Drew Brees has proven people wrong throughout his playing career. In high school, he tore his ACL and was told he was “too small” to play college football. He went on to set several Big 10 Conference records that still stand today. After his rookie season with the San Diego Chargers, he tore his labrum and rotator cuff in his throwing arm — arguably the worst injury a quarterback can endure. Since then, Brees has won a Super Bowl MVP, secured nine trips to the Pro Bowl, led NFL quarterbacks in touchdowns, passing yards, and 300-yard games 10 times, and passed for over 5,000 yards in a season five times (no other NFL QB has done this more than once). On the field, there’s no question he’s best-in-class.
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Among his vast list of accolades, Brees tells us his legacy will be remembered for what he’s done off the field. He’s a husband, father of four, philanthropist, New York Times bestselling author, executive committee member for the NFLPA, a franchise operator and investor.
A practitioner and advocate of the franchise business model, Brees has created a successful and dynamic portfolio that includes the likes of Dunkin’ Donuts, Jimmy John’s, Title Boxing Club and more.
To be the best in the NFL, manage a portfolio of 80 franchises and investments, run a foundation, and spend meaningful time with your family requires discipline, work ethic and a lot of passion. Here are four takeaways from my conversation with Brees that illustrate why he’s been so successful both on and off the field.
1. Resilience is the opposite of failure.
In his final game of the 2005 season, Brees tore his labrum and rotator cuff in his throwing shoulder. He spent a few days in deep despair thinking to himself, “I may never play football again.” Nine months later, after a grueling and rigorous rehabilitation schedule, he joined the New Orleans Saints and willed a career resurgence. He credits his recovery to having a strong faith, work ethic and being optimistic. Moreover, having the support system of his family and teammates aided his recovery, and was a focal point of his New York Times bestselling book, Coming Back Stronger: Unleashing the Hidden Power of Adversity.
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2. Time management is the breeding ground for success.
Brees starts his day at 4 a.m., which he dubs his “most productive hour of the day.” He typically uses this time to read and catch up on the previous day’s emails before waking his kids up and getting them ready for the day. At 7:30 a.m., Brees heads to his team facility where he shuts off all devices and distractions, creating a focused and intense environment where his undivided attention is football. After team practice, film study and physical therapy, Brees gets home by 8 p.m., so he can spend time with his kids before they go to bed.
When you’re as busy as Brees, it’s easy to fall into work overload. By exercising discipline and time management, Brees is more effective and able to achieve more.
3. Align your business aspirations with purpose.
Brees began eating Jimmy John’s when he attended Purdue. After his recovery from injury, he dreamed of bringing his favorite restaurant to his new home in New Orleans. With a healthy network of colleagues, Brees tapped a former teammate involved in franchising for advice. After spending a week at Jimmy John’s headquarters in Champaign, Illinois, Brees purchased his first set of franchises. Over the next three years, Brees was operating eight restaurants and employing 250 people. Loving “the opportunity to build the local economy,” Brees has added to his portfolio with plans to roll out as many as 69 Dunkin’ Donuts in Louisiana.
Where Brees is hamstringed to spend 40-hour weeks on his portfolio companies, becoming a franchisee can be beneficial for three reasons:
- Product efficiencies. For a monthly fee, franchisors have standardized processes, technologies and marketing materials that are supplied to the franchisee, lessening the operational learning curve many entrepreneurs undertake.
- Minimized growth risk. Franchising can generate higher returns with lower risk.
- Access to talent. Franchising is a great way to partner with talented people incentivized to work for a national brand.
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4. Trust your gut.
With angel investments in Waitr and Wedge Buster, Brees’ core investment strategy is his ability to see an uncanny fire in a founder’s eye. He “bets on the jockey,” describing the same gut feeling he gets in a critical moment of the fourth quarter with the game on the line. Brees calls a huddle, and can see who wants the ball. He invests in the player (or founder) who wants to score.
He says, “The most difficult thing is to find people you trust.” To help sift through his weekly deal flow, Brees has built a front line of analysts who dissect each opportunity with the same fervor he trusts his teammates to have with every snap. With family and football consuming more than 50 percent of his time, making sure the composition of his business team is built on trust is critical to his success.
Following a tough Week 1 loss in the NFL, you can expect Brees to bounce back stronger than ever in Week 2. If his story of resilience, commitment to excellence, competitive spirit and tireless work ethic doesn’t convince you he’s one of the most dynamic athlete entrepreneurs in all of pro sports, I’d suggest avoid making eye contact with him.
Hosted by professional athlete and entrepreneur, Suiting Up with Paul Rabil is a podcast that explores the psychology, playbook of tools, and strategies of the most influential people in sports, entertainment and business. Navigating each conversation, Paul unpacks how world-class performers think, compete, improve, operate, train, eat and sleep.
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