Former NFL tight end Tony McGee, 44, founded the Orlando-based HNM Enterprises in 2004, the year he retired from pro football. He initially focused on Orlando real estate investments, but worked his way into the logistics industry after a conversation at a networking event introduced him to its lucrative opportunities. With six logistics pros, McGee launched HNM Global Logistics in 2011. With his company now included among the Inc. 5000, he shares some pages from his playbook.

Find Focus

McGee left the NFL with investable capital and a famous name, but lacked business experience and focus. After bouncing from real estate to roofing and other construction ventures, the former Cincinnati Bengal recalled a key lesson he had learned in football: Surround yourself with talent. "You look at some of the great coaches--Bill Walsh of the San Francisco 49ers, Mike Holmgren of the Green Bay Packers, Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots--and they all have top-notch staffs," he says. After McGee learned how big logistics contracts could be, he realized he had the necessary ingredients for success despite his limited experience. And through previous work, he also knew a team of logistics experts yearning to break away from their big-company employer. McGee did his market research, "but the biggest thing is that I had a team of competent people with a huge amount of experience," he says.

Takeaway: Find and partner with people who are strong where you're weak--and vice versa.

Play the Long Game

Having co-founders with experience helped McGee break into the logistics industry, but the fledgling company still faced a problem: Established players like Expeditors and Panalpina could always offer clients lower rates because their scale afforded them better deals with freight carriers. McGee began by winning one-off engagements--as opposed to the longer-term contracts that most logistics companies seek. Many of those opportunities arose when HNM's competitors failed. The key to succeeding in an industry that has more moving pieces than a clock? "There are a lot of things out of our control, but what we can control is the flow of information," McGee says. "We stay late, we work weekends, and we stay in constant touch with our cus­tomers. If they have to call and ask, 'Where's my shipment?' we've failed." His team had expertise moving freight, but sales had been mostly through referrals. They hadn't pursued large client contracts, which can take up to two years to close. Two years ago, after the company gained some traction with smaller gigs, McGee hired two salespeople to take a more aggressive approach to winning multiyear contracts. That's led to a virtuous cycle of more opportunities to bid, more wins, and, as a result, more buying power with the carriers and a boost to the company's profits.

Takeaway: A reactive sales strategy can open the door, but don't expect it to sustain growth.

Build a Deep Bench

Ultimately, for HNM to become the $100 million company that McGee envisions, it has to be able to add employees as it wins clients. "You never want to bring on new clients and not be able to service them," McGee says. But finding the right applicants is proving to be more difficult than he expected. "Logistics is a huge sector, but it's not very sexy," he admits. "Who says, 'I want to manage a warehouse when I grow up'?" To tap into broader talent networks at lower cost, HNM is now working with work-force development agency CareerSource Central Florida, which offers a government-subsidized, on-the-job training program. "It's a great way to introduce the work force to the supply chain industry," McGee says. Last year, the program allowed HNM to bring on three interns at no cost for their first three months. McGee hopes to bring in--and ultimately hire--more interns this year to reach his goal of five new full-time employees.

Takeaway: McGee likens his challenge to that of a football coach. "It's not enough to have just one starting quarterback," he says. "You have to constantly be reloading and ready to replace."