Why these former NFL players chose to pursue an MBA

In business and in sport, there are parallels. The lessons learned from the athletic field can be similar to the takeaways from a team in the workplace. As the NFL season kicks off its 100th year, we celebrate with two former NFL players who’ve been part of a partnership between the Kelley School of Business’ and the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA).

On this episode, we're talking with former NFL players Lester Archambeau and Andy Studebaker about why they chose to pursue an MBA. They share unique perspectives created from the field to their current careers.

We also chat with Kelley School Associate Professor of Business Administration and the Faculty Chair of the Kelley School’s Executive Degree Programs Rich Magjuka about what these athletes bring to the classroom and the lessons he’s learned in his years of teaching.

Finally -- We share why belief in yourself and maintaining humility and vulnerability in new situations will propel you toward success in whatever you’re striving to achieve.


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PODCAST TRANSCRIPT:

"The experience of pushing yourself, testing yourself, of failing, of succeeding, and building on that to the next experience is essential. I think if you can take any opportunity that you have, whether it's a positive or a negative, and grow from it, learn from it, and carry that experience into your next attempt at whatever you're going to, I think it emboldens you. You say - 'You know what, it's not just about being the best, it's about striving to be the best.'"

MATT MARTELLA, HOST OF THE ROI PODCAST: Welcome to another episode of The ROI Podcast presented by the Indiana University Kelley School of Business. I’m your host, Matt Martella, joined this week by Teresa Mackin, my coworker and assistant director of communications and media relations. Here on the show, our mission is to help organizations make better business decisions.

It's hard to believe the 2019 NFL season is here, and we couldn't think of a better way to kick off the season than sit down with some former NFL players to discuss how the competition side and teamwork of football relate to business acumen -- and how they're trading in their shoulder pads for an MBA.

TERESA MACKIN, ASSISTANT DIRECTOR OF COMMUNICATIONS AT THE KELLEY SCHOOL OF BUSINESS AT IUPUI: We sat down with two former NFL players who are part of a partnership between the NFL Players Association and the Kelley School of Business. The first former player is Lester Archambeau, who played as a defensive end in the NFL for 11 seasons with the Packers, Falcons and Broncos, and he’s now the Senior Player Director for the NFL Players Association or NFLPA.

LESTER ARCHAMBEAU: I think like most people in their career, you reach a point and you say, how can I add more value to myself? I really enjoy what I do, and I felt like an MBA was the right thing to give me another feather in my cap, to provide the education and the awareness an MBA would afford me so I could do my job even better.

TERESA: We also spoke with Andy Studebaker, who played eight years in the NFL as a linebacker with the Chiefs and the Colts. He’s a father of four and a player director for the NFL Players Association – AND he’s getting his MBA right now through the Kelley-NFLPA partnership.

ANDY STUDEBAKER: When you're playing football, you're busy. Life is hectic, you're moving around the country -- Then all of a sudden your career is over, and you've gained all these skills - You have this network, you've met these amazing people, and you have these soft skills - hard work, teamwork, delayed gratification, preparation, the ability to endure pain in order to have long-term success -- These are all really great skills I think we learn as football players. I think leaving the game I realized that those only are going to take you so far. They're going to open a lot of doors, it's going to open a lot of opportunities up for you, but you have to invest in some harder skills. You have to have some knowledge. Once you get in the door you have to have something to help you differentiate yourself. I realized I was lacking that. Over the course of a decade, technology has changed, business has changed, the economy has changed, the world has changed. I was sort of isolated in a world where it was just football. So I needed an extra set of skills to help me further my career.

LESTER: What's interesting to me about the concept of merging MBA training with NFL experience is that it wasn't all that different. The NFL taught you to compete. It taught you how to operate under stressful situations. It taught you how to read people, how to interact with others who were stressed out and trying to get the best out of them, because the NFL is the ultimate team sport. It's also very cut throat. You've got to manage emotions and manage thought process. You translate that into the MBA, and the MBA is saying, okay all these things you learned as a player: How to compete, strategy, opponents, preparation -- They formulate it into a scientific thing in the education framework. It's a verification of what you learned as a player. It teaches you --  this is the language. Instead of flat-out physical competition, You're talking about financial competition, you're talking about a competition with other competitors in the marketplace and How you can go about framing those competitions into returns. I think that equips you really well for success in a business world.

MATT: Lester completed this MBA through the Kelley School in 2018. This program is really unique. It offers NFL players (both former and current) the opportunity to pursue a Kelley graduate certificate or Kelley MS or MBA degrees—all online.

TERESA: Specifically, Lester says the management and strategy courses were really important.

LESTER: We're in a sport, the NFL, that changes constantly. Our rosters flip every three years, and even internally, our staff tends to turn over a little bit and our direction shifts. We'll have different programs and or different motivations for different times -- You've got a lock out or a work stoppage.. You've got smooth times, where you're trying to develop programs. So the ability to manage change was really interesting to me: how that is strategically done.  

MATT: And this wasn’t always easy for them – Andy didn’t have much of a business background before this, right Andy?

