The one lesson I've learned from life: retired jockey Sam Waley-Cohen

The one lesson I’ve learned from life: Founder and CEO of Portman Healthcare Sam Waley-Cohen says it’s who you’re with that matters

The founder and CEO of Portman Healthcare, Sam Waley-Cohen, is a retired amateur jockey who won his final race, the Grand National, in 2022 with odds of 50/1. He is a friend of the Prince and Princess of Wales. Sam and his wife Annabel Ballin, who owns a children’s party business, have three children. 

I’ve always hated feeling like I have under-performed and haven’t fulfilled my potential. But, at the same time, I think each time that you have an experience where you think, ‘I didn’t do my best there’, it’s an opportunity for learning. 

If I hadn’t ridden the Grand National course 40 times and made many, many mistakes, I never would have won the race in 2022. All that cumulative knowledge came into play that day. 

Founder and CEO of Portman Healthcare Sam Waley-Cohen (pictured) says it’s who you’re with that matters. The retired jockey says he’s hated feeling like he has underperformed or not fulfilled his potential

Getting a balance in life has been important. I’m an entrepreneur and started my group of dental practices, Portman, in 2009. It’s become pretty consuming now as we employ about 4,000 people and have 200 dental practices across Europe. 

The racing was an outlet. The training and the discipline was completely different to the business and helped me keep all of it in perspective. If you love something you can find the time. 

At the end of the day, family is the most important thing. My racing career was a journey for me and my Dad. We’ve travelled about the country, thousands of miles, enjoyed the successes and commiserated the failures together. 

When my younger brother Thomas died of bone cancer when he was 20, it taught me that life is short. If there are opportunities, grab them and live life to the full. I think Thomas dying made me want to seize every moment of every day and make the most of it. 

After winning the Grand National, after all the media and the presentation ceremony, it was 9.30pm. We were about two-and-half hours from home and my wife and I said: ‘Right, what shall we do? Well, we’d better drive home.’ It was a very un-glamourous end to the day! 

I think what that shows is whether you’ve had a great win or a crushing defeat, the world will keep on turning as usual. It’s who you have around you that really matters.


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