George Foreman Has Wisdom, Faith Lessons To Share
MICHEL MARTIN, host:
I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.
Coming up, we'll remember the career of legendary rhythm and blues producer Willie Mitchell.
But first, it's time for our Wisdom Watch. That's the part of the program where we speak with men and women who've made an impact, and although today's guest really needs no introduction, we'll throw a few sentences at you.
He's a two-time heavyweight boxing champion of the world who fought in one of the most famous matches ever, the Rumble in the Jungle in Zaire, where he lost the championship belt to Muhammad Ali in 1974.
Fast-forward 20 years later. At the age of 45, he reclaimed the heavyweight title and became the oldest champion ever. Of course, we're talking about George Foreman. And even though Foreman hasn't been in the ring since 1997, he remains a household name, promoting a long list of products from his trademark grill to car mufflers to a line of clothes for big and tall men.
(Soundbite of advertisement)
Unidentified Woman: Chicken.
Mr. GEORGE FOREMAN (Former Boxing Heavyweight Champion): Yeah.
Unidentified Woman: Potato wedges.
Mr. FOREMAN: Uh-huh.
Unidentified Woman: Steaks.
Mr. FOREMAN: Sure.
Unidentified Woman: Paninis.
Mr. FOREMAN: Easy.
Unidentified Woman: Salmon.
Mr. FOREMAN: My specialty.
Unidentified Woman: Vegetables.
Mr. FOREMAN: Naturally.
Unidentified Woman: Some frozen.
Mr. FOREMAN: You bet.
Unidentified Woman: Enjoy wider variety and reduce the fat with the Lean Mean Fat-Reducing Grilling Machine from George Foreman.
Mr. FOREMAN: Great tasting, healthier food in minutes.
MARTIN: He's also a philanthropist and the author of a new book called "Knockout Entrepreneur," and he joins us now from Houston, Texas. Welcome.
Mr. FOREMAN: I'm so happy to be with you.
MARTIN: Now, I want to get into the book and your business deals, which is the focus of the book, but I did want to talk a little bit about your career as a boxer. Your punching power is legendary. Ring magazine ranked you number nine on its list of 100 Greatest Punchers of all time. What drew you to the sport to begin with? Do you remember now?
Mr. FOREMAN: I actually went down to the gym to learn how to box and lose some weight. I wanted to be the best street fighter in Houston, Texas. And I thought if I got a trophy or two, I'd go back home, and everyone would be afraid of me. I had one fight in '67, the first one. In '68 of October, I was an Olympic gold-medalist, a dream come true, with a total of 25 boxing matches. I stood on that platform, listening to the national anthem in the background as they put the gold medal around my neck, and that's the beginning of boxing, when it became apparent that I could do something better than just lose weight and become a street fighter.
MARTIN: Well, you know, nowadays, mixed martial arts has become very popular with both men and women, and I'm just wondering what you think about that. And one of the reasons that this is also controversial, just like boxing is, because a lot of people think we really shouldn't be in the business of watching people hurt each other.
I mean, listen to you. You speak well. You've got all your faculties about you. Some of your peers can't say that. You can tell that they've suffered some serious damage as a result of being in the sport.
Mr. FOREMAN: The integration of a headgear in professional boxing would do so much to make it safer for young men. They could go into the sport, make a lot of money and then come out and be good grandfathers.
I'm looking for that day, when boxing can and will become safer. Is it today? I don't think so.
MARTIN: So they should protect the head. And right now, people protect the hands at the expense of the head. You're saying protect the head.
Mr. FOREMAN: Yeah, can you believe it? And I used to tell people they should make boxing safer. You see an average boxer, his boxing days are over, and he'll have maybe 10 kids and not one dime. And so, you look down, and they have this big protective cup under the trunks, and I tell them maybe we should take that big protective cup from downstairs and put it on the guy's head. He may end up with a lot of money and not many kids.
(Soundbite of laughter)
MARTIN: Well, there's a thought.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. FOREMAN: What are we protecting here, you know what I mean?
MARTIN: Yes, I do know what you mean.
Mr. FOREMAN: No hitting below the belt. I mean, get that padding up a little higher.
