Being a professional athlete certainly has its challenges and rewards.
The physical and mental demands of regularly performing at a high level and the constant chatter of impatient fans and (social) media make it a challenge. Conversely, the potential to make a significant income in a relatively short period of time can certainly be rewarding.
However, the lifespan of an NFL player can be relatively short and begs the question, what’s next? When the cheering stops and you’re no longer playing, many ex-athletes are confronted with that simple question.
Candidly, some are prepared while others are not.
Ex-Detroit Lion, Rob Sims, 32, is one who’s prepared. He’s an ex-professional athlete-turned-entrepreneur who clearly has his sights set on his post-NFL career.
Cleveland-area native Sims is from a football and education-driven family. His father, Mickey, played for the Cleveland Browns, in the late 70’s, while his mother was a college professor. Additionally, Sims’ father-in-law, Tony Nathan, was a standout running back for the Miami Dolphins.
Sims, who retired from the Lions last year, played collegiately and graduated from Ohio State University. Since walking away from the game, he has started or acquired several real estate businesses under his umbrella company OBDIOS Group, LLC and is currently president of Complete Title Services, a real estate firm located in Birmingham, Michigan.
I recently discussed with Sims his transition to entrepreneurship, decision to stay in Detroit and, of course, a little football.
Lee: You played nine years in the NFL, including the last several years with the Lions. When did you know you wanted to a business owner?
Sims: My father (Mickey Sims) and Father-in-law (Tony Nathan) both played in the NFL. Unlike most guys that play in the league, I had an opportunity to see what it looks like after you hang up the pads and cleats. What I observed were two individuals that worked hard to provide for their families, even after the fame and money were gone. This always empowered me to look outside of football for other interests because I knew football couldn’t last forever. Growing up as well, my Uncle Harvey Clay owned numerous car dealerships. When visiting him, I would watch him around the lot putting out ﬁres (workplace conflicts) and making a great life for his family. At the time, it looked glamorous, productive and lucrative, so I knew I wanted to do something similar.
Lee: You purchased Birmingham-based Complete Title Services. Why this business and why now?
Sims: At ﬁrst I wanted to own a car dealership and felt like it was divine intervention that the owner of the team I played for also owned Ford Motor Company. I thought for sure I would be on the fast track. Then I purchased my ﬁrst rental house and have never looked back. I was introduced to a group of investors, who at the time were acquiring and building companies in different real estate venues. I had a chance to be a ﬂy on the wall for a couple years, while I was still playing and when I saw my career wrapping up, I was ready to hit the ground running. Buying Complete Title was an opportunity for my family to transition out of the NFL smoothly.
Complete Title was an existing business when we purchased it, and we saw the opportunity to make it a thriving company in this market place.
Lee: Most athletes don’t stay in the city from which they retire. I also interviewed your ex-Lion teammate, Ron Bartell, who stayed in his hometown to open Kuzzo’s in NW Detroit. Why did you decide to stay here?
Sims: My Dad was from South Carolina, yet we grew up in Cleveland. My father-in-law is from Alabama, yet to this day stays in Miami. This was a learned behavior that both my wife and I experienced growing up. I also believe that as a retired player your celebrity status is your best asset, and even though it fades fast, it is a competitive advantage. All that being said, my wife and I love to give back and the charities that we support need our dollars. We will earn big so we can give big.
Lee: And how do you ﬁnd the business opportunities in Detroit?
Sims: As a former athlete, if I position myself correctly and do my homework, opportunities will abound. Detroit is experiencing a rebirth that hasn’t occurred for 60 years or so. My team and I feel that we are divinely in the right place right time.
Lee: You’ve now become an entrepreneur. What are you doing and why did you decide to become involved in real estate?
Sims: Our focus is in real estate market transactions and beyond. When a new homeowner ﬁnds a realtor and next secures their mortgage and then needs a title company to complete the process, that is a connecting chain of three events, where one of our companies could have had an opportunity to earn their business. After you get your keys you will need a company to secure your loan with life insurance or protect you identity or just need someone to cut your grass. I want to own all of those companies that can help you complete your transition and secure all of your business under one umbrella. If I could own a one stop shop that saves people money and gives them peace of mind that would be ideal. Easier said than done but I’m always ready for a challenge.
Lee: We all know about the rigors of being a professional athlete, how did it prepare you for business?
Sims: Well, I tell everybody that I am retired. It couldn’t be farther from the truth. I’ve traded in my cleats for dress shoes and my pads for dress shirts. I attack everyday with the same attitude and effort I did while I was playing. If I’m not in my ofﬁce perfecting our craft then I am in other meetings with other business professionals trying to pick their brains. I truly am a workhorse, but love it this way and wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.
Lee: Are there similarities between the two–being an athlete and starting your own business?
Sims: I believe that now in business when we have adversity I can be a step above the rest. In football when I would give up a sack and 70,000 people in the stadium and the millions watching at home would know I had messed up, I didn’t have time to feel sorry for myself. I just got back in the huddle and got ready for the next play. I bring that into business, so when we are short staffed or we fail, I look at it as a sack and not losing the whole game. We just keep moving forward and learning from our mistakes. We won’t make the same mistake twice.
Lee: And what challenges have you had to overcome and what advice would you give to others?
Sims: I think that the biggest thing for me is timing. We have had such an abundance of opportunities and have had to slow down on selecting which opportunities are best for our brand. Maybe the timing wasn’t right or I wasn’t polished enough yet to take on the opportunity. These are challenges that will get better with time and patience.
Be humble enough to know you don’t have all the answers. But conﬁdent enough in yourself to go after what you think is yours.
Lee: You know I have to ask you this question. You played at Ohio State. Do you think the U-M/OSU rivalry’s back and who you like this year in November?
Sims: HAHA! This question comes up often. I would say that Michigan will have to rattle off a couple for us to say the rivalry is back, but I deﬁnitely see Michigan’s program becoming very strong very soon.
Lee: And what about the Lions this year?
Sims: I’m very optimistic about this year’s team. We are young at some spots and have the loss of Calvin Johnson. However, the new management has made some nice changes and moves and Coach Caldwell is just the best, I don’t care what anybody says. You never know until the light comes on, but I think that we have a shot to do well.
For more info, go to www.ctitleonline.com.