I am proud to share this inspiring conversation with my friend and NFL Hall of Fame quarterback, Fran Tarkenton.
His perspective on leadership and the importance of taking your ego out of the equation to become a great leader is something I think everyone will find incredibly valuable.
- How the most important lessons he learned in football helped Fran transition into a wildly successful business career
- The importance of being authentic with both your clients and your team
- How surrounding yourself with the right people lifts the burden of having to be the smartest person in the room
- How the COVID-19 pandemic has led to growth and opportunity
- Fran’s picks for the best player he’s ever played with, as well as the meanest player he’s played against
Frank Tarkenton, Derek Bruton
Derek Bruton 00:00
Leadership must be demonstrated not announced. That's a direct quote from my esteemed guest today, Fran Tarkenton. And if there ever was a time in history that those words would apply, where leadership needs to be demonstrated, it's today. . .
Frank Tarkenton 02:47
Thank you Derek It's wonderful to be with you and happy holidays Merry Christmas to everybody that's on this call. And I hope you all you stay safe. We I think we're making so much progress in the the vaccines and that's going to go fast and furious and and so we can get back to a more normal life but just happy to be with you and your people today.
Derek Bruton 03:12
Well, thank you Fred Norvell never sounded so good right now I tell you. Let's let's talk a little I want to talk a little bit about football. And then I want to get into the business side because so many people in our audience are really interested in seeing how you converted these lessons that you learned in your in your pro career, your college career as well and how that's converted into what led to your success. So you know, when you left football in 78, you were the all time NFL leading passer in Russia as a quarterback in a time where your position stayed in the pocket. You were the Trailblazer for people like Steve Young and michael vick and now Lamar Jackson. It must make you grin ear to ear to see where that position is evolved to.
Frank Tarkenton 03:58
Well what it did it took the NFL 60 years to understand that a quarterback had a great advantage. If they could run. We have to be able to throw but we have to be able to buy time and run because the defense they get paid to and as you mentioned the defensive pass rushers are pretty good too. And what do you do when they get get through? You gotta you gotta you got to go and find an alternative. You mentioned leadership, which I find very interesting and what everything that I've really learned in life has been through starting businesses but but also through those life lessons and leadership lessons. Being a quarterback in high school in college and pro football. People say well what makes a great quarterback and and i think you got to have the physical qualities but every quarterback that gets drafted in the National Football League or is signed as a free They are big enough. They can throw, they're smart, they can play. But the guys that make it are the guys that are great leaders, that that, that the people around them, trust them, and believe in them. And they believe in them because they are helping them solve problems helping them be successful. And understand that teams, we're not individuals, we need to get our ego out of it. It's not about us, it's not about me, as a high paid quarterback, or the chairman and owner of my company, it's about my customers. Number one, it's about my, my associates and partners and that work for me. Number one, I cannot separate that. And when that's the case, great things can happen. But I have seen it, we see it in football at the pro level, we see guys come in, who've got these great physical abilities, they get drafted in the first round. And they get drafted number one, number two, number three, and they just don't make it. And I'll give me some Johnny ninus was when I came up, he was the icon of football. He was he was the greatest quarterback that ever played. And he was a free agent. He didn't get drafted. He went to try out for Pittsburgh, his first year, they've cut him another team cutting and then finally, the Baltimore Colts signed him to a free agent contract, not draft. And he goes out and plays lights out ball. And, of course in the Hall of Fame, he said all the passing records. And I had the honor to break him because records are supposed to be broken. You look at Bart Starr back in that era, wasn't a terribly physically gifted quarterback at all. Great team, great coach, so forth. But he was a great leader. I guarantee they played hard for him. I look at the quarterbacks today. And and the ones that that really, you know, Peyton Manning was great. Brady is great. And they get their people involved in together. And they lead them and they coach them on the field, they coach them off the field. And the one thing they don't do, they don't embarrass their teammates. In my 18 years. I never chewed out a teammate. Oh, he missed a block. What do you think he tried to miss a lot? He missed an assignment. Well, maybe those are probably not making sure he understood the assignment. Well, you've got to, you've got to be able to win their trust and you don't win their trust by yelling and screaming and and belittling them. And leadership wins in in sports. And I and I know that it wins in business because I've been in business all my life. When I played football I my first salary is $12,500. I made a total of 18 years and went to 10 Pro Bowls, played in three of the first 11 Super Bowls, new franchise team, I made $1.2 million in 18 years. They make a lot more today. I work every offseason. I've built 24 businesses. I I love my business life as much as I love that. But the principles of being a winning quarterback. leading the team, having a lot of wins is no different than leading and being a leader in the business world.
