“There are a lot of changes I would like to see and be a part of in sports. The diversity of thought that Wharton provides is crucial for me at this point in my career.” – Hig Roberts, WG’25

By age 23, Hig Roberts, WG’25, had already achieved what many elite skiers only dream of—competing on the World Cup circuit. He went on to win two national slalom titles and serve as an alternate at the 2018 Olympics before hanging up his skis to pursue a new track. In 2020, Hig became the first professional men’s alpine skier to publicly come out as gay, a milestone for LGBTQ+ visibility and inclusion in winter sports. 

Now, as a Wharton MBA candidate, he’s aiming to create more space for LGBTQ+, BIPOC, women, and underrepresented athletes in the sports industry. Hig shares why he is pursuing his Executive MBA from the Wharton School, what it means to be a role model for young athletes and sports executives, and how to manage work and school as a new father.

Why did you decide to pursue an Executive MBA at this point in your career?

I love learning from smart people. My years working as an athlete and agent have given me incredible experiences, and ultimately, I love the competitive, fast-paced nature of the industry. In sports, we are surrounded by people who are similar to us; we all want to win and be the best. I wanted to learn from people who come from different backgrounds than I did, and who may approach opportunities differently. Wasserman is a leading agency in the Olympic space and I wanted a top-tier MBA program which would allow me to keep working full-time while learning valuable new skills.

Roberts with his learning team in the San Francisco cohort at their Fed Challenge in Year 1’s Macroeconomics class. Pictured from left to right: Hig Roberts, Kelly Kamienski, Prakash Chockalingam, Toms Zvidrins, Molly Gosse, Zifu Wang (Image: Hig Roberts)

I chose Wharton to give me the best foundation in management, teamwork, operations, and broader organizational strategy. There are a lot of changes I would like to see and be a part of in sports. The diversity of thought that Wharton provides is crucial for me at this point in my career.

What inspired you to come out at this stage in your life?

I struggled a lot as an athlete trying to reconcile who I was as a person and who the world wanted me to be. What does it mean to be an all-star athlete? Growing up, I was praised for my athletic achievements, while internally struggling with my identity. After I left the sport, I lost my younger brother tragically and suddenly. His loss has the biggest impact on me. It makes me realize that life is short and we only have one shot at it. When I came out, I felt empowered and learned a huge lesson: people are better than you think.

Roberts skis with his partner, Luke Macfarlane in Kitzbühel, Austria in 2024 (Image: Hig Roberts)

I was so hesitant to come out as an athlete but have felt remarkably supported working in this industry as an openly gay man. There’s a huge movement in sports happening and we can see attitudes transforming. I’ve always known sports to be the most prime arena for acceptance– after all, the clock does not care who you are, but how hard you are trying. I want to give back to the space, serve as a role model, and put more power in the hands of athletes who have traditionally been left out of the sports industry.

Any highlights from your first year in the Wharton MBA Program for Executives?

It’s really special to get back into the classroom and meet so many new people. My classmates have seen success already in their careers and know who they are. Like me, they’re curious about learning more, rounding out their weaknesses, and enhancing their strengths. We chose this program because it’s the real deal. It’s challenging and competitive, but the environment is incredibly collaborative. 

The WEMBA 49ers Soccer Team playing before classes. (Image: Hig Roberts)

I feel confident saying that I have the best learning team to ever be assembled. We have a U.S. Diplomat, a CFO, an energy engineer, a Googler, and a preeminent Vanguard rockstar. We’re all so different not just in professional background, but also in the way we problem solve. It’s incredibly humbling having these profound conversations with classmates at lunch or walking to a class. I constantly think how lucky I am to be in the same room as them.

What advice do you have for LGBTQ+ individuals navigating the professional landscape?

I always try to hold the positive mindset that people are better than you think they are. There is no reason to underestimate the good in people. I have found that people are more willing to accept me and care about what makes me “me”. 

Roberts stands with his partner, Luke Macfarlane, at the finish line of the 2024 NYC Marathon. The couple raised over 20K for Beyond Type 1 Diabetes in honor of Roberts’ late brother, Murphy. (Image: Hig Roberts)

Ownership of who I am and my story is so critical to the well-being of myself, my family, my team, and my company.  Sure, sometimes it feels exhausting to come out and be that person, that representative for the community. But I didn’t see athletes or executives doing it in the sports world when I was young, so I want to make sure I show up now. If I can impact one person, it is all worth it. At Wharton, there is a healthy LGBTQ+ alumni community across the country and world, and I’m proud to be part of it.   

What is it like being a student and balancing life as a new parent?

It’s all about perspective. My husband and I welcomed our baby daughter last year during the first week of class. When I got to campus, I quickly found out four other classmates recently had babies and two more were expecting children that summer. I felt the immense pressure melt away when I realized I wasn’t alone. Even better, I am now part of the most amazing network of parents. 

Roberts, center, with his learning team. All are participants in a bike-building community service event, which occurs during every EMBA student’s first week of classes in Philadelphia. (Image: Hig Roberts)

Every class weekend, we get together to swap stories, the good and the ugly. Balancing work, school, and parenthood has given me a perspective unlike any other throughout my life. Like many athletes and MBA students, I consider myself a go-getter and sometimes bite off more than I can chew. Having a child has slowed me down and helped me realize what can wait until tomorrow and what can’t. 

– Kendra King

Posted: June 7, 2024

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