Lessons From A Former NFL Player Turned Entrepreneur
Former offensive lineman Marques Ogden knew that—while he was enjoying an NFL career playing football for the Baltimore Ravens, Jacksonville Jaguars, Buffalo Bills and Tennessee Titans—he needed a back up plan for life after football.
A second career is a detail athletes rarely think about; their futures usually consist of extended corporate sponsorship deals and coasting on retirement. Ogden knew as his athletic career was ending that he had decades ahead of him to craft a whole other competitive career.
“I once read that 78 percent of athletes lose their money about a year into retirement,” says Ogden. “That wasn’t going to be me. Football is such a short-lived career. It’s not like baseball where the money is guaranteed. If you don’t prepare to do something every day you could lose your fortune.”
So a year before his 2007 retirement, Ogden founded Kayden Premier Enterprises, a minority-owned, certified construction company based in the Baltimore, Md., area that specializes in earthwork, concrete, site work, site utilities, sediment and erosion control. Now five years in the business, there was some shaky ground before Ogden felt like he was comfortably and competitively playing on a leveled field—and confidently call himself a pro entrepreneur.
We chatted with Ogden about what he’s learned while practicing and playing hard in the entrepreneurial game.
Always keep your eye on the ball
Just as his body was his temple during football season, Ogden keeps up his business skills and industry knowledge by focusing the same level of attention and devotion to the construction world. He eats, breaths and sleeps his business.
“I now know construction and my business itself like the back of my hand,” says Ogden. “I know my business just like I knew football. That way I can’t BS. No one can argue that I don’t know my business.”
Success and confidence didn’t come immediately. Just like in football, Ogden needed to be prepared and know exactly what he was talking about to get more business. His charisma and charm, along with the confidence he’d learned from the playing field, were valuable and got his foot in many doors. To close the deals, he needed the powerful addition of being an expert in his industry, as well.
“You have to watch your business carefully and take real good care of it,” says Ogden. “You can’t fake things or let things slide. Otherwise you’ll lose your customers and their loyalty.”
Business is a discipline
There’s was an excess of blood, sweat and tears required of Ogden to really champion a business—especially since he was transitioning into a total new industry. Choosing to learn and partake in all aspects of the business and work closely with his in-house employees, Ogden was able to develop Kayden Enterprises into a legitimately competitive force in the Maryland, Pennsylvania and Delaware area.
“Like football, in business you have those good and bad days,” says Ogden. “It’s perseverance, being knocked down and getting back up. In this economy the only ones who survive are the one’s who’ve done the extra work to stand out. I’m up every morning at 5:30 a.m. to work out before heading into the office or to a site for an inspection. It’s now after years of really learning my business and experiencing new clients and projects, that I can say we’re really good at what we do and dominate in our industry.”
There are all kinds of valuable team players
Ogden, 30, found a business partner in 72-year-old Arthur Pearlman. The combination of a former NFL offensive lineman with a 30-year veteran of the construction industry makes for a powerful and clever team.
“We make a very interesting combination together that clients seem to be drawn to,” says Ogden. “Where I am very energetic and fast-paced, Arthur is very methodical and takes his time to get things precise. He’s slowed me down and helped me realize it’s better to grow the business at a steady pace and not rush too quickly and be left with too much work and not enough man power to do the job well.”
Once they joined forces, they made the decision to treat each hire with the same thoughtfulness. They made it a mission to bring only the best players to their team and created a team that self performs so they never have to outsource.
“I’m hiring guys with 22 years, 15 years of being the best at what they do in this business,” says Ogden. “Athur and I invested premium dollars for premium people. We did this for our business so we could deliver the best product out there. The bonus is the banks like this too because they see you invested in people to make a strong team and then they in turn want to invest in you.”
Right now, Ogden and Pearlman are focused on growing their credit line with the banks to keep up with all the new work they have coming in—an exciting but real challenge in a down economy.
Routine is a good thing
It’s not the monotony many athletes fear in retirement. A regimented schedule is a lifestyle pro athletes are accustomed to. Maintaining a schedule in a work environment has been paramount to Ogden’s success.
“We athletes need routine,” says Ogden. “Continuing to go to the gym, rising early, always going to the office, staying up-to-date on each of my projects and sites, keeps me on my game. When I wasn’t strict with a routine, I was very lackadaisical about things—something I never was in my football career.”
Ultimately, it was allowing himself to be humbled by acknowledging that he didn’t know enough about construction that helped elevate the business.
“I had the confidence to think I knew everything I needed to know about my business, but the reality was I didn’t know anything, and I was pretending,” says Ogden. “Today there is nothing I don’t know about my company and that makes us incredibly productive.“
Don’t rush the goals
Ogden’s older brother is legendary all-pro offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden. Jonathan—who is also retired—lives in Las Vegas and has been busy growing a family, investing and being involved in a philanthropic foundation. Ogden says maybe down the road he’d look to bring Jonathan into his business, but for now he’s focused on growing his baby on his own.
“Family is a large part of my life,” says Ogden. “Kayden is a combination of Jonathan’s kids names [Kaylee and Jaden]. I’ve been building the business on my own without asking Jonathan to invest. I would want my company to be at it’s absolute best with the highest quality of work consistently for a few years before I asked him to be a part of it.”
Pace yourself so you don’t burn out
Unlike a sports game, the business world isn’t a race to the finish line for those who want long-lasting careers. Pearlman has taught Ogden a lot about the benefits of growing patiently at a steady and controlled pace.
“The bank doesn’t want to see you grow that quickly where you end up having problems financing your jobs,” says Ogden. “Right now we’re growing in revenue and carrying a profit. There’s a lot of watching and monitoring your business to get it there.When you’re a rookie coming to the NFL and suddenly trying to be a maverick, the veterans are going to give you a hard time. Just like I respected my teammates and players on other teams, I respect my competition in this business too.”
Ogden sees his 30-employee construction company earning $24 million in revenue five years from now. In 2008, Kayden enjoyed a small revenue of $450,000. In 2009, they made $1.4 million, but had a loss. The following year saw a profit with about $2.3 million in revenue. This year, the company's projected revenue is $3.6 million to $3.8 million, with a profit.
“My personality as both an athlete and a business owner is hustler,” says Ogden. “In athletics people know how good you are so you just go out there and you do your job the best you know how to. In this job, you have to market your abilities tremendously and produce quality work that speaks for itself and brings us referral-based work. If we keep doing things right, all we can do is be better and grow bigger.”
What kind of game player are you: one that rushes to the finish line or one that takes his time to reach as many goals as possible?
Image credit: Marques Ogden