From Athlete To Entrepreneur: Adam Hess of Cyndeo Wealth Partners On The 5 Work Ethic Lessons We Can Learn From Athletes
Relentless drive — Hands down the most important character trait for an athlete or entrepreneur. To continually fight the battles of making it requires a lot of tenacity and passion.
As a part of our series about the work ethic lessons we can learn from professional athletes, I had the pleasure of interviewing Adam Hess.
Adam entered the financial services industry with UBS following a 13-year professional basketball career, mostly in Europe. He works with Cyndeo clients on overall financial planning as well as being involved in the investment process. Part of Adam’s focus is working with professional athletes and the specialized issues they encounter before, during, and after their careers.
An Academic All-American at the College of William and Mary, Adam received his BBA in Finance in 2004. He has been a regular writer for multiple basketball industry-related sites and has been involved with many youth basketball camps. Adam and his wife Julia reside in St. Petersburg along with their daughters Emily and Lexi.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! It is a great honor. Our readers would love to learn more about your personal background. Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
Sure, I had a pretty good childhood. I grew up in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit and was lucky enough to have parents who let me concentrate on playing sports as much as I liked. This led to spending almost every waking hour outside of school playing sports.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career as a high level professional athlete?
My dad played professional basketball and I guess it was just ingrained in me from the very beginning. From there, both of my parents encouraged me and did as much as they could to help feed my desire to play. I also have an older brother that played and watching him play just made me want to play more, mostly so I could later crush him.😊
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?
It was a combination of my parents, brother, mixed with a lot of coaches and other players that helped me navigate through. Then once I was overseas, my wife was with me almost the entire way. She was my day-to-day support and I would not have played as long as I did without her. I would even say my kids contributed because I wanted to do well for them. I also wanted to play as long as I could so I could continue to have so much free time with them. My brother always gave me a hard time when I said I was busy playing or training. Now that I am done and have a “normal” job, I get it now and I cringe every time an athlete tells people they stopped playing so they could spend more time with their family. It is a ridiculous statement; no job affords you more time with your immediate family in the world. I hope those looking to spend more time with their families also saved enough to retire because that is the only way they will have more free time than a professional athlete. Of course, I was not an NBA All-Star or even in the NBA, maybe those guys were training way more than I was training.
Anyways, I think one of the most impactful things that helped me, I only figured out at the end of my career. My dad used to write an email chain to friends and family with updates on my career. For him, it might have been cathartic or fun to brag, who knows, but it was an efficient way to let people know how I was doing. His goal was not to focus on my personal stats, but more on the positive aspects of what was going on and swayed toward me becoming a heroic figure in every article even if it was only me swinging a towel from the bench leading the team from the background. I asked him why he still wrote and why he focused so much on me sounding better than I was when it was so obvious that I was not that good. Then he spilled the beans. My dad said he had a habit of overstating my abilities and that every day for almost 15 years from the time I started as a little kid through high school, he told me I was the greatest player he had ever seen. He did not really believe it, well, he did say at times he believed it maybe because he was biased or maybe because he started convincing himself as well. Anyways, all that mattered was that I believed he believed it. A lot of comments along the lines, “You are the greatest player I have seen, but if you figure out how to do this or that, you might be even greater.” I believed him and it tended to get me more motivated to practice what he had mentioned and try to get better. I am not saying this is right for anyone and could be unhealthy for some because it might get them overly confident, but it worked for me. Of course, I started to realize in my early 20s when I was playing thousands of miles from an NBA arena that I am not the greatest player ever, but I really believe that his psychological manipulation helped my relentless drive to keep fighting for my dream early on and probably well past when I should have known better.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your sports career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?
All kinds of funny or interesting mistakes happened during my career. A funny situation that stands out happened at a high school summer AAU tournament. In the interest of time, the tournament decided to employ a running clock. This means that even if the ball went out of play, the clock would keep running and that the clock would also run during free throws. I told the guys in our pre-game huddle, if we are up by a few points, take a knee and tie your shoes. At the moment, I thought it was strange how enthusiastic they all were as we broke the huddle. We played the game and afterward everyone was high-fiving because we pulled out a close one and one of my teammates told me how pumped up he was with my pre-game speech. I replied it was just a simple comment that we should try to waste time on the clock and in some ways, it was kind of like cheating so I did not even feel that great about saying it out loud. He started laughing and said he and the rest of the guys thought I meant that when the game is close, we need to tighten our laces and really get after the other team. I realized that even if words are not intended to be powerful, they can at times carry a lot of weight.
