Look up "success" in the dictionary and a photo of Joe Gibbs should appear: He's a three-time Super Bowl-winning coach of the Washington Redskins and a three-time championship winning NASCAR team owner.
Most people only dream of achieving one of those things -- but both?
That's why Joe is the first in my series of interviews for the Strayer University Readdress Success program, an initiative intended to redefine success as "happiness derived from good relationships, and achieving personal goals." (Strayer has launched a petition through Change.org to change the Merriam-Webster definition; sign the petition and Strayer will donate 50 cents to Dress for Success, a non-profit that promotes the economic independence of disadvantaged women by providing professional attire and a network of support and career development tools to help them thrive in work and life.)
Here's my conversation with Joe on balancing work and life, success and relationships, and a lot more.
You spent 30 years as an NFL coach and won three Super Bowls. Now you have a NASCAR team and have won three championships in that sport. Even so, there had to have been a period when you went from football to racing and everyone around you said, "Wait. You've reached the pinnacle of success in football. Why do something different?"
You're right. I spent 30 years coaching. When my son J.D. graduated from college, he said, "Dad, rather than do something in coaching and football, I'd rather do something in motor sports." He got me thinking. We had been big motor sports fans: J.D., my other son, Coy, and I went to races. I got hooked when I was a teenager. J.D.'s saying that prompted me to say, "Maybe we ought to take a shot at motor sports."
Even so, I thought it would take an absolute miracle. We put together a proposal and thought we would probably get a chance to visit maybe four or five companies. The second company we visited was Interstate Batteries and (chairman) Norm Miller. We all hit it off. Of all things, he said, "Hey let's do this." I tell Norm to this day, "You're the only guy dumb enough to do that." We got a founding sponsor and we wound up racing.
Still, that took quite a leap of faith.
When you do something for a long period of time, you actually look at it and say, "What else is out there?" For me, I coached football for a long time and had some measure of success. You're saying to yourself, "What am I really going to do? Do it again?"
I think with some people in life, at some point, they say to themselves, "Maybe there's something else out there that I would like to do." I think because of both those things, family-wise, and then my being at a point where I said, "Maybe there's something else out there I want to try," those two things prompted me to say, "Let's take a shot at this."
You've referenced both family and goals and achievement. That's an interesting way to look at success. Societally we look at success as money, family, fortune, notoriety … and not necessarily relationships.
Some young people come to me, I guess because I've won some football games and some races, and they'll say, "How do I become successful?" For me, success really came down to having the right priorities in life. If you think about that, should my occupation -- making money -- be the first thing in my life? I don't think so.
For me, it's God and my relationship with him that should be first. The second most important thing in my life is the influence I have on others: my kids, my grandkids, the people I work with, the people I can touch, because what we're going to leave on this earth is the impact we've had on others and nothing else. We don't get to leave anything else. That puts our occupation third.
If you put your occupation as the third-most important thing in your life, you're going to be successful because you're going to be there early. You're going to stay late. You're going to get after it. For me it was sleeping at the office and going as hard as I could trying to build a football team or a race team. Having the right priorities is the short answer I give to that; I know a lot of people who have made a lot of money and are unhappy.
For all of us it's more the thrill of achieving something. In my profession, I want to be successful at what I do and really good at what I do. That has become more important than the money. I had great football players. To be quite truthful, my great football players, the ones who wanted the ball at the end of the games, they weren't focused on money.
They want to do something great. They want to go to Pro Bowls. They want to win Super Bowls. Those are the people that succeed in sports -- or in business.
What do you look for in people you want to be part of this organization?
Picking people is the hardest thing that we do in life. All of us that have teams want to pick the right people.
I've thought a lot about that. In the NFL we've got 13 scouts traveling the country. We're trying to pick 22 year-olds coming out of college who will be successful in the NFL. It's very hard to do.
What I've learned is it's always character first. Then it comes down to talent.
Many times our Super Bowl teams, all four of them, half the players on those teams were free agents. That means somebody else had either cut them from their team or they weren't seen as good enough to be drafted. Yet with us, they fit the role. They were people who came to work early and stayed late. They meant a lot to the team. They were willing to pay a price. They were good teammates, sacrificing their individual goals for the goals of the team.
That's hard because we come into the world self-centered. Now we ask people to set aside their individual goals and sacrifice their goals for the goals of the team. That's hard for a lot of people to do.
The key to being a good manager or a good entrepreneur is to pick the right people. Pick the right people and they'll make you look good.
What do you look for in leaders?
I worked under different head coaches. They all had different skills, but the key was being themselves. They all had different talents and skills, but you can be yourself.
Frank Broyles was a great salesman. Bill Peterson had a great work ethic. Don Coryell was the most down-to-earth, honest, passionate person about what he did. All of them had very different styles.
You can be yourself but I think, at the same time, it's that passion for what you're doing that came across with all those guys. They wanted to win. They were willing to pay a price; there's a price to be paid if you're going to be successful. All of those guys had different talents, but they really had a passion for what they were doing.
I learned you can and should be yourself. If you're faking or phony, it's going to come across.
There's a cliche that family and business don't mix. Yet J.D. runs the team's day-to-day operations. Coy runs the motocross team. How have you pulled that off?
I'm doing this for my family. The whole focus for me is really my family. I'm at a point in my life where I know that it's the next generation coming that's going to wind up running this race team.
For me, it was an easy decision having J.D. and Coy here. It was a family business when we started. J.D.'s been here for 24 years and Coy for 12. They paid a price. They have been a part of building this. I think that's the difference; it's not something they inherited and was given to them. They've actually worked to build it.
That's an interesting point because instead of your building this for you, and your kids work for you, you've flipped it around and are saying, "I'm building this for them because I want to leave this behind for everyone here." That's a very different way to look at it I think than most people do.
When we first started we had 17 people. Twenty-four years later eight of them are still working here. We have a family of 550 people. We all look at it as "This is a family business, and a lot of people here count on us."
We've all worked together to build this. It wasn't just us, the family. I mean, I don't even really know technically what's going on back there. I'm a phys ed major: that's ballroom dancing and handball. I don't know what they're doing back there. It took a lot of technical expertise in these different areas.
In building this, you realize, when you stop to think about it, it wasn't me. It wasn't just J.D. or just Coy. It's a family business and we did our share and our part hopefully, but a lot of people built this -- and it belongs to all those people, too.