Personal View: Being a pro athlete gave me a competitive edge in business

It’s been less than a year since the NCAA allowed over half a million college athletes to profit off of their name, image and likeness. We are now seeing these young men and women turn into their own small businesses, bringing in hard-earned money from the sports they’ve spent their lives mastering. As a former professional race car driver, I know that transition can be difficult but rewarding.

When I left the track at the end of my race career, I knew my time as a competitor wasn’t over. The skills I developed as an athlete, such as perseverance, knowing the importance of a team, and the ability to adapt under pressure have been such an asset in my new venture of real estate and development.

After years of donning a fire suit and helmet, I decided to move into a different competitive arena, the race to buy and build real estate in booming Ohio. When I decided to get into real estate, I knew I was not the first or the biggest firm who had ideas of building a luxury apartment complex. Instead of being deterred by the competition, I’ve set out to make my first development, The Cody, a place that offers a unique living experience that people would want to call home. Knowing there are others pursuing the same goal as you can be intimidating. However, I’ve learned, whether it’s real estate or sports, without competition there would be no innovation or drive. If I had listened to the doubters or skeptics, I may have decided to give up or look into a smaller venture, but it is the perseverance I learned on the race track that kept me moving toward my goal.

When I was younger, I looked up to Jeff Gordon. He was one of the greatest racers and what he did for the sport of racing can’t be overstated. By watching him, I saw how important those on his team and pit crew were to his success. You have to be able to humble yourself, ask others for feedback and support, and realize that even the best can’t do it alone. This is why my top advice for new entrepreneurs is to find your team; those who are knowledgeable and not afraid to be honest with you. Without my team, I would not be preparing to open my first apartment complex this year. I also still believe in having role models and read as much as I can about those who inspire me, like Mark Cuban and Ray Dalio.

I wish I could say that every race and every business meeting has gone exactly how I planned. If that had been the case, I would have probably won a few more races, but I wouldn’t have the experiences I carry with me into every situation today. When I ventured into the world of real estate development, it was far from an easy road. After months of work, seemingly perfect build locations would fall through, leaving us once again at square one. Each time a deal fell through, it hurt, I won’t lie, but I wouldn’t change a thing. That experience over the past few years is invaluable, and ultimately the location we chose, is one Intel also saw great value in, as it’s investing $20 billion just down the road. Whether it’s a big race or business deal, preparation is key, but so is being able to adapt under pressure.

I started racing competitively as a teenager, and like many young athletes, business skills were not at the forefront of my mind. Little did I know, I wasn’t just racing for the next win but to build the skills I lean on today. I want to tell today’s student athletes that the competitive spirit and edge you feel is something that never truly leaves you. The drive can easily be translated and harnessed into savvy business skills. I can’t wait to watch the fierce competitors we are watching now on the football field, volleyball court or pool to find their next adventure like I have.

Coughlin, a former NASCAR racer, is CEO of Cody Coughlin Co. He lives in Delaware, Ohio.

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