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. As an athlete, you often face high stakes situations that involve a lot of pressure. Most of us tend to wither in the face of such pressure and stress. Can you share with our readers 3 or 4 strategies that you use to optimize your mind for peak performance before high pressure, high stress situations?
My goal was to prepare so much that when a pressure situation was unfolding, I was only living in the moment and my brain had already been programmed to respond. If had to think about what to do during these moments, I was more likely to make a mistake.
It is easy for most professional basketball players to make upwards of 95 out of 100 free throws in practice, but in the clutch at the end of the game, it suddenly gets harder. You have to trust the preparation; really believe you have done all you could to prepare, then at that time be in the moment and shut out all outside distractions. The best players can keep their brains in the moment without outside distractions longer than others. If you have prepared as much as possible, stayed in the moment and something bad still happens, the best players and what I tried, but was never great at, forget the mistake and move on quickly. You have to say next. The coach can get mad in video the next day, but during the game, I had to find a way to shut that mistake out of my brain so I could get back into the moment.
- Focus on turning off your brain and trusting preparation, be in the moment.
- Forgetting about mistakes is along the same lines as the second point, but then also being able to quickly forget the mistakes and get back to a good place for the next moment.
As I read this, it just seems so easy, prepare, focus, say next, but that is all I got and what I worked toward.
Can you tell us the story of your transition from a professional athlete to a successful business person?
Well, a successful business person is all relative, I prefer to say functioning business person. The transition was extremely hard, scary and I do not ever want to go through that experience again. This is also coming from, in my opinion, one of the lucky ones. I saved my money out of pure paranoia of not wanting to go broke. I also had a general idea of what I wanted to do, which is to help other athletes save their money so they do not go broke. So financially the transition was not burdensome and I had a path, but I still say it was gut-wrenching.
They say professional athletes die twice, once when they retire from playing and once when they actually expire. I had strange feelings about having to basically kill off my former identity to things as mundane as, “what do people wear in an office.” Luckily, I joined a team that helped out a lot and immediately paired me with Nate Johnson, who is overall pretty weird and likes to wear Hoodies to work. His demeanor with the support of the team and my wife’s constant reminder that it would all be fine eventually led me to calm down a bit. But it has been a grind for years building up our athlete/entertainer-centric part of the business. I would never want to transition again, but I am glad I went through it and have come out the other side. I have tried to let the past be the past and keep moving forward in my new role.
I did learn one horrible part of the transition is that I cannot eat dessert after every meal anymore unless I want to weigh 1000 lbs. This is one of the most disappointing items that I had to tackle post-playing.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting new projects you are working on now?
We recently added two more people to our team. One of them has already become an operations machine, Liesa Abel and the other one is a former teammate of mine from playing, Ruben Boumtje Boumtje. For me, the most interesting thing is continuing to build out our team and figure out how to get the pieces to work together to be more efficient. I get excited by efficiency.
Do you think your experience as a professional athlete gave you skills that make you a better entrepreneur? Can you give a story or example about what you mean?
Absolutely. A professional basketball player is like an entrepreneur. We only eat what we kill and it really rings true as an overseas basketball players because they do not often have the luxury of a long-term guaranteed contract. If I went down with an injury, a player was possibly on a flight the next day to take up my minutes while I was hurt and if he played well enough, he could be taking my job for good even once I was healthy. I could be cut at any moment, so I had to constantly prove my worth and produce. If you do not produce, you are out. It is very similar to the sales element of the job now.
Also, nobody is watching you but yourself. In the summers, I would come home to the States to train. Nobody came to the gym with me to make sure I was doing all my workouts, nobody cared if I slept in or skipped a day here or there. It was up to me to stay in shape. If I showed up to the new team out of shape, they would just send me home and find the next player. This is the same as an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs produce when nobody is looking because they have no other choice.
Ok. Here is the main question of our interview. Entrepreneurs and professional athletes share a common “hustle culture”. Can you share your “5 Work Ethic Lessons That Entrepreneurs Can Learn From Athletes”? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Relentless drive — Hands down the most important character trait for an athlete or entrepreneur. To continually fight the battles of making it requires a lot of tenacity and passion. My biggest cheerleader, my dad, encouraged me to buy suits for job interviews and take the LSATs just in case I did not get a job playing basketball after college. That was from him, he did not doubt me, just that others might doubt me. I bought the suits, on his dime😊, took the LSATs without studying and scheduled 0 interviews so it would not distract me from my goal. I was not going to be distracted by other paths, I was pursuing my goal as though this was the only possible way.