MARTIN: If you're just joining us, we're speaking with two-time heavyweight champion of the world, George Foreman, and we're talking about his life and career.
Now we want to talk about the second part of his career, as an entrepreneur. He's the author of a new book, "Knockout Entrepreneur." Now I bet a lot of people, particularly maybe the age of your kids, might not even remember you in the ring, but they know you as the grill guy.
And one of things that's funny, you talk about how - in your book, you talk about the fact that you almost passed this opportunity by.
Mr. FOREMAN: That's true.
MARTIN: Why? Why did you almost pass it up?
Mr. FOREMAN: Boy, will I ever be grateful. I'd been really successful on Madison Avenue advertising Doritos, Meineke mufflers, Oscar Meyer wieners, and I was making lots of money. And then finally a friend said, look George, you're making all these companies wealthy and rich. Why won't you get your own product? I said sure, how much you going to pay me? They said no, no, no, no. No one's going to pay anyone. You begin a product, we'll all promote it. And we started this joint venture where I'm the owner of this grill. No one wanted it, couldn't be sold anywhere else, but I had this laugh. Everybody was laughing: George Foreman, how can he be heavyweight champ of the world when it looks like his training camp is next to Baskin-Robbins?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. FOREMAN: And so and he's the cheeseburger king? So with that, I put that food on the grill. My wife convinced me to use it. I didn't like it at first because no money up front. And she truly showed me how to use it. The grease went away and I thought it wouldn't be delicious. There was still some moistness in the burger, delicious. I could take them into my training camp. So I did the deal, a joint venture with the hopes of getting 16 of those things so I could give to my aunts, uncles and cousins and even put them into my training camp. Little did I know I'd be getting a check about a year later for $3,500 -I couldn't believe it. And then from that point on...
MARTIN: You've made more from those grills than you ever made in boxing.
Mr. FOREMAN: That's true. And the next thing you know, the money - as a matter of fact with the fight with Shannon Briggs, everyone was screaming: He was robbed. He was robbed. And I went back to my dressing room and I had one of these checks - royalty checks for about a million dollars and I said where I come from when people are robbed they don't still have money.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. FOREMAN: So I didn't feel like I was robbed. I got a chance to promote a wonderful product by way of boxing.
MARTIN: Wait a minute. In the post-fight interview you actually talked about your grill.
Mr. FOREMAN: I was in business now. This was a joint venture for - I didn't do a commercial or was a spokesperson for anyone. This was actually my product. And if you ever go out and buy advertisement, big audiences can hear and see them, you know how much it cost. I thought here I am, he's going to give me this microphone, here are millions of people listening to me, I can do a quick commercial for free.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. FOREMAN: And when you're in business you got to take it. You must take it and you must sell. Don't ever go and give people your problems on television. Everyone's got their problems. They didn't tune in to hear one more problem and I was going to make them laugh. If they didn't understand it, then I'd say it again. This grill, look, I feel great. I feel good. This is the George Foreman grill. And I remember the guy asking me who did the interview, what does that have to do with anything? It has to do with everything.
(Soundbite of laughter)
MARTIN: But there were a number of things you learned from that incident, so I want to walk through some of the things that you talk about in the book that you learned from that. Number one, you say money matters but not much. You say don't let making money be your only motivation. I know it may be difficult to believe but money is not the best motivator for most people. If you find a product or service that will simply make money for you, you can pay the mortgage this month, but that will never be enough to motivate you to outstanding success.
Well, tell me a little bit more about that because it sounds to me though that the money was pretty important to you.
Mr. FOREMAN: Money is a good thing but every morning you have to get up with something no one else in the world gets up with, that's that image. That face you see in the mirror, you got to love it and you better do some things that you feel good about inside of you. Of course, money is going to come, but make certain that you do some good with it.
I almost forgot about that and dropped the baton because with all of the millions I made the first time around as the heavyweight champ of the world, I had a swimming pool, Rolls Royce, Mercedes, you name the foolishness - I mean the successiveness. But I had all these things but I didn't have anything to show that I had treated mankind the way mankind had treated me.
