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How Pru’s Ric Abel Learned Business In A Ballet Studio

Prudential’s Ric Abel learned focus and discipline in a ballet studio. You got a problem with that?
photography by Elizabeth Lavin

Where did White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel hone the hyperactive attack-dog style that earned the nickname “Rahmbo”? 

In ballet class. Wearing tights. And don’t even think about snickering.

That Emanuel forged his famous intensity in the ballet studio is no surprise to Ric Abel, a top businessman in Dallas. Abel himself is a former professional dancer with Eglevsky Ballet who’s now managing director of a $4 billion portfolio for Prudential Capital Group’s Electric Finance group here.

Ballet taught Abel his no-nonsense self-discipline. The art form’s exacting, “crisply defined” standards, he says, border on the militaristic.

And trust us, anybody who’s gone toe-to-toe with Abel will think “Navy SEAL”—not “Swan Lake.” 

“People look at artists as flaky people,” he says. “But I danced for 15 years and I never missed a performance.” Slackers who turn up at meetings unprepared and unfocused frustrate Abel. That wouldn’t fly, he says, in the ultra-disciplined and competitive world of professional dance.

“Dancers always show up prepared,” he says, “because there’s nothing more sobering than dancing in front of 3,000 people when you don’t have your role down cold.”

And the idea that the “show must go on”? Even in business you don’t find those kinds of immovable deadlines, Abel insists.

Transitioning from ballet to business, he adds, “I felt I was very prepared. I know how to work harder and longer than most people.” 
Whatever he’s doing seems to work. Despite last year’s market meltdown, his group closed 14 transactions totaling $764 million in 2008. 

Business is like ballet, Abel says, in that “people who are well-grounded in the basics are the ones who do well. We’re value investors. We stick to the fundamentals, and it has served us well.”