- The “Next” mentality — It is hard to be told no and/or told you are not good enough. The faster somebody can forget about rejection or mistakes and move on, the better chance they have at seizing the next opportunity. Mistakes happen and I always have to fight the urge to constantly think about why they happened and just move on. It is also a much better way to live, of course, it makes sense to learn from mistakes, but beating yourself up over them is not very productive.
- Embrace Team — Even Tennis players, an individual sport, involves building a team. The players have coaches, physical trainers, hitting partners and other advisors. A tennis player is out there during the match on their own, but a lot of people helped them get to that point. Remembering that it is not possible to do it alone is very important. My wife was with me all over Europe. She and I dealt with all the issues that arise from playing basketball overseas together. As I said before, without her, I would not have made it as long. Basketball is a team sport, I may have shot too much and made Ruben mad because he probably wanted to shoot sometimes, but we had each other’s backs and if I was not producing, he picked it up or vice versa. I think building a team is a huge part of making it in the business world as well. You can only get so far on your own and recognizing the importance of working together is more productive and way more fun.
- Adaptable: I lived in multiple foreign countries and was constantly moving into new cultures. If I had held strong to my love of natural water, I never would have tried San Pellegrino water, which completely changed my life. Not only did I fit in, not being the odd American who does not like bubbly water, but I found out I love carbonated water and it became a substitute for my soda-a-day addiction, which led to a healthier life as well. Nowadays, carbonated water is all over the United States, but it was not at first, so I wish I was also forward-thinking and had been the person that helped make this mainstream in the United States. But this is not about regrets, only being adaptable. In business, things are changing quickly and the more we can read situations and adapt, I believe leads to a more open mindset that leads to more scenarios with beneficial outcomes.
- Efficient: I used to read a lot of interviews about how much athletes train in the summers. I know Kobe Bryant was an animal and would have up to 4 training sessions per day. Sometimes though, I was thrown off by a player at my level that trained as much as Kobe. If the player was not lying and trained 4 times a day, 2 hours each time, why was he only in the same league as me? I trained in the summers consistently and a lot, but not 8 hours a day. My body could not handle it and I believe at some point there are diminishing returns. If that player was not making more money than me, then to me, he is not efficient and not who I am looking to copy. I do the same here, I want to be efficient. It is not how many hours I work, but how efficient am I in the hours I work.
What would you advise to a young person who aspires to follow your footsteps and emulate your career? What advice would you give?
I would advise any young person to be themselves and not try to emulate one person. Once you have an idea of what you would like to do, find more than one person who has gone before you, then try to take the characteristics that continually pop up amongst all of them and build your own version of who you would like to be in the future. I would not follow my path directly, what worked for me, might not work for another person.
You are by all accounts a very successful person. How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Wow, tough questions. I think it does not matter if you are successful or not, everyone can bring goodness to the world. I will never forget a few years ago when I listened to Monica Lewinsky give a speech on cyberbullying. It rings true to her heart because by many accounts she is one of the first people to be cyberbullied since her scandal occurred just as the internet was ramping up. It was a very powerful speech and I wanted to run home and hug my kids, but one of her later points on combatting cyberbullying also gave me hope. The hope she gave was that one person can have an impact. They have found that one positive message on social media amidst a sea of negative messages, has had enough influence to cause the person being bullied to seek help and, in some cases, may have saved them from taking their own lives. With that said, I just try to make an impact when I can and if someone listens to me more because I used to play professional sports or an athlete listens about saving his money because I was in his or her shoes before, that is great. I have no idea what it is causing someone to listen, I am just happy if I can make a positive impact.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I do not think I have enormous influence, but if I did, I would encourage people to be nice to each other. That is it.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
You miss 100% of the shots you do not take. The other one is, if you are on a shoot, if you are off, shoot until you are on again.
They resonate because they are basketball-related, but they apply to life as well. Take chances and keep trying if you succeed and if you fail. Just keep going.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them :-)
I think a lot of people will name this person, but I think it would be Elon Musk. His projects are inspiring and fun to follow. He is making a massive amount of impact in the world and it would be very interesting to see how he acts in everyday life. I do not want to see how he acts when he is talking to a panel of investors or reporters, I would like to see how he is in a normal setting away from the limelight.
Thank you so much for these amazing insights. This was so inspiring, and we wish you continued success!