One could make the argument that Emmitt Smith's career as an astute businessman began long before he retired from football, even before he left the Dallas Cowboys to join the pathetic (at the time) Cardinals in the desert of Arizona. He looked at his boss Jerry Jones as a sort of role model with respect to business--which is kind of funny, considering he sat out the first two games of the 1993 season, the result of Jones's hesitance in giving his star a fitting contract.
Indeed, Smith was widely known during his career as a sangfroid businessman, a walking, talking, running brand, which he protected frantically, sometimes, some would argue, to a fault. But as we've discovered since, this was for a clear reason: Smith, the league's all-time leading rusher, was preparing for that day when his legs could no longer carry him, at least in a financial sense, from "day one."
“Football was something that was very natural for me,” Smith said in a recent interview with SUCCESS Magazine. “I knew that if I did the things that I needed to do, there was a good chance that I could have a long and hopefully prosperous career on the field. And, fortunately for me, it worked out that way. Still, from Day One in the NFL, I was always preparing for life after football. I understood that football was just a vehicle to take me to the next part of my life.”
After retiring from football in 2005, Smith co-founded ESmith Legacy Inc., a Dallas-based real estate development firm focused on reinvigorating low income areas, much in the style of Magic Johnson's Magic Johnson Enterprises.
“I know about the things facing urban neighborhoods and what’s happening when businesses are walking away from them," Smith says. "That’s what makes what we’re doing—buying and renovating property in these neighborhoods—more than just business to me. I feel like it’s part of doing something bigger.”
Aside from his work with ESmith, Smith remains a calculating keeper of his own image, which is arguably a retired football star's greatest asset. He says that his appearances on "Dancing With The Stars" (which he won in 2006) and "Who Do You Think You Are?" have expanded his brand through exposure, but insists that a great deal of branding is learning to say no.
“If it didn’t fit within my brand," Smith says, "if it wasn’t who I am as a person, I learned to turn down opportunities.”
This entrepreneurial canny, Smith hopes, will propel him to a level of success in the business world that, if not matches, at least compares to his success on the NFL gridiron--a tall order, considering the litany of league records under Smith's belt.
“That is a lot to live up to,” Smith laughingly admitted to SUCCESS, “but I’m up to it.”
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