Derek Bruton 08:41
Right? Because leaders I mean, you look at today in business, I mean your customers are in football, where were the audience, right? You're you're playing to the audience, you're there to serve a purpose there. And when your strategic partners are the people on the field with you, your teammates, your coaches, and it really is transcends your ego and B being a star quarterback, it is about leadership. What went into the you know, the it's a complex role, the quarterback right, what went into the preparation and execution of that roll each week for you?
Frank Tarkenton 09:16
Well, it's the hardest position those four you've got to make, you're the trigger you get you handle the ball every play. You've got to call the play even though they've sent in the blaze through their headphones. Now we call their own way but even the day they send the place through but the quarterback goes up. And he sees that they've got six people in the block in the box, he got a running play call. Well, in today's game, they they come up and the quarterback can change the play just like that. And if they fill the box up, he throws a pass. If they go back to a to deep zone, he can run the ball. And so he's got to make all these decisions. And then when he does throw the ball, he's got to come back and he's got all these people coming at him into space and and then you've got chaos in the secondary, but he's got to know where everybody is have peripheral vision, but then eventually you've got to go from this side or to this side, whichever, and decide which player you're going to throw the ball to. It's a very complex thing, and it takes tremendous, tremendous preparation. And, and the ones that understand this, the ones that can solve the problems, the ones that can think through this, it doesn't matter what your IQ is, it matters. Can you figure it out? There, those are the few ones that really are great quarterbacks. And the others come in with same physical abilities. Probably their aptitude is the same same kind of brain, they just don't make it even though they're better athletes than some of the ones that do make it. But they don't make it because they don't, they cannot solve the problem, they cannot get their hands around it. And so it's it's in instincts and all those things. But in business, it it's not just what you learned in college, college did not prepare me to be in business. College did not prepare me to be a great quarterback. You got to understand your business, you got to understand your people, you got to understand your customer what they want, can you solve the customer's problem? Can you be trusted by the customer? Can you build that rapport? Can you build that relationship, because I repeat, and I repeat, and repeat. It's all about the customer. And it's all about your teammates, in your company. You cannot do it by yourself. And if our focus is on customer, and solving problems for customer, and doing the right things for customers, and being honest and trustworthy, then we have a chance to be able to happen. It's not about tricking people. It's not to be manipulating people. And it's about being authentic. And when you're authentic, and they can trust you. People do business with people that they can trust and believe in.
Derek Bruton 12:10
Fran you are you're one of the most competitive people I know. I know you more after obviously after your NFL career, just being extremely competitive in business. But you once told me a story. And I think this has a lot to do with your competitive spirit about putting yourself in a game when you played at University of Georgia, you putting yourself without the coach asking you to get into the game. Tell us about that.