ANDY: I didn't have exposure to a lot of this stuff; I was not a business major in college. I majored in applied health science and I was going to go into physical therapy. I had a minor in Spanish. I really never took any business courses, so all of this is a little brand new for me. But I think what I enjoy most about the coursework is that it's relevant. I'm seeing it play out in my daily life. I'm starting to understand how businesses work, how people make decisions, and without that I wouldn't be given that perspective.

TERESA: The Kelley partnership with the NFLPA offers those current and former players the opportunity to pursue that certificate or degree with other professionals – not just other athletes. Andy says he brought unique skills from his background as an athlete to his teams in the MBA Program – and learned from others in different fields.

ANDY: Certainly a diverse group of people [in the program]. Some people, like me, are just starting out, and for some, this is their second, third master's degree, for others  -- they're getting a PhD, some are in engineering and chemistry.. just all over the place! In that environment, you learn the world is a very big place. There's a lot of different opinions, a lot of different perspectives that really influence what we're going to learn. SO the question is -- what can you bring to this group? I know what it is to work really hard, I know what it is to be evaluated in front of millions of people -- scrutinized, whether good or bad. I can bring that to a group, and say hey, how can I add that to your masters? How can I compliment that? How can your experience complement what I'm going to bring? That's where teams are formed. When I look at why I think athletes are beneficial in these types of environments, they understand what team culture looks like. Not everyone is a quarterback... Some have a specific skill set that really benefits the group. That's what I try to bring to each one of my groups. I fully admit I'm not the smartest one in the group. At the same time -- Find what you’re good at, excel in it, and try to complement those around you.

LESTER: I like to frame football as a human high performance business. That's what it is. You're getting these athletes who are bright, athletic, strong, they know how to make their bodies do things other people can't. They just flat-out can. In business, it's not that different. You talk about flexibility in business being really important. In athletics it's really important for a different reason, but it's the same concept. You want to keep your business flexible, because you don't want it to get hurt. You don't want a downturn in the market to kill your business, you want to be able to shift gears and move in a different direction. Those things parallel business to sport. I think that players in today's world are getting exposed to how much entrepreneurism is out there, and how much sports translates into business. You look at all these athletes doing this transition, some while they're still playing. But you look at that, and I think it's a very encouraging thing. Especially with a program like Kelley, you've now not only got an experience from the NFL, whether it's two years or ten years, but you've now got an ability to combine that with an educational experience that is going to equip you to face all challenges the business world will face, just like you faced them on the athletic field.

MATT: Here’s the faculty chair of the Kelley School’s executive degree programs, associate professor of business administration Rich Magjuka – who also teaches in the program.

RICH: Look at the schedule that an NFL player has maintained from high school, to college, to the NFL. People remark on those schedules in terms of discipline, but it's also working towards a goal with others. The discipline of working with others to reach a common goal is a very important aspect of the athletes regimen, if you will. I think that is also carried over into some of the business classes that I teach. Part of the training of an athlete is that they have to learn how to improve. To learn to improve is rooted in being able to accurately look at where you've fallen short and where you've had a failure. If you can't accurately diagnose what you're doing wrong, it's very a difficult to improve. I think that's a trait, a characteristic, that athletes bring to their studies that are really very important. 

MATT: Two things struck me about these conversations: The parallels between sports and business – and the takeaways from what they learned during their time in the NFL.

TERESA: So – Lester went to the Super Bowl with the Falcons in 99. They played the Denver Broncos – but they lost. He took us inside the tunnel with him.. as he was watching the Broncos celebrate their win – and he talked about what he learned from that experience.

LESTER: Playing in the Super Bowl, being on literally, the sports largest stage, was personally just a phenomenal experience. But at the time, you get caught up in it. For me, as a player, it wasn't about playing in Super Bowl, it was about playing the Denver Broncos, and  it was about winning a football game and doing everything I personally could do. I'll share my personal experience -- I had a pretty bad injury about two weeks earlier, so I wasn't 100 percent. But I was going to give everything I had to play in that game and help my team win. We didn't win. We lost. They were the better team that day. I was walking off the field, thinking this has been a miserable experience, I was so angry, that whole thing. But -- I stopped myself in the tunnel, and I reflected back. Turned around, and I made myself watch the Broncos as they built the stage, and they got up there, and you look at it and you say, they were the pinnacle, they'd won the game and that's fantastic. But -- The experience of being there, the journey it'd taken, the 16 weeks of the NFL season, the weeks and hours in rehab for me to try to play in this game, all enabled me to have this phenomenal experience so very few people ever have. So I think - how does that translate to the rest of my life? The experience of pushing yourself, testing yourself, of failing, of succeeding, building on that to the next experience is essential. I think if you can take any opportunity that you have, whether it's a positive or a negative, but grow from it and learn from it. and carry that experience into your next attempt at whatever you're going to, I think it emboldens you to say you know what, it's not just about being the best, it's about striving to be the best. And investing in yourself and pouring your energies to achieve a goal. I think when you do that, you find great satisfaction whether you actually end up being the best, or you just make yourself the best you can possibly be.

