NFL Team Owner to Athletes: Business Success Isn’t Easy

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MuhammadJerry Richardson has some news for professional athletes trying to make it in business: It’s not easy.

“You never know what’s going to happen,” the Carolina Panthers owner said Wednesday at Wild Wing Cafe in Charlotte, as friends and supporters celebrated retired player Muhsin Muhammad’s new venture, an investment in the sports bar and restaurant chain.

“So many players, when they get out of sports, think everything is going to be handed to them,” Richardson said.

Muhammad, the former Pro Bowl receiver known as “Moose,” launched private-equity firm Axum Capital Partners a few years ago with three partners. The company recently acquired a controlling stake in Mount Pleasant, S.C.-based Wild Wing — its first big deal — and hosted the gathering of bankers, attorneys, friends and family to welcome the chain’s two new executives, industry veterans Axum tapped this year.

“My transition from the football field to the board room has not been an easy one, but it has been a fun one,” Muhammad told the group. “I love to win.”

But winning isn’t a sure thing in sports or business, Richardson said in an interview after the event. The former football player and longtime businessman said he tells his players it’s “highly unlikely” their economic success can sustain them into old age.

They need to think about their next steps and move forward with hard work, integrity and an appreciation of just what they’re getting into, said Richardson, who left the NFL for the restaurant business, eventually serving as chief executive of Flagstar Cos. Inc., which operated Denny’s and other chain restaurants. He became owner of the Panthers in 1993.

“Some listen,” Richardson said of his young players. “Most don’t.”

The team owner sees the same bravado, sometimes, in players’ efforts to start charitable programs or foundations. Quarterback Cam Newton, for instance, who recently formed a foundation that will focus on youth initiatives, “truly wants to help young people,” Richardson said. But Newton lacks experience running events and doesn’t know how difficult it can be, said the Panthers owner.

Richardson said the team will support Newton’s efforts, adding: “His heart is in the right place.”

Muhammad said he understands the challenges ahead and has surrounded himself with the best people for the job. His business partners have experience in mergers and acquisitions and the restaurant industry, and the firm announced in March it had hired two respected industry executives, Bill Prather and David Leonardo, as Wild Wing’s CEO and chief development officer.

During his stint with the Panthers, Muhammad learned “the best teams were where everyone knew their role,” he said.

He learned it’s never enough to simply perform well — and that a successful athlete or businessman should always be thinking about his next great opportunity, he said. Muhammad has said he plans to involve more professional athletes in his venture, arming younger players with the skills necessary to succeed in business.

Even Moose once had some maturing to do, Richardson told the crowd Wednesday. But he’s a competitive go-getter and trusted friend, he said. Now, it’s up to Muhammad and his team to work hard and look after their employees, he said.

“They’re going to sink or swim, really, with how they do with this,” he said. “Now the work really begins.”

Source: MCT Information Services