Frank Tarkenton 12:36
Well, you know, I played I started in my high school team at 13. And we won state championships and region championships and I was recruited by a lot of people. But I lived in Athens, Georgia and my they had a terrible program in the 50s where I came out of high school of high school. And everybody else recruited me hard but Georgia not so much because they had two quarterbacks ahead of me. That had been the number one number two quarterbacks in the country the year before. quarterbacks couldn't play back then, in his late 50s. As a freshman you only could you had a freshman team and he went from there. And so anyway, I played my freshman year. We want we play three games. A freshman and we we beat Clemson we beat Georgia Tech we beat Auburn. We had a scrimmage against the varsity before the first game of the season we beat the varsity 14 seven with our freshman team. So now we're ready to go play and I go through training camp and and the coach says all friend You did a great job You worked hard and spring practice and you're gonna get a red shirt. Yes. And now you're not you can read for me but I'm gonna get out of here for years. So I'll be gone is a great attitude. We get to the fall we have practice in August and I'm the third string quarterback but I have to learn all the plays and we go out to Austin, Texas to play the Texas on horns in Austin, Texas and Darrell royal the great coach was there. And we go out and I learned all the plays that I've prepared myself and the quarterback good that we started with Charlie Britt one of those guys I mentioned. We played for two and a half quarters and they were up 17 to nothing and we did not have a first down in two and a half quarters. And so they put it to our team and I guy fair catches the punt on the five yard line. I'm standing next to the coach always stood next to the coach high school college pro ball because I want to see what's going on and I'm bragging on him. You need to put me in I can do better. I can go I can get us a first down I could get us a touchdown. Everything I could do but he ignored me. So the punt happens fair catch. I looked over on the bench and the quarterback Charlie bread who was playing was still on the bench. I bolted onto the field know the coach didn't put me in I ran onto the field got to the five yard line. And my team and what are you doing here? I said forget that. We're gonna we're gonna we're gonna make this work. You're gonna look touchdown. We were on our own 20 we're we're on our own 20 yard line 15 yard line celebrated we had 21 plays to get to the other end of the field. There was now second or third down, I scrambled out and I've made it past and completed to our one of our hands and we went Seven, six. The place went crazy. The people back listen to the radio in Athens, Georgia went crazy. And, and so now this is the first year of of the two point conversion. And so they sent the kicker on our way to kick her off. And I told my teammates I said, Guys, if we don't make this two point conversion, I've got to ride a Greyhound bus all the way from Austin, Texas dad. So anyway, I came back and I use my feet again, I scramble, we didn't call it scrambling, they didn't have a name for a running quarterback and I bought time bumped on bought time to throw, I found another receiver at the last minute that was open, we got the two point conversion. And we want and we went up eight, seven. If I had to put myself in, if I had not forced the issue, if I hadn't been so prepared and ready to play and understood. I've might never have ever started in college football might never have been to pro football probably wasn't because these were skilled guys, I could play better than if I understood how to play better than they did. And and how to figure things out and how to lead and but sometimes we got to take disruptive actions to get get ourselves somewhere and I did that and I never stopped doing that.
Derek Bruton 16:41
That's a great story. And you also would have been on one of the worst Greyhound bus rides ever if you had a two point conversion. So that's that's great, you know, for and over the last since since 78, when you retired, you've launched 20 companies. I think that's about right. What What gave you the drive to buy
Frank Tarkenton 16:59
actively? I actually Derek, I worked every offseason, my force. Let's try my first salaries. 12 five and I I always had an offseason job I did. I did speaking but I worked for Wilson trucks system. They were based in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and they had an office in in Minneapolis and I would knock on the door of shipping floors all over South of North Dakota, in my offseason job, and they paid me about $1 an hour, you know, they paid nothing. And and I went out and I also did four speeches a week. But in my 18 years, I made more money in the offseason than I made a mess in my salary. When I was 25 I started building my own companies I actually built I built 24 companies. All the two made it and and it was good to recognize the ones that weren't right and didn't work. I need to stop that. But anyway, so I worked all my life. I worked all the years I played in football.
Derek Bruton 18:05
Bran What about all the shoe contracts though?
Frank Tarkenton 18:08
That shoe? Well. They, you know, they paid Nike, you know, look what they paid. They made Michael Jordan, the multi billionaire, and all these basketball players and football players. And so the Pete the shoe people of our generation, they they would give me for my endorsement, they would give me shoes to wear to practice and on game day, no money whatsoever. We didn't have that money.
Derek Bruton 18:36
That's funny. Yeah, it's so so so I interrupted you tell me more about, about how you learn to start and run a bit.
