Money Matters: What the best QBs have in common with CEOs
Nick Wass, Associated Press
One of the most legendary rise-to-glory sports stories of all time is the 2000 NFL draft’s 199th pick: Tom Brady.
Brady joined the Patriots with little hope of doing more than warming the bench, as New England’s hopes and dreams were securely placed in the hands of the current quarterback, the talented Drew Bledsoe. However, what no one could have predicted was Brady’s amazing rise to stardom, eventually winning seven Super Bowls (six with the Patriots and his 2020 win with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers).
How does a backup quarterback grow to become one of the greatest players of all time? There are three principles that can account for that — and believe it or not, they’re the same principles you need to be a top-ranking CEO.
Keep your eye on the ball
When Brady joined the Patriots, team quarterback Drew Bledsoe had just signed the largest contract in NFL history: a whopping $103 million for a 10-year stay. Bledsoe was there to stay, and the Patriots leadership put all their cards on the table with their more-than-capable quarterback.
Brady could have looked at that contract and compared his skillset with Bledsoe and found all the reasons to look elsewhere. However, Brady didn’t let that affect him. He had come to play, and play he would!
Michael Dwyer, Associated Press file photo
In 2001, in just week 2 of the season, Bledsoe took a hit from Mo Lewis that nearly cost him his life and sidelined him for 10 weeks. What did Brady do during that time? Recognizing it was his time to shine, Brady dug in and led the Patriots to five wins in seven games. Brady would go on to lead the team to the Super Bowl that year, winning the franchise’s first title, in which game Brady was also named MVP. When Bledsoe returned, the Patriots chose to keep Brady on the field, and the rest is history.
Inspiring rise-to-success stories like Brady’s exist throughout the business world. In the past month, Adobe announced plans to acquire Figma in a $20 billion deal, the largest private SaaS sale of any organization in at least 20 years. In 2019, Figma was valued at a mere $440 million. While they could have spent their time comparing themselves to blue-chip companies, Figma CEO Dylan Field kept his head down and didn’t let comparison drive the organization’s narrative. Instead, he and his team thrived in a pressure-infused environment by keeping their eye on the ball, leading them to one of the most talked-about acquisitions to date.
Just like the quarterback on a Super-Bowl-winning team, the CEO sets the pace and culture of an organization.
Many years ago, I had the chance to sit next to a woman who worked in the Patriots front office and who worked closely with the team and Coach Bill Belichick. I asked her several questions, including who her favorite player was. Her answer to that question was Tom Brady. She said of all the players, Brady maintained his character from the start of his career to the end. He never acted as if anyone was beneath him. He never ignored her. He often sent her Christmas presents and flowers and attended many of her family events. She went on to say that the friends who were closest to Brady at the earliest part of his career were still his friends.
One of the many reasons Tom Brady has been successful is because people follow him. Rob “Gronk” Gronkowski, a long-time friend and fellow player on the Patriots, retired from the team in 2019, only to be convinced by Brady to leave retirement in 2020 to play for the Buccaneers. Brady and Gronk, along with their incredible team, went on to win Super Bowl LV later that season.
Brady is able to get the most out of the people he associates with, including loyalty and hard work. In business, 10% of your success is due to your product — 90% is due to your people. Your ability to get people to work above their capabilities is what will separate the strong from the weak. CEOs that understand their employees’ skills and can pull the best from their employees will succeed. It’s why smaller companies can compete with larger companies. It’s also the reason why less talented teams beat better teams: Their culture is better.
Run the play
While some of Brady’s stats may not shine as brightly as his Super Bowl win record, such as his shockingly slow 5.28 posting for his 40-yard dash time (2000 NFL Combine), his decision-making, accuracy, toughness, leadership and smarts make up for any lack of athleticism. Brady is better than anyone in the NFL at feeling pressure without seeing pressure, which enables him to pick apart defenses before the heat is turned up. His senses are refined to the point of identifying pressure before it even occurs (some call this situational awareness). Brady holds the record of the most wins of any quarterback in history at 243 regular-season game wins and 35 playoff contest wins.
In 2019, when Brady was denied a new contract to play additional seasons with the Patriots, he decided to run the play he knew best: He worked out a deal with the Buccaneers for a two-year, $50-million contract. And just as he had so many times before, he led his team to a Super Bowl win.
Apple underwent its own trial under pressure when they faced extinction in the late 1990s, nearly following in Circuit City’s footsteps. However, when CEO Steve Jobs returned to the organization, his ability to lead under pressure led to a massive restructuring of the organization, as well as incredible innovation for the brand and its products. Jobs, like Brady, ran the play on which he had trained. Those changes ultimately saved Apple from the brink and transformed them into one of the greatest business success stories of all time.
In the annals of history, quarterbacks like Tom Brady, Dan Marino, Peyton Manning and many more have all had incredible success stories. However, none of them achieved their accolades without staying focused, surrounding themselves with the best kind of people, and working hard in the way they knew best. Just like these quarterback greats, CEOs like Steve Jobs, Warren Buffet, Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates led their teams to a variety of champion “wins” for their organizations.
CEOs and quarterbacks have much more in common than we think. Like a loyal NFL fan on a Sunday night cheering on their favorite quarterback as he leads his team to victory, we can’t wait to see what CEOs lead their organization to the next big win as well. Go, team!
Peter Ord is the founder of GUIDEcx, a client implementation and onboarding project platform based in Lehi.