After retiring from their particular sport, many successful athletes have been able to seamlessly transition to executive roles using the skills they learned on the field. This is why 95 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are former college or professional athletes.
Top athletes spend years honing their talents, and this is one reason that they often find the transition to an executive role an easy one to make. Aside from their commitment to hard work, these individuals understand that their success is directly tied to their ability to learn and take direction from those with more experience. However, while many retired athletes look for sports-related jobs, from coaching to commentating, after retirement, a number of former athletes choose to switch gears completely and go into business. Read on to learn about a few athletes who made the transition and some of their tips for effectively making the switch.
Former Athlete Success Stories
Once playing sports is no longer an option, former athletes tend to look for something they can do that will suit their goals and personality traits. Many of these individuals, including the following, have leveraged their athletic skills to achieve enormous success managing their own businesses:
Tony Hawk—A former professional skateboarder, Hawk entered the business world when his popularity as an athlete led to numerous endorsement deals. He quickly built upon this achievement, creating namesake video games, a clothing line, and his own skateboard company. Now retired from skateboarding, he focuses on his revenue-producing business ventures as well his Tony Hawk Foundation, a nonprofit that builds skate parks for kids in underserved areas.
Magic Johnson—Perhaps one of the most inspiring stories of a former athlete transitioning to the role of business mogul, the former point guard for the Los Angeles Lakers has grown his fortune to an estimated $500 million through a series of smart business investments. Johnson first dabbled in business when he purchased a share in the LA Lakers in 1994. In 2012, he became part owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Johnson also owns several franchises and has written a memoir, all under his umbrella company, Magic Johnson Enterprises, which he serves as CEO. Magic Johnson believes in hard work and has been quoted as saying, “As a kid, the only way I could get my hands on spending money was to go out and earn it.”
Arnold Palmer—Perhaps the most legendary athlete-turned-businessman, Arnold Palmer passed away in 2016. Aside from his extensive list of endorsement deals, which included Ketel One, Callaway, and Rolex, Palmer created several namesake golf courses throughout the country. He also had nongolf business interests bearing his name, including a restaurant, a children’s hospital, and the Arnold Palmer Prostate Center. Palmer’s foray into business was strategic; he knew that many endorsements were largely based on his success on the golf course and, at some point, he would begin to win less often. In the end, his astute business sense paid off, leaving him with an estimated net worth in excess of $800 million at the time of his death.
Advice from the Pros
Transitioning from professional sports to business often comes with a steep learning curve but it’s definitely doable. Those who have successfully made the transition are often more than willing to offer up sound advice because they understand the associated challenges.
In 2009, George Foreman, the former boxer and name behind the “Forman Grill,” released his book, Knockout Entrepreneur, in which he details his theory for how to make it in business. According to Forman, it pays to be persistent and aggressive: “The most common characteristic of a Knockout Entrepreneur is that he or she is a risk taker.”
Former NFL player Tony McGee, who operates several successful business ventures, gave some helpful advice on the subject in a recent interview. He advises newly retired athletes to work hard at building their business networks. Pro athletes undoubtedly have a lot of connections already, but McGee advises making new ones that are relevant to the business the ex-athlete wants to get into. Making new contacts will put them in front of those who are experts at what they do and are willing to teach and show newcomers a different perspective. McGee also recommends being meticulous in selecting business partners. Ideally, entrepreneurs want to work with someone who shares the same vision and has just as much on the line as they do.