Big business with big George: how George Foreman knocks out the competition.
With nearly 100 million George Foreman Grills sold since 1995, Foreman has had enormous influence in the wellness industry. He is also one of the highest-paid and most recognized celebrity endorsers in the world.
In 1999, Foreman signed a $137.5 million deal with Salton Inc. (recently merged with Applica Incorporated), entitling the grill manufacturer to global, unrestricted use of Foreman's name in marketing the Lean, Mean, Fat-Reducing Grilling Machine and related products. The deal made Michael Jordan's $40 million deal with Nike look small by comparison.
Before his endorsement of the grills, Foreman made business deals based primarily on a desire for income. "I was so successful," he says. "All the ads I had done for sausages, you name it, [I was] mainly thinking about money. But then I went into the grill business." He took the grills all over the country, making personal appearances and boosting sales. "I was meeting people who would say, The doctor told me to get a George!' I'm like, what are they talking about? Get a George?" He realized his product was making a difference in people's health, and his perspective changed. "From that point on, you know, I can never go back to what I used to do where I just sell and sell," he says. "Now everything I do has to be connected to something healthy."
The Importance of Selling
Of course, Foreman's business success started with his success as an athlete. Born in 1949 in Marshall, Texas, Foreman, nicknamed "Big George," was one of seven children in a struggling home. By the time he was 15, he was a street thug and mugger in Houston's dangerous 5th Ward. His life changed when he left for California to join the Job Corps and was introduced to the discipline of boxing. In 1968, Foreman won the Olympic Gold medal in Mexico City, in only his 25th amateur fight. A world champion was born.
Within a few years of turning professional, Foreman's record was 37 wins--most by knockout--and no losses. In 1973, he defeated Joe Frazier to become heavyweight champion of the world. Despite his fame, he maintained a cold distance from the public, and his surly demeanor earned him occasional boos in the ring. He defended his title twice before losing it to Muhammad Ali in the "Rumble in the Jungle" in 1974.
A few years later, Foreman announced what he thought was his retirement. A religious awakening led him to pursue a life in the church. He didn't know at the time that the seeds of his business success lay in these days of personal transformation.
"It started because I left boxing in 1977 and worked in evangelism at a church in Marshall," he says. Foreman had made a fortune in boxing, but now turned his attention fully to his faith. "I spent all my time preaching with lots of money. Lots of money." But he didn't preach like a rich man. He spent countless nights out on the streets of Houston, in all weather. Just as in his boxing career, he was relentless.
He also made good on a personal pledge to help at-risk youth, just as he had been helped during his early days as a teenage thug. After he joined the Job Corps, a counselor saw young George's potential and got him involved in boxing, possibly saving him from a life of crime or jail or worse. Foreman wanted to provide the same kind of opportunities for young people and in 1984 founded The George Foreman Youth & Community Center, which offers scholastic and athletic activities including, of course, boxing.
But 10 years after he left boxing, he says he looked up and was on the verge of bankruptcy. "I had to go back into boxing for our survival, to feed my family." Fortunately, his years spent preaching on the streets of Houston had taught him valuable lessons that would carry him into a second career as a businessman. "What I found was the 10 years I was out of boxing. I was preaching on the street corner and I'd make people stop. They didn't know me," he says, "the old George with an afro and all that. So I realized I could stop these people, who are always headed somewhere, for a second and sell my message. That's what I learned to do on the street corner."
He tried applying his newfound skills in the boxing world. "So I went back to boxing trying to sell the old George Foreman heavyweight champion of the world," he says. "Nobody wanted to buy it, though." Foreman was 38 when he returned to the ring, a tough sell for any athletic comeback. But the man in front of the camera this time wasn't cool or removed. He had a gentleness about him that contrasted his toughness in the ring, and that appealed to the public.
"In time, I learned the importance of selling," he says. Foreman realized he had power outside the ring to influence how people viewed him. In 1994, at the age of 44, Foreman reclaimed the heavyweight title. "That's when people started to say. This guy can sell himself. Let's let him sell Doritos or Kentucky Fried or McDonald's.'" And sell, he did. In addition to promoting these companies, Foreman became the spokesman for Meineke Car Care Centers. The boxer and preacher was now an advertiser's dream come true.
But he says his athletic ability was less a factor in his business success than his selling skills. "If you learn to sell, it's worth more than a degree," he says." It's worth more than the heavyweight championship of the world. It's even more important than having a million dollars in the bank. Learn to sell and you'll never starve."
Integrity: His Greatest Asset
"The greatest asset, even in this country, is not oil and gas," Foreman says. "It's integrity. Everyone is searching for it, asking, 'Who can I do business with that I can trust?'"
By 1994, Foreman's life was again on the upswing. When he took the opportunity to endorse what is now the George Foreman Lean. Mean, Fat-Reducing Grilling Machine, he found a new drive to help people improve their lives by improving their health. Now he won't settle for anything less when it comes to endorsements. "One of the biggest things is to fight," he says. "Just don't go absolutely for the buck."
Foreman learned after his first retirement that to go back into boxing he had to protect the brand of George Foreman. "So now I understand you must preserve the quality of your name, your integrity," he says. "You don't want to lie about anything. And it's something that people will be happy about once they get to know you. Because people count on you. You know, a contract you can easily break. I've found in business, everyone signs a contract to make a business deal, and they always leave a loophole so they can break them."
