through your programs?

First and foremost, we focus on water safety, teaching children how to be safe in and around water. We cover floating, treading water, and recognizing water safety measures, like lifeguards and the meaning of different color flags. It's a crucial aspect of our teaching, and we're proud to hold a Guinness World Record for water safety. Drowning statistics are alarming; if our work saves even one child's life, it's worth it. Beyond water safety, we use swimming to instill teamwork, self-assessment, peer assessment, effective communication, and listening skills. These skills are not just about sports but are vital for personal development, adaptability, and growth from adolescence to adulthood. Swimming is our medium for imparting these crucial skills.

My goal is two-pronged: benefiting children & the community while supporting swim coaches' career aspirations

What are your plans for the future?

My goal differs from that of a typical CEO. Most focus on maximizing profit, but for me, it's about giving back to the community and raising the standard of teaching and learning in Abu Dhabi. I want to help as many children as possible, especially those who may have yet to have access to high-quality swimming lessons for water safety. I aim to educate and save lives. Additionally, I want to provide opportunities for my staff to break away from unsatisfactory jobs and help like-minded swim coaches achieve their career goals.

Do you have any advice for budding entrepreneurs?

Be aware that entrepreneurship is not all glitz and glamour; people think it is an Instagram-worthy lifestyle. There are tough days and sleepless nights. It's a roller coaster. My most extensive advice for new entrepreneurs is to stay focused when your bank account looks good. Only spend or invest some of it. You must manage your liabilities, save, and prepare for the inevitable highs and lows. Speak to other entrepreneurs for different opinions, but remember that what's right for you may be a mix of all those perspectives. I'm a risk-taker but calculated risks with data and research. Entrepreneurship takes time and firm foundations; paying your staff fairly is critical to building those foundations.

William Walker, CEO, Storm Swimming Academy

Like calm after a storm, life could only improve after turbulent times. Through Storm Swimming Academy, William ensures children's safety and growth and provides opportunities for his staff, positively impacting the community.

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