Gale Sayers: Leaders on leading
I don’t usually get too worked up about sports figures and their respective biographies but one in particular has stayed with me throughout my life: The story of Gale Sayers is a story about leading by example, fellowship and giving back to your community.
Gale Sayers was a heck of a football player (you can marvel at his on-field dynamics on Youtube) but an even more successful entrepreneur. When I was a kid and deep into sports I was immediately attracted to the Sayers’ work ethic and dedication on the football field. His best-selling autobiography “I am Third” was even required reading when I was in school.
Prepare to play, prepare to quit
When he retired due to knee injuries, Sayers set out to prove that he wasn’t just an ex-jock who was living off his name. He went back to school and completed his Bachelor’s Degree and then his Master’s Degree in Athletics Administration. Commented Sayers, “…When I played the game of pro football back in the 1960s-70’s there wasn’t a lot of money to be made, so I had to do other things after I left football to make a living. I continue to tell a lot of players ‘As you prepare to play, you must prepare to quit.’”
He continued, “…I was looking for a field of the future. I got into computers, and I’ve been doing that ever since. We started out selling hardware, software and network integration services and have continued to expand.”
Granted, Gale Sayers had a few things going for him: he was a well-known and respected football player. He was the youngest player ever to be inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame. As a man of color he was able to attract minority business to his computer.
According to his second biography, “My Life and Times”, Sayers chose the computer field and began his company in 1982.
Sayers initial efforts started out very small: he called businesses and connected with their respective purchasing departments. Regarding those first years in the business, Sayers underscored the importance of persistence saying, “I didn’t have a lot of product knowledge at first, but I knew that computers were the field of the future. I found out what my customers needed, worked out a price and got the product delivered.”
Going the distance
In his second biography “My life and Times”, Sayers points out that during the boom years of the late 1980’s and early 90’s his company was pulling in almost 300 million dollars annually. By the mid-90’s the bubble had burst and Sayers was forced to re-structure yet he did so while being able to avoid declaring Chapter 11 Bankruptcy. To that end, Sayers’ biggest success and challenge was a two-edge sword: the pre dot.com technology boom of the early 90’s allowed Sayers to borrow money and expand in quantum leap fashion, yet when the bubble broke he had to reconfigure his company and holdings in a way that allowed his to continue moving forward.
Quote me on that
“I learned that if you want to make it bad enough, no matter how bad it is, you can make it.”
Said during an interview after his Sayers’ comeback from knee-surgery to once again lead the NFL in rushing.
The same words are easily applicable to his efforts to re-structure his company in 2003 after getting hammered by market fluctuations and the threat of bankruptcy.
The choice at the time was for him to cut his losses and move on to something else or figure out how to rise above it. He chose the latter and rebounded to even more success.
“When you step on the field, you cannot concede a thing.”
Whether it’s a football field or the arena of competition in the business world, you have to do your research, know your opponent and do what you have to do to win.
“The Lord is First, my friends are second and I am Third.”
A phrase Sayers learned from his college track. Really embodies what playing it forward is all about. You can’t just take; you have to give back as well. You give back without thinking “What’s in it for me?” Even before Sayers had the success and money to be involved in the type of philanthropy and fund-raising that he currently does, he was always supporting a number of causes both big and small that were within his means.
A life story that is full of examples of what embracing the entrepreneurial spirit is all about. Gale Sayers has led by example, led by doing and in later years has surrounded himself with a staff that embodies the characteristics that made him great in the first place.
Check it out. Ol’ Gar gives it 10 stars!