Foreman says people with integrity are in high demand. "There are a lot of guys who are successful, they make a lot of big money. I mean millions overnight with a contract, and they don't understand the evaporation. It evaporates. You're always back to square one. I found that out, so integrity is how I do business. That's my main asset."
This attitude is one he intends to impart to his kids. He has 10 children--five with his current wife, Mary "Joan" Martelly. George III, nicknamed "Monk," is Foreman's business manager. "Your children are looking at exactly what you do," he says. "You've got to believe in something. And you've got a line that you can't cross. I point this out.
"I'll give you an example. I had the opportunity to go into the restaurant business. A chain of restaurants, the George Foreman restaurants. And it was an opportunity right out to make lots of money." But Foreman is opposed to selling liquor in his establishments, in accordance with his religious beliefs. "And they said, 'Well, this is what will make more profits. You can just donate them to charity.' I said. 'No, I can't do that.' And my sons, who were in business with me, watching me put this deal together, they could not understand it. They just couldn't understand. Not to say that they have to have the same feelings I have about things. But at least have something you believe in and you cannot be talked out of by dollars and cents. And that's what 1 try to pass on."
The Old Shotgun Tactic
Foreman is approached by hundreds of potential business partners every year. He reviews offers daily with George III, and asks for input from his wife and children before he signs a deal. So how does he choose from all the opportunities he sees? "I call it the old shotgun tactic," he says. "My grandfather used to go out hunting during the days of the Depression. The good shooters, the marksmen, shot with one shell." But during the Great Depression, you couldn't put all your bets on one bullet because those bullets were expensive. "If you missed the squirrel, so to speak, you don't have anything but an excuse on the table," Foreman says. "But if you buy these cheap shots, which are buckshots, they scatter. You come back in with a squirrel. Although you got a lot of buckshot in it, you got a decent meal on the table.
"So now I use the same thing, although you've got to be selective because you have a name to protect." Foreman believes that one of the many opportunities he investigates will hit it big. "You know you put out a lot of buckshot, you're going to strike one," he says. "You've got to start out early in the morning and look at hundreds, literally hundreds of things, looking for that quality. And it may take a year, it may take three or four years, but you're going to hit something so you have something to put on the table for your family."
Foreman's company, George Foreman Enterprises, consistently strikes new deals for products and services that meet Foreman's requirements of being high-quality and beneficial to the consumer. He has lent his name to a line of clothing for big and tall men sold by Casual Male and endorsed a new brand of shoes for diabetics by InStride as well as a health-food restaurant chain called UFood Grill.
"And then we have the green cleaning products, which I've been working on for a couple years." he says. "We finally got it absolutely, totally biodegradable." He hopes that using biodegradable products, like George Foreman's Knock-Out Household Cleaning System, will help preserve the land for his grandchildren. His other hope is that the established cleaning-product manufacturers will follow suit. "This is going to be so good it's going to make the big companies jealous, and they're going to outdo me. And I still win," he says. "I still win. Because it makes the planet much better."
But it doesn't end there. Through Foreman's Web site, visitors can purchase cookbooks, memoirs and autographed boxing gloves. His 10 'books, three of which were published by Thomas Nelson in the last two years, offer inspirational insights into life, comebacks and fatherhood. And then there are the grills. The newest version, the 360 Grill, is selling well and is one of several George Foreman brand small kitchen appliances, including the Lean Mean Fryer for reduced-fat frying and the Grill & Roast for convection cooking.
He's also become a star of the small screen; his reality series Family Foreman starring him and his family debuted in 2008 on the cable channel TV Land, and an ABC sitcom starring Foreman ran for nine episodes in 1993-94.
Foreman has succeeded in creating more than a brand. He has created a relationship with consumers based on integrity and a gift for making the sale. This relationship allows him to transfer his brand to a wide range of products and succeed in staying diversified. "The bottom line is, you make a decision you'll be able to sleep with, wake up the next day, look in the mirror and feel good about yourself," Foreman says.
"You want to leave something, you really do," he says. "I mean, in the end, statues and all those things, that doesn't mean anything. Leave something that we're all going to benefit from. I think that's what I'd like to do."
RELATED ARTICLE: FOREMAN'S FUNDAMENTALS
Adopt these George Foreman philosophies for success in your business and personal lives.
* BELIEF--"You know, you have to have something you believe in. It could be someone you believe in, too. But at least have something you believe in and you cannot be talked out of by dollars and cents."
* INTEGRITY--"You must preserve the quality of your name, your integrity. You don't want to lie about anything. And it's something that people will be happy about once they get to know you. Because people count on you."
* SALES--"Learn to sell and you'll never starve."
* RESILIENCE--"You're going to fail if you do enough business. But you can always come back because you've got some integrity, and people need that."
* PERSISTENCE--"It may take a year, it may take three or four years, but you're going to hit something so you have something to put on the table for your family."
* LEGACY--"You want to leave something, you really do. I mean, in the end, statues and all those things, that doesn't mean anything. Leave something that we're all going to benefit from."
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|Date:||Mar 1, 2009|
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