Frank Tarkenton 18:46
Yeah, one of the businesses I learned very quickly, that that business is not as difficult as we make it. I've got to have a reason for people who want to do business with me. I've got to have products or services, or I've got to have counseling that that people need and I'm good at it. I can deliver. I can do what I say I can do I can build trust. And and so I started with that. I also understood I'll start started reading sales books. I read it once to some sales seminars. And and it was all about how do you manipulate people? How do you give the hard clothes, the soft clothes? How do you able to twist their arm to make them do what you want them to do? I threw those books away. I didn't go into any more of the seminars because I don't believe in selling. I believe in helping. I believe in building relationships. I believe in building being authentic and I may not have the answer for what they're wanting in whatever product or services I'm doing. And so I got to recognize that I learned very much my customers were like my, my teammate, they I needed my teammates, I needed my customers. You cannot you can't have a business without customers generated. Revenue. And so I, I don't believe in selling I believe in helping. I believe in building relationships. I do business with people I trust the people that deliver what they say they can do. I don't do that with the people who are hyping me and I got the greatest this the greatest that and come join me and you're going to make billions and millions of dollars because I'm magic, not magic and you're not magic. So I just always had been so understanding and respectful of my teammates, in football and in business. And I was really understanding and respectful of my customers. I had to be customer friendly. And when I focused on that, good things happen. And and and the other thing is I can't do everything myself in business. I've always had partners, right? I built a technology company in the 60s and my partner was IBM. I had a little technology company that we'd taken out of bankruptcy. And in in, we couldn't make it work. And so I am I, my, my chief technical officer, who was my only technical officer said, Well, I said, we're going broke here, I'm running out of money. He said, We need a partner. I said, What what got apart, this is 1982. He said IBM, IBM was all the Fang stocks put together. It was the Lord of lords King of kings. If it weren't for IBM, there's no Intel, no IBM, there's no Microsoft. And so I call john Akers, the chairman of IBM. And I said, and I didn't know him. So he gets on the phone said, john, I apologize for the cost. And I you know, I played football, I know you played football, I did this. And I said, I've got this technology. And and here's what it is. And I, you know, and my technical officer, who's the only person there, he tells me that we need to have a partnership with you. I said we did 2 million of revenue last year lost money on magic. You did a little bit more than that. And I don't think there's any way in the world we have anything that you need. And he's laughing. And so I he said, What can I do for I said, Oh, if I could arrange a meeting with a couple of your people, I'll fly up there and meet with him at your offices in dadadada da. And he said, Sure. And so I get my technical officer fly up to White Plains, New York, and I go to the IBM offices, and they've got about 20 guys in IBM blue. And I know they don't want to be there. So I brought 20 footballs, and I brought a stopwatch and I came in there and then I know they said What in the world? am I wasting my time being with his ex quarterback who knows nothing about technology. And we're so successful. So I went in there. And I, I told them, I said, I know you don't want to be here. I don't you know, and I appreciate you being here. We're gonna keep you here 30 minutes, I've got a stopwatch and let you get out and get get your work. And here's my my chief technical officer, he's gonna tell you what we do and not to die. And we'll get out of here. And now sign on. I'll I'll sign footballs for you or your kids. 30 minutes, I said, Thank you so much. Now they want to stay with data for four hours. They they loved what we were doing, there was a fit. And four weeks later, we formed a partnership with IBM. And I had a, you know, they said we'd like to invest in your company. I said, Well, how much you want to invest? We'd like to invest $10 million in your company, I said, Would you would own the company plus, it'd be a bad deal for you. Because we're not worth 10 million. I'm not sure we're worth $1. And so they laughed at that. And so anyway, I made a deal with him. And they wanted to put the 10 million in there. And I said you could have all you could then you could have 80% of the gun. No, we'll take 10% of the company. And we went out and went from 2 million to 129 million in about two years. And we made IBM a lot of money. We made us ourselves a little money. But it was transparency. It was authentic. It wasn't selling it was let's work this together. And that's and I've always done that. I've always done that. I had partnerships with Sam Walton and Walmart. I've got a great partnership today with Apple. I've got great project partnerships with ADP. And here's an old company in a technology company two different things. And we build partnerships of trust and see how we can take our respective skills and be able to put one plus one equals about five or six. I and you are not smart enough or good enough or we're not Superman, and we cannot do everything. And we've got to have great teammates. We got to have great, great partners. We got to have great customers, and we got to be authentic.
Derek Bruton 24:53
Well Fran, you you you talked about helping people not selling but helping people A lot of business owners today including leaders in our industry are staring at a difficult role road ahead with with COVID. And, and just the the competitive nature of our business. A lot of people are struggling to compete and clearly a lot of people doing well, as well. But you want said it's perfectly okay. Okay to want to quit as long as you don't? I think that's a great quote.
