As former professional football players go, Eugene Profit is a bit of an outlier. While statistics show the vast majority of retired football players are under financial duress once their playing days come to an end, Profit -- who graduated from Yale with an economics degree before joining the National Football League -- is thriving, managing billions of dollars for institutional investors at his namesake firm, Profit Investment Management.
During his five-year career as a defensive back for the Washington Redskins and New England Patriots, Profit says, he always kept one eye on what his former Ivy League classmates were doing