Shaquille O’Neal is familiar with what it takes to stay at the top of the game. During his nearly two-decade Hall-of-Fame career in the NBA, the New Jersey native was a menacing presence on the court, propelling two of the six franchises he played for to 4 titles, landing a spot in the NBA All-Star team 15 times and earning the league MVP award along the way. He became an instant favorite among reporters for his larger-than-life personality and quick wit during interviews, and earned the intrigue of fans for his array of off-the-court talents and interests in everything from music to acting to law enforcement. Equally as long as his list of awards and pursuits are his nicknames—some self-awarded, others earned, all reflecting the different dimensions of “Shaq:” “The Big Aristotle,” “DIESEL,” “The Big Baryshnikov.” The list goes on.
As his nicknames reflect, it’s hard to fit Shaq into any one box, but underneath the roll call of monikers and his extensive career choices, there’s been one constant—he’s always had an intuition for good business. In the early 90s, at the beginning of his career, Shaq became an active entrepreneur and investor, starting with stocks and bonds and eventually moving into real estate and franchise investment. Over the years, he expanded his investment footprint quickly expanded to a portfolio of almost 200 businesses in areas ranging from car washes to 24-hour fitness centers to nightclubs and restaurants. Today, even with another full-time career in sports broadcasting, Shaq’s keeping his eyes open for new opportunities across emerging trends in tech and media, always on the lookout for the next smart play.
I always try to work with people who are smarter than me. Of course, I do my own due diligence, but I know it takes a team to succeed. I know what I don’t know which I use as a guide to educate myself so I can ultimately make the best decision. A lot of that is simply not being afraid to ask questions.
As part of our Office Hours Q&A series on @AmericanExpressBusiness, we asked Shaq to share insights from his experience of running businesses during COVID, what he looks for in partners and investments, and what he’s keeping an eye on in the upcoming year and beyond.
You’ve been running businesses for the better part of fifteen years. What would you say the most influential trends have been over that time, and how have they changed your approach to managing the day-to-day of your businesses?
The rise of mobile phones has certainly been the most influential for me. Whether it’s the constant management of my social media handles, online ordering from my restaurants, the speed at which news travels, or mobile paying options, all of it has affected the day-to-day management of my businesses. It’s created so many pathways for growth.
Part of the challenge of running a business is making a decision when you don’t have all the information—many business owners faced that exact problem during the COVID lockdowns. What would you say your approach to decision-making is? Are you driven more by instinct? Or do you try to always practice some form of due diligence?
Well, first of all, I always try to work with people who are smarter than me. Of course, I do my own due diligence, but I know it takes a team to succeed. I know what I don’t know which I use as a guide to educate myself so I can ultimately make the best decision. A lot of that is simply not being afraid to ask questions.
How has your background helped you when it comes to building and managing a team? How do you make sure you’re putting the right people in the right places? What do you find to be the most essential skills in the people you rely on?
Like I previously mentioned, I try to work with folks who are smarter than me. I was taught to be a leader, not a follower, and the best leaders are the ones who take advantage of everyone’s intelligence – not just their own. I am always looking to partner with people who never give up, always persevere, and give no excuses, because that is what I was taught.
What is your approach to business performance? When you evaluate what makes a business ‘successful,’ are you primarily looking at the numbers? Or is there a qualitative potential you look for in the people or the product, even if the profits aren’t there?
I don’t always look for the big hit; I invest in people – people that are motivated, hungry, and passionate about what they are doing. They have to believe in the business themselves before they can get anyone else on board. From there, if we can establish an authentic relationship, that’s all I need in order to feel comfortable.
Finally, where do you think the best opportunities for innovation or disruption in the coming year? What is on your radar?
At this point, I think everyone is aware of and focusing on artificial intelligence. Despite the developments in this area, I still think people are going to be the key to growing a good business – from the executives all the way down.