Frank Tarkenton 25:25
What advice? Yeah, but but I think the thing that is made me a better person is I played in three Super Bowls and lost all three. I went back and said, What did I, what did I not do? How did I not prepare for how could I not. And I think having those that experience and being down at the lowest level and pick it, I like this this period, we've been on almost for a year now of this great epidemic that has disrupted the entire world, never in my lifetime see anything like it. But when we have this kind of situation, that gives us the greatest opportunity to go and get better, to get more efficient. And to go in and gain market share. Because so many people are poor pedal for me, I've got all this and the world's falling apart. And I'm worried about getting sick and my family getting sick. And I'm not able to go to my office. And so what we've done is come out of this thing. We've had a robust economy, we've learned that we now can do what we're doing here. And we're all over the country. And we can have this kind of communication. I haven't been on a plane in five months, I have worked out of my house, I'm in my office today. But I have we have done more great things, we we are much more efficient, much more creative than we've ever been. Because we've worked better together, we've taken this terrible, terrible time. And rather than be defeated by it, or disappointed by we, we've just full speed ahead. And we have we are so much better and efficient today than we ever been. And that's all happened because of this catastrophe that we bid in. And so it's been a great opportunity for us. And as far as growing are because we didn't lay down and die.
Derek Bruton 27:29
Right? In tell. I mean, a lot of people don't know you actually work with a lot of financial advisors today with tarkington financial and go small biz. But tell us a little bit about, you know, your conversations with advisors, and you know, what you're helping them with today.
Frank Tarkenton 27:45
Okay, well, you know, we started talking to financial 20 years ago, we're in the, you know, retirement income planning. We have people all over the country that we work with. And, and, and we help them develop marketing plans. Now we've we've now we're really, we're doing a tremendous project in Google, and we're partnering with them. And we are building a technology out to be able to digital marketing, and we're, our people can go and work that leveraging technology into their own particular marketplaces. Our people did a lot of seminars, but they couldn't do seminars anymore. So we just got more creative and how do we go out and find prospects and customers and redouble our efforts and work better together, have better messaging, and and so our businesses, we have five businesses here now target financial is one of them. And they've all grown magnificently during this last year. It's been the best year that we've ever I've ever had in business in my lifetime. And and now we've learned how to be in a awful situation that we've been in, can I get on planes and go to San Diego or New York or Chicago to have meetings we do this and we've learned how to do this and so much more and be able to still stay in touch and still share information and do our job. And so I think that's what you do in life right? You don't get along you don't quit you don't blow I blame my defeats on this and that and when I accept I've got a challenge here. But I'm gonna overcome the negative of go make something happen and do and leverage technology. Look at all the the public offerings we I've seen recently of technology people that are building technology to do things more efficiently than better service and and come out with unbelief inside to spend. Who would have thought the market would go from last February to now and be up like it is I mean, apple, the biggest company in the world is up 72% or 71%, since last year, so we talking to financial is, again 20 years, and now, this is the best year we've ever had. Because we have been working better together, sharing information better, doing a better job with our customers, and our prospects, and we've been more flexible, and how we work.
Derek Bruton 30:28
And friend, you've got obviously a magnetic personality that comes across great on zoom on phone calls. What would you share in terms of lessons to people that maybe don't have that sort of personality, but still need to develop rapport and trust with with new prospects over over the phone? Or on zoom?
Frank Tarkenton 30:48
Good question. I would say this, you've got to be yourself, this is me. You cannot be phony, you cannot try to be something that we're not. We've got to be authentic. We we've, we've got to show very quickly to our we have friends because we we we treat our friends with respect. We treat our business partners with respect to a customer. I think even at this stage, I'm more customer oriented than ever. I'm more partner oriented with other than I always am ask a lot of questions, because that's how we learn. We ask questions. I don't have all the answers, you don't have all the answers. But many people want to think and make people think well, I'm the smartest guy in the room. So therefore you should do business with me. That's nonsense. So I think, in this horrible, catastrophic, eight or nine months that we've had when we've lost so many lives of our friends and family members through this terrible virus. But those of us who are left to here, it is our duty to go out and not sit down and dive and go out and serve and help and grow our businesses. And I think this economy is a testimony to that. It's unbelievable. Now we've got places like hotels, so bad restaurants, airlines, they really they really had really big challenges and and it hasn't been as good for them. But they will come through this the ones that think like we're talking here. And but I think we're the near future, the future going farther beyond that, I think is phenomenal. Because I think we've opened up a whole new world of opportunity driven by technology. Here I am almost at one. Everything we do here is technology driven? Is it not human driven to it's human driven to with technology, you cannot leave that out. But we've got to be more efficient, and find better ways to serve our customers. And, and I think many companies have been able to do that.