MATT: Andy had a great first game in the NFL. He got two interceptions off Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger  – but here’s the inside story about how those came about.

ANDY: When you come in and you have immediate success, it's like you woke up on third base and thought you hit a triple. Okay -- Let's look back at those two interceptions since you brought them up. The first one, I blew the coverage. I was supposed to be covering, I think it was Heath Miller across the middle, and he beat me. Had I given up, I wouldn't have gotten the pick. But the ball bounced off his chest, and I ended up recovering because I didn't give up. So it wasn't because I did something really super human, it's because I made a mistake and didn't quit because of a mistake. Number two - An edge rusher comes off the edge, hits the quarterback as he's throwing, the ball gets all wobbly. Maybe I would have picked it, maybe I wouldn't have. But without that hit, the ball certainly would have been coming a lot faster. Maybe it wasn't even going to come my way. So it took a team to make that play. Two lessons I learned from that game where I got all the credit. One of those interceptions was from a mistake, and one came because of someone else's efforts. Is that not applicable today in business? How applicable is that?! I may not understand everything we're doing, but if I can lean on you, we're all going to achieve success together. Even those little examples, I think are beneficial for people. When you're young and you have a lot of success, it's a terrible teacher. Early in my career, having that success, it was hard not to believe in your own hype. Putting your nose down, staying the course, continuing to to take one step at a time in your career. It's helpful. It's.helpful to have older mentors along the way who remind you -- You're never as good as you think you are, you're never as bad as you think you are. If you can believe that every day - in the NFL, in business, in school - You're probably going to be okay.

TERESA: To finish off our conversations with Lester, Andy, and Rich, we asked them to give us some advice for success that any business professional could implement.

MATT: Here’s professor Rich Magjuka. 

RICH: I have been the faculty chair of our online programs for 20 years now, and students often ask what I've been able to learn by interacting with other students and seeing companies operate over these two decades. I don't have any pithy keys to success, but I am struck by how often when speaking to students, when listening to leaders at companies, and also just thinking about how our own programs have unfolded, that taking the chance to being in the game - winds up having such a large influence on what actually occurs. The reason why so many people say being in the game is such an important part of this, is because you realize how often you were selected simply because you were one of the few people who put your hand up. It wasn't because of some great insight those who were selecting had, it wasn't that they were looking for something and they uncovered it within you. It often is just that you had a passion for it, you seemed to be capable, and they said go for it -- Let's see what you can do. You should never underestimate that.

TERESA: Andy Studebaker talked a lot about humility – having the courage and presence to know when you don’t know everything.

ANDY: It’s easy to walk into a room and have a lot of confidence. I think the number one key to success is to admit that you might not know everything. I have struggled with that in my own life personally. I can speak from experience and I can also speak to how changing my perspective on that has helped out. When you couple humility with an insatiable desire to compete and succeed - I think you can be really dynamic. Where people struggle is I think when they have too much pride to think they might not know everything. So they either don't start something and stay away from an opportunity, or they enter an opportunity and burn bridges all along the way. If you can enter something new with humility and be willing to be vulnerable to fail, and also have a desire to compete and to win.. that's a really fine line to walk. And if you're willing to walk it and stay the course, I think you'll have a really great opportunity in front of you and a really great experience.

MATT: And for Lester, it’s all about believing in yourself.

LESTER: One of the best things about being a former NFL player is having the ability to reflect on the experience and pulling that into next thing I do. Whether you're a football player or a person in the business world,there's certain attributes you have to rely on, You have to develop in yourself. One of those is absolutely fortitude. Fortitude isn't just about being big, strong.. I don't mean like a physical challenge. But most of life - including the NFL - it's a mental challenge. I think the encouragement I would give to people is that belief in yourself is one of the strongest things in the planet. If you take your belief in yourself and apply it to any specific thing, it's going to equip you to find success. In football, You can't be a-scared. We literally say a-scared, just kind of a funny term. It means -- Don't be afraid to fail. And don't be afraid of success. Both things carry weight. Failure, everyone thinks about being a negative thing, but success can be hard too sometimes because then the pressure's on. One of the things we always talk about all the time in the locker room is - I do want to be the best at what I'm doing. Everyone thinks about the Tom Bradys of the world, or the JJ Watts, you got these guys who are super stars. They're really no different than everybody else -- maybe they're a little bigger, stronger, faster, whatever.. but ultimately it's their will to succeed that's made them as great as they are. I think that will to succeed translates into the business world too. Everyday students who are out there -- It's not just about being a star athlete, it's about being a star where you are. If that's in accounting, in design, in engineering. That's great. But you've gotta have that belief in yourself. Once you do, once you really go all in with belief in yourself, you're going to find success at what you're striving to achieve.

(MUSIC)

MATT:

This has been another episode of The ROI Podcast presented by the Indiana University Kelley School of Business. I’m your host, Matt Martella, alongside Teresa Mackin. We'll see you next week.

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