Goal To Go

Read The Exclusive Counselor Q&A With Emmitt Smith

PODCAST! Listen to the ASI Radio interview with Emmitt Smith

Emmitt SmithFor 15 years, Emmitt Smith competed on the biggest stages of the NFL. Now, as he competes in another high-stakes game – the world of business – Smith shares the lessons he's learned along the way.

It might have been the most impressive performance of Emmitt Smith's storied career.

With a separated shoulder and a left arm that he could barely raise to his chest, Smith ran for 168 yards, caught a touchdown pass, and led his team to a 1993 division championship in a game against the New York Giants.

"You have to be able to perform at a high level when you're at your weakest," said Smith, in an exclusive interview with Counselor. "You understand that the body can go as far as the mind can take it."

That kind of mental toughness, Smith insists, is not only necessary on the football field, but in business as well. His pointed advice for ad specialty industry companies: You can only get ahead if you're willing to take on the hardest challenges. "When the bell rings, you need to take off and run and keep pushing yourself," Smith said.

Certainly, the Hall of Fame tailback practices what he preaches. Instead of enjoying his retirement from pro football lounging beside pools sipping tropical drinks, Smith packs his daily schedule with risk and opportunity. Since hanging up his cleats, he's done TV analyst work, he's acted in commercials, he's cha-chaed on Dancing With The Stars and he's started his own real estate company.

"Having visibility is something important from an athletic standpoint, but having a business with integrity is what I'm striving for," Smith said. "You have to work hard and you have to be committed."

Smith recently talked to Counselor about how his playing career has helped him succeed in life after football. Quite simply, his ultimate goal hasn't changed – he wants to be better than everyone else.

Counselor: How did your time in the NFL prepare you to be a businessman?
Emmitt Smith: I've learned the game of football itself is a great metaphor, a great prelude to what life is. Businesses organize themselves into different units and segments. In business, you have to study to understand who you're trying to sell a product to and who you're trying to develop as a client base. You have to be willing to take a little risk, and then you have to be focused and dedicated to practicing.

Counselor: What did your coaches, like Jimmy Johnson, teach you about teamwork?
Smith: One of the things I learned from Jimmy Johnson is how important it is to come in and set a tempo very early. Have high standards for your business and for your employees and get them to exceed those standards. Don't allow anyone to cut corners or not to do their job in the most professional way. Those are things that Jimmy did not tolerate. Look for your employees to have chemistry so when they go out on a call they represent your company in the most positive light.

Counselor: What would you tell a businessperson who's struggling with time management?
Smith: Prioritize what's really important. I see if it's something that I'm really passionate about. If it is, it's something that I might do, especially if it connects with my business. I had a couple of opportunities come up during the show Dancing With The Stars – great paying opportunities – and I had to say no. I said I cannot do it because I'm committed to the show and not only will I lose performance hours and work hours by doing these things, it's probably going to hurt my ability to go out and perform at the level that I want to perform at.

Counselor: What advice do you have about overcoming business mistakes?
Smith: When adversity comes, you have to take a pause for the cause and you have to reassess the situation. Understand where you went wrong, figure out how to correct it as quickly as possible, and then get right back into the game and get back on track. Try to make something positive happen.

Counselor: How have you continued to market yourself after football and build a strong brand?
Smith: Obviously shows like Dancing With The Stars help out tremendously. There's also community service work, especially in helping to serve kids. Those are things constantly being talked about and they're in the minds of people. It also helps when you have corporate America believing in the same things that you believe in.

Counselor: What's your favorite promotional product right now?
Smith: I love promotional blenders. The world that we're living in, where everyone is starting to become much more health-conscious, you want to have something very quick, something simple and something that tastes good at the same time. Being able to throw in some spinach along with a couple of apples and have yourself a smoothie or a drink that gives you all the nutrients you need – all that's great.

Counselor: Why did you decide to go on Dancing With The Stars?
Smith: It afforded me the opportunity to expand my own thinking. I learned that the things that Iearned in football are the same things that apply in dance. You have to work hard and be dedicated to make yourself into the dancer that you want to become. You have to practice hard enough to continue to improve every day. I was able to learn a lot about myself stepping out there on a limb.– E-mail: dvagnoni@asicentral.com. Twitter: @VagnoniASI