Derek Bruton 33:06
Fran, you don't you don't just sound wildly optimistic. You sound like you're having a lot of fun, too.
Frank Tarkenton 33:12
Well, you know, when I don't have the burden of thinking that I've got to be the smartest guy in the room, or that the burden of I've got all the answers, which I don't and neither does anybody else. And the joy of knowing that we can be better. We can be more efficient. And now is the greatest. This is the greatest business time in the history of this country. Our opportunities beyond beyond beyond everybody wants to come here and be here. But we want to be able to help these people in whatever way we can. And most of you people out there financial services, they under the most people don't understand they weren't taught financial services, stock market investment strategies in their colleges. And now they need your help. Right? They need to trust you and believe you and you need to be prepared to be able to and I need to be there to be able to not sell, but help them serve them. Talk, ask them questions, listen to them. And maybe you don't have the solution for Wow, really? Maybe not. And maybe you send them down to Ralph. So, right. It's just, and I think the authenticity in the energy that we bring to earth. And again, I cannot be like Ralph, or Billy Bob, I've got to be myself. We all have to be ourselves. If we can be ourselves and be authentic, we will be well received. If we're trying to be somewhere else like someone else. You can Vince Lombardi, his assistants never regret coaches. Same thing with Nick Saban, a good friend of mine who's who's you know up at Lake Burton in my lake with me. And he's got maybe over his career 20 head coaches around the country. He has never lost to one of his. So one of his coaches, you know, and and so it's the, it's just the authenticity and keep working at it and build your team and customers are first first first
Derek Bruton 35:26
friend. This has been awesome. This has been great. Last question for you. And this one comes from my dad, who's about 20 minutes from you. And he's a massive Fran Tarkenton fan and he asked me for your top picks for the following the best player you've ever played with or against. And secondly, the meanest, nastiest player you were ever on the field with.
Frank Tarkenton 35:52
The best player ever played against Gino Marchettii, with the University of San Francisco, big Italian guy died a couple of years ago, was the defensive captain and in for the then Baltimore Colts and, and he was just absolutely phenomenal. Now, there was a lot of great players, Merlin Olsen, Deacon Jones, in my era and so forth. But, but he was the he was the best player I've ever done. And the other question was What now?
Derek Bruton 36:24
The the meanest, nastiest,
Frank Tarkenton 36:26
Meanest, nastiest was mean Joe Greene. And mean, Joe Greene was a physical freak. He came to Pittsburgh, in the 60s when Pittsburgh was terrible, they hadn't won anything since they came into the league in the 40s, the 40s and 50s in the 60s, and he came in there. And he was one of the biggest men in football that time he was maybe 65 to 75 to 80, Brazil steroids back then it was no performance enhancing drugs and no weightlifting programs. And so I, he came and played against me as a rookie, and we're playing in New York. And he's been chasing me all over the place. And, and so he, he tells this story to my grandchildren at the Hall of Fame. Two years ago, he said, let me tell you about your grandpa. I was running and chasing him around Yankee Stadium, and I never could get him and he would always say to me, you miss me. You miss me. You can't catch me. I mean, Joe, you just don't know. I've just given him all of it. And finally, he said, Your dad ran down the fear field and went to the sidelines. And then I was about to just take his head off, but he went ran out of bounds. And I still tackled him out of bounds and knocked this helmet off. Oh, straight. I've taken his head with his helmet. And he said, and what happened? Your dad was laughing at me, because they've referee came over and kick. Kick me mean Joe Greene out of the game. And, and so, but mean, Joe was a dangerous man. He, he was truly aggressive. He was so strong and so fast. And he's now a great grandpa. And he is like a sissy grandpa now, not like he was when he played.
Derek Bruton 38:17
Yeah, that's a great story for it. Well, hey, thank you so much for your time today for the lessons for the leadership lessons in particular. I know our audience very much enjoyed this. I'm sure we'll see each other again soon, my friend but Merry Christmas, Happy New Year to your family. And thanks again.
Frank Tarkenton 38:37
Same goal, all of you. Thank you very much.
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