It was a Wednesday night in 1960-something and Jay Warwick was not at all interested in going to taekwondo.
“My older brother wanted to go. My mom asked if I wanted to and I said, ‘No, I don’t.’ It conflicted with my favorite TV shows. … We had ‘Lost in Space,’ ‘Wild Wild West,’” he recalled. “If I didn’t watch James West, Doctor Lovelace would have crushed him.”
Long story short — Warwick’s little brother took his place; mom signed a contract for two of her three boys; little brother hated it after a week, and Warwick was forced to go in his little brother’s stead.
A quarter-century later, Warwick would end his competitive and highly successful taekwondo career, capping his long list of athletic achievements with an Olympic bronze medal at the 1988 Seoul Games.
Warwick, who owns six HuHot Mongolian Grill restaurants in Colorado Springs and Denver, is one of three athletes who will be speaking at the Business Journal’s Power Lunch: Professionals’ Playbook event from 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. Dec. 8 at The Antlers in downtown Colorado Springs.
At the luncheon, Warwick will be joined by restaurateur and former Denver Bronco Justin Armour, as well as Carrie McKee, NCAA Women’s Basketball champion and Junior Achievement of Southern Colorado president and CEO. The trio will discuss the intersection of business and sports, and how they apply lessons learned on the playing field to their professional lives.
KEEP IT SIMPLE
In 1994, McKee was co-captain of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill National Champion women’s basketball team.
“It’s why you play the game,” she said of the championship. When McKee arrived in North Carolina as a freshman, the team was the worst in the conference.
“To build the program and a culture of winning was tremendous,” she said. “And to be in a leadership role was humbling and a great privilege.”
While in college, McKee was introduced to the then-president of the U.S. Olympic Committee and would go on to intern with the USOC.
McKee was hired by the Olympic Committee and had an opportunity to work the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.
She would eventually move from the USOC to Young Life, then to United Way and today she’s with Junior Achievement of Southern Colorado.
“I never expected to be in nonprofits because I was so competitive,” she said. “So many see nonprofits as shaking a tin cup on the corner. I may not be as focused on the bottom line, but instead I’m focused on our impact. I love being in this sector and working with business and government folks to connect their expertise with their passions.”
McKee said she still reaches for lessons learned as an elite athlete.
“When you’re in a leadership position, you become focused on goals and getting the right people on your team,” she said. “In that way, business and sports have a lot of parallels.”
McKee said anyone, not just athletes, could capitalize on the habits competitors develop to become successful.
“Keep it simple,” McKee said. “Make specific goals to work toward incrementally and have accountability. Track your outcomes. In basketball, we keep stats so we know what aspects of our game need to be adjusted. You need the same in business and nonprofits.”
WHAT’S YOUR IDENTITY?
Justin Armour is a Manitou Springs native who played football at Stanford University and as a wide receiver in the NFL. Armour played for the Super Bowl-winning 1999 Denver Broncos and then the Baltimore Ravens. Battling injuries, Armour left football and moved to Los Angeles where he worked in sales. He decided, however, the corporate world wasn’t for him. While in LA he met and married his wife and the two would eventually make it back to Armour’s Colorado hometown.
While eating out one night in 2011, the owner of the former Mission Bell restaurant on Manitou’s Crystal Park Road jokingly asked Armour if he wanted to buy it. In May of that year, the Armours bought and re-branded the eatery as Crystal Park Cantina.
“There’s a lot of crossover,” Armour told the Business Journal last year about the similarities between restaurants and football. “We have to get everyone to work together, and there’s a huge team component.”
Traits he learned as a professional athlete have also carried over to his business.
“I just don’t quit on anything,” he said. “That’s all you need in business. This business isn’t rocket science. It’s feeding people. But there are a lot of moving parts, and there are almost always problems. … It’s constant challenges, but sports are that way.”
McKee added that Colorado Springs benefits from the number of high-level athletes who retire from sports locally and then involve themselves in the business community.
“They have the basics of a strong work ethic and knowing and working toward goals,” she said. “Part of what makes the Springs an exceptional city is that atmosphere of high-level thinking, high-level performance and the understanding of the importance of collaboration and teamwork.”
It’s probably common for former elite athletes to become exceptional businesspeople, Warwick said, due to their intense commitment.
“If you’re going to be a successful athlete, it has to be your identity,” he said. “You have to be an athlete 24/7. Your identity as a business person doesn’t change that. You just convert those skill sets that are applicable to almost anything.
“That’s probably why a lot of successful business people are good athletes,” Warwick added. “They know how to set goals. They know how to be disciplined. They know how to focus on the important things.”