The second time around, I even went back into boxing because I had a youth center my brother Roy and I started in Houston, Texas, just for kids to hang out and stay out of trouble. And I'd literally run out of money and I had to go back into boxing for debt. I risked my life and for that I was given the gift of stamina and endurance.
When I was younger I got tired in the fight with Muhammad Ali in Africa and I lost because I got tired. But once you have a reason and something to fight for, you are gifted with this thing called endurance and stamina when you're fighting for more than just yourself and money.
MARTIN: You also though talk about the importance of owning your own thing. You say to people if there's any way you can own your own business or be working for yourself you should do that. And you're candid about the fact that that's not easy for many people. Many people say listen, I've already got, you know, a family. I'm booked from end to end. How am I going to make the time to do that? Why do you think that that's so important?
Mr. FOREMAN: If I had had a business as I learned somewhere along the line to employ myself and not have to worry about am I qualified for the next job. But when you get scared, they're going to layoff 20 people, they going to layoff 30. Am I going to get laid off? And it's only because we did not take advantage of this wonderful opportunity we were born with, being an American, you can have your own business.
If you don't let people frighten you, if you don't let anything scare you, get your own business, learn to work for myself, that's when life started to be better for me. I didn't worry about someone cutting me off or all of a sudden my diploma or my becoming obsolete.
MARTIN: There have been some very alarming reports recently about how how many athletes in the major, professional leagues: basketball, football, and baseball have no money just a few years after they retire. And you yourself have pointed out that there have been a couple of times when you've really come very close to the edge even though you had made a ton of money in your active days as an athlete. So why is that, that so many athletes can make so much money and wind up broke?
Mr. FOREMAN: Because I think the average human being in America has this thing about I must get up every morning and earn my next dollar or I'm going to starve. Sometimes great athletes and even movie stars, we make a million, two million, five million and we think I can lay down tomorrow. I can get on my yacht and rest now. And when you stop earning, there's something fatal that could happen to you at any moment. You must earn. You must earn. The last dollar you earn should be just the day before you go to say hello to St. Peter.
MARTIN: And you also talk in your book about the need to be willing to go against the grain. You can't - to think about things in a way that perhaps other people have not thought about them before. Can you talk a little bit about that? How have you put that into practice?
Mr. FOREMAN: Oh yeah, to have an original thought. I learned from a very successful lady once, she was speaking - I think it was Mary Kay who started these cosmetics. She said, my father taught me when I was a little girl learn to sell and you will never starve. Not many people pay much attention but I heard that from that lady and I put it away in the bank of my heart that I was going to learn to sell. People would tell me oh, you'll never be a big business. You can't go into this business. All the big companies got this sewed up and that sewed up.
But I kept working and once we got the joint venture with the George Foreman grill, I started talking about it, going to night shows, to day shows, do commercials, do friendship, do favors. The next thing you know, we've literally sold 120 million of those George Foreman grills worldwide. And if I had listened to other people who believed that you can't sell for whatever reasons - the way you act, the way you talk, the way you look, I heard it all. But I didn't hear those things from myself. I was going to thoroughly indoctrinate my own self.
MARTIN: We always like to end these conversations by asking if you have any wisdom to share and you've been sharing a lot of it and there's a lot more of it in your book, but do you have any wisdom to share just in the couple of minutes we have left?
Mr. FOREMAN: Yes, something I always give my kids at a certain point because you could wake up in the morning without a mom, a dad, a cousin, a husband or wife. And I write to them: Forgiveness is that subtle thread that binds both love and friendship. Without forgiveness, you may not even have a child one day.
My father, I didn't meet my father until I was a grown man who had been champion of the world and lost it and he never helped me. He never had given me anything. So I could've said I don't have a father. But I forgave him and now I can even tell my children hey, your grandfather fought in World War II. Why? Because forgiveness gave me a father and it will give my children their dad if they only forgive me if I've done something I don't even know about. Forgiveness means you've got something. You don't have friends unless you forgive.
MARTIN: George Foreman is a former heavyweight boxing champion, a philanthropist and author of a new book called "Knockout Entrepreneur." He joined us from KPFT in Houston.
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