4 Business Lessons From Super Bowl Champ and Angel Investor Jerod Mayo
Some of the most interesting years of Mayo's career were from 2016 to 2019, when he took the skills and understanding that he mastered in football and transformed himself into a business executive.
When people talk about blocking and tackling in business, they’re usually referring to the need to focus on the daily tasks that must be executed flawlessly in order to deliver results. But for one entrepreneur, that term held a very different meaning for the better part of a decade.
Jerod Mayo is an entrepreneur, angel investor and former healthcare executive. Those impressive achievements aside, he’s best known as a former linebacker for the New England Patriots.
As an NFL player, Mayo was named Defensive Rookie of the Year in his first season, made a team captain in only his second year, selected for the Pro Bowl twice and won a Super Bowl championship at the end of the 2014 season. He retired as a player in 2016 but returned to the team in 2019 as the Patriots’ inside linebacker coach.
Some of the most interesting years of Mayo’s career were from 2016 to 2019, when he took the skills and understanding that he mastered in football and transformed himself into a business executive. In 2016, Mayo joined Optum, a technology-focused subsidiary of UnitedHealth Group, as vice president of business development. While at Optum, he worked on consumer solutions with clients and consulted on mergers and acquisitions.
Mayo relished his transition from football to commerce, and even though he’s now back with the NFL in a coaching capacity, he’s still active as a startup consultant and angel investor. In March 2021, Mayo discussed his journey on Nasdaq's World Reimagined podcast, hosted by Gautam Mukunda. Here are four takeaways that have benefited him throughout his career.
1. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable
At every step of his career, Mayo needed to start from scratch. He was once a freshman on his high school football team. Then, a freshman on his college team. And a rookie on the Patriots. And a new executive at Optum. And a first-time coach, returning to the NFL after almost five years away.
Each of these unfamiliar transitions was strenuous: The transitions from high school football player to college player to pro baller are notoriously difficult. Former NFL defensive end Ryan Riddle has written extensively about this experience, noting that “the jump from high school to big-time college football is a substantial one…but that adjustment period pales in comparison to the jump to the National Football League.”
Riddle never made it past his second season, and his entire NFL career spanned just 17 games. In contrast, Mayo played 103 games as a Patriot and used the pressures that he experienced as inspiration to help him excel.
“To grow, you're going to be uncomfortable,” Mayo tells Mukunda. Mayo embraced his discomfort in the locker room, even though, as he recalled, “...Tom Brady [was] in there, Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Vince Wilfork, Richard Seymour, Mike Vrabel, Junior Seau. These are Hall of Fame-caliber players.”
The world of business also presents plenty of uncomfortable situations for “players” at every level. Making a new pitch to an intimidating dream client. Negotiating with difficult vendors and suppliers. Answering complex questions from potential investors. Each of these interactions can be painfully tense, but to grow and succeed like Mayo did in the NFL and beyond, they can’t be avoided. Instead, a smart plan of attack must be formulated in order to address the discomfort head on and navigate it successfully.
2. Never stop learning
Despite having forgotten more about football than most of us will ever know, Mayo would never call himself an expert. Mayo’s strategy is centered around continued learning, no matter how steep the climb.
As a business executive and an angel investor, Mayo traded playbooks for stock market quotes, and found passion in doing so. “I really enjoy the private market,” he tells Mukunda. “I truly believe that a lot of value is extracted before these companies really reach IPO status.”
Mayo believes so strongly in the power of continued learning that he recently invested in Electives, a startup that offers innovative teaching experiences for corporate employees. Located not far from his current gig in Foxboro, Boston-based Electives works with atypical instructors such as former FBI agents and Olympic athletes to offer guidance in such areas as personal development, DEI, teamwork and collaboration, leadership, and creativity and innovation.
"Throughout my career, the most important lessons have come from listening to amazing people in unexpected places,” Mayo says. “I learned about productivity and time management on football fields. I learned about grit and mental toughness in the hallways of healthcare organizations. Leaders and mentors can come from anywhere. Electives’ programs are making workforces stronger, more empathetic, and are helping build diversity and understanding. I'm excited to be involved and delighted to watch them grow."
Continued learning is essential for business leaders in all industries. At McKinsey’s Consortium for Advancing Adult Learning & Development, Joe Voelker, chief human resources officer at Stanley Black & Decker, explained the need for continued learning in business. Learning can be trickier for leaders, Voelker said, “...because the way they’ve done things in the past has worked. So we have to start working from the mindset of, ‘If we don’t disrupt our business, somebody else is going to do it for us.’”
Just as NFL players need to study new playbooks, business leaders need to continually examine, consider and explore new ideas that will sharpen their approaches and maintain their competitive edge.
3. Use imposter syndrome as fuel
Many accomplished entrepreneurs and influential leaders have suffered from imposter syndrome, which can be defined as “a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success.” Mayo has admitted to falling victim to imposter syndrome on a number of occasions — initially in the national high school player rankings that sent him to the University of Tennessee, where he first thought, "There's no way I belong here."
Then, through hard work, he ended up making the All-American team and was drafted by the Patriots in the first round of the NFL draft — 10th overall. Yet on arrival, he looked around the locker room and thought, “I am not good enough to play here."
Mayo went on to become the Patriots’ rookie of the year, a team captain and a Super Bowl champion. When he retired from football and went into healthcare, he was often the youngest executive in the room, and he again questioned his place there.
With each new challenge, Mayo endeavored to convert his imposter syndrome into encouragement. “Impostor syndrome can either make you freeze or it can make you focus,” he explains on the episode. “I would use that, and I would just do extra, whether it's studying film or running or lifting. And I go into the business world, where once again, I was just trying to stay afloat. It's almost like drinking from a fire hose, honestly. I need to be as smart as I can be on this.”
Of course, this mindset applies to business builders. Like Mayo, we must embrace imposter syndrome and use it to stay humble and energized.
4. Choose discipline over motivation
Mayo believes that success requires being motivated, but he makes an important distinction between motivation and discipline, which he intuited through his years of playing football. “Motivation is when you see guys on the sideline, like, ‘Rah, rah, rah, rah, rah, we're going to go’… but, if you have true discipline …it doesn't matter the circumstances. It's about good habits, it's about good routine," he says.
In Mayo’s view, the business world is no different. It’s not about having the fleeting — and potentially unrealistic — motivation to crush the next project, flex for an upcoming presentation or get amped for a big sales win. What’s essential is developing methodical habits that will consistently allow us to shake off any unexpected obstacles that get in the way of our objectives.
Mayo’s triumphant pivots between the gridiron and the boardroom have been made possible by his ability to notice, process and follow the common wisdom that applies to both worlds. Business owners in any industry can follow his example to develop a winning game plan for their companies and drive to the endzone.
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