Many of those attending the annual convention that the International Franchise Association held last February in San Diego (California, United States) were surprised to discover that former NBA player Shaquille O’Neal (Newark, 50 years old) was one of the main speakers of the congress. “I learned from the great Magic Johnson that it’s okay to be a basketball star, but at some point he has to think about doing business and investing,” O’Neal admitted in an interview on CNBC television during the event.
Gone is that young athlete who, at the age of 21, spent his first million in one day, after signing for the Orlando Magic in 1992. Now O’Neal, and thanks to his 19 seasons as a professional athlete and his investments in different restaurant franchises and fast food, among other businesses, has a heritage of 400 million dollars (just under 380 million euros), in addition to being among the five richest players in the NBA, only preceded by Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Junior Bridgeman and, above all, Lebron James, with 1,000 million.
“The franchise is a simple model. If it works, you follow the rules and it will continue to work… If you stick to the values you’ve learned, you can’t go wrong.” It is with this philosophy that O’Neal, who has an MBA (master of business administration) from the University of Phoenix (Arizona) and a doctorate in Education, has become the king of the franchise. “It’s just something to have on my resume for when I get back to reality. One day I might have to put down a basketball and have a regular 9-5 schedule like everyone else,” the player said at his graduation ceremony a decade ago.
Since he announced his retirement in 2011, the NBA star has become the owner of 155 Five Guys hamburger establishments, which represented 10% of the total company, which he would later sell. In addition, O’Neal owns 17 Auntie Anne’s Pretzels restaurants, an American chain specializing in sweets, and has invested in 9 Papa John’s restaurants, another American pizza and fast food franchise.
In addition to putting his money into 150 car washes, owning 40 24-hour gyms and a movie theater in his native Newark, he also runs his own fast-food chain. In 2018, he founded the Big Chicken brand of chicken sandwiches. With more than 10 establishments in the city of Las Vegas, the businessman is looking for his new company to expand to other American cities such as Austin and Phoenix, in addition to including it as a menu within the Carnival cruise company, of which he calls himself “the Fun CEO.” His passion for food has even led to a recipe book that he published in early April. With a cover with hamburgers, brownies and fried chicken, Shaq’s family style, as the title is called, advertises “championship recipes to feed family and friends”. He himself says in the text that he wanted to call it “recipes for dummies” and that he opted for simple recipes from his childhood: “Things I love to eat, places I’ve been, people I love, things I believe in and some of my best inventions”, he stated, referring precisely to the Big Chicken recipes.
Believe in the business and follow your instinct
The former winner of four rings in the most famous basketball league has stated in numerous interviews that he has always been aware that money came very easily to his hands and could also evaporate at the same speed. The Los Angeles Lakers center is far from belonging to that 60% of former NBA players who go bankrupt five years after his retirement, according to a study published in the magazine Sports Illustrated. Among the latter, figures such as Dennis Rodman or Scottie Pippen.
When the also known as Shaq retired from the NBA, he had earned more than 292 million dollars (277 million euros) in salary as a player, in addition to another 220 million dollars (209 million euros) in sponsorships and brand ads. like Oreos, Pepsi or Reebok. But before saying goodbye to the courts, O’Neal had already made his big investment: buying Google stock. “I heard two people talk about a search engine and how it works and they offered me to invest in it, and I bet on it,” he would explain in 2019 in an interview with the newspaper The Wall Street Journal.
In the same interview, the athlete would also confess that his success as an entrepreneur is based on never investing or advertising in a company whose products he would not use himself. “My skill is that if something comes my way and I don’t believe in it, I don’t even waste time looking,” O’Neal explained. The athlete exemplifies it, in the same talk, with his rejection of the offer he received from the Wheaties cereal company, which proposed to appear on their boxes, but he refused because his favorites were from the competition, the Fruity Pebbles company, where it finally appeared.
Although following his instincts, as he himself admits, has not always worked for him when deciding to invest or not in a project. The one who is also a DJ, actor and basketball talk show host, recalled how one of his biggest business regrets was not doing business with the CEO of Starbucks. “My agent called me and said, ‘Howard Schultz wants to do business with you,’” explained the player, who had grown up in a family that mainly drank sweet tea and hot chocolate. “My idea was that black people didn’t drink coffee,” added O’Neal, who turned down the famous company’s offer to open franchises in predominantly African-American communities. “I told him, ‘Black people don’t drink coffee, sir, I don’t think it’s going to work.’ And you should have seen the look on his face,” he concluded.