Q&A: Meet Shaq, the Entrepreneur
One Shaquille O’Neal you probably know: The retired basketball player who has four NBA championship rings and an Olympic gold medal, who was voted an All-Star fifteen times, and who ranks 6th on the all-time scoring list.
Or you might know another Shaq: The one who appeared in movies, released rap albums, was a character in video games, had a reality TV series, and is now an NBA television analyst for TNT.
But there’s one Shaq you probably don’t know: The one who has an MBA and is working on his Ph.D., who owns fitness centers, car washes, Five Guys franchises, nightclubs, and real estate, has his own shoe brand, and holds equity positions in companies like Google (his slice was pre-IPO), Vitamin Water, and Muscle Milk.
He’s also the spokesperson for the Dove Men+Care Journey to Comfort campaign, a series where men share how they overcame obstacles in a journey to feel comfortable in their own skin.
And he “stars” in Shaq’s Big Excuse, a Facebook app based on the upcoming NCAA men’s basketball tournament: Fill out a quick form and Shaq will phone your boss, friends, or whoever you want to tell them why you won’t be available during the tournament. (My favorite: “We’re in a yodeling competition.”)
Inc: You’re a guy who seems as comfortable in his skin as is possible. You even conducted the Boston Pops. But I’m sure you didn’t always feel that way.
Shaq: My worst years were age nine to seventeen. I was shy. I was insecure. I stuttered. I wanted to be a basketball player but I wasn’t very good.
One day my father threw a paper at my chest and said, “Look at this guy. He just signed an NBA contract for $3 million a year, and he’s not that good.” I watched him play on TV and I thought, “I can do that.” So while everyone else was out doing juvenile delinquent stuff, I was on the court. I realized if I worked hard and stayed out of trouble, I could make a name for myself.
Inc: You’re on the way to becoming Dr. Shaq, but still, are there things you’re trying to change about yourself that would make you even more comfortable with who you are?
Shaq: Education is the main thing. I earned my MBA and I’m working on my Ph.D. I love learning about leadership, especially when it’s based on purpose and on trying to help other people become better leaders.
Inc: The average celebrity tends to invest in businesses where their name can help generate business, but your name doesn’t appear on many of your ventures. Some of your investments are pure business plays.
Shaq: One day I was riding through a neighborhood looking at all the huge houses, and I asked what the people who lived there did for a living. They owned businesses and they didn’t brag about what they did. I realized the business should be important, not just the name behind it.
Inc: In your book you talk about your Facial Recognition Advantage, and how being known can get you a meeting with almost anyone. But is it true you used to call Steve Jobs and ask for the new iPhone before everyone else got one?
Shaq: Oh yeah. That’s true. Didn’t work though.
Inc: There are obvious advantages to doing business with you… but what do you bring to the table that isn’t so obvious? If I take a meeting by Shaq, what will surprise me?
Shaq: The biggest surprise is that I do my due diligence ahead of time. If you contact me, I do my homework. Then, if I like your idea or your company or your product, I’m not really looking for an endorsement deal. I want a partnership. You get a great partner when you get me. I’m not interested in just taking your money. I’ll promote, I’ll help, I’ll do anything I can to make it work for both of us.
Inc: What’s the strangest pitch you ever got?
Shaq: A guy wanted to take my sweat, mix it with chemicals and create a cologne, and call it something like Elliuqahs (Shaquille spelled backwards.) Needless to say I turned that one down.
Inc: You’re pretty good at spotting undervalued business opportunities. If you were an NBA owner, is there a player today who is undervalued that you would “invest” in?
Shaq: Rudy Gay. Great player but he plays in a small market (Memphis). Get him in a big market and he would be a superstar.
Inc: What do you least enjoy about being an entrepreneur?
Shaq: Nothing. What’s not to like? You make your own decisions, you live with those decisions, and you move on. I don’t look for the quick hit. I invest in things because I believe in them. If you stick to that model, you can’t lose.
Inc: From the outside it appears your business strategy can be summed up as, “Hey, that looks like fun. I’ll try it.” How accurate is that?
Shaq: That’s it exactly. There are millions of opportunities. Why do something if you don’t think you can have fun?
Inc: My dad once said that someday, when you’re an old man sitting on a porch, the times that will make you feel good about your life are when you helped others. Is there a particular story that will make you smile someday when you’re sitting on your porch thinking back on your life?
Shaq: In my 20s I was at a car dealership in Los Angeles and an elderly lady was trying to buy a van. She came out crying and I asked her what was wrong. She didn’t have good credit and couldn’t get a loan. We talked for a while and she showed me a picture of her grandson who had lost his legs. She reminded me a lot of my grandmother who had just passed away, and I wanted to do something for her. So I bought her a van. I’ve helped a lot of people since then, but I will never forget how good it made me feel to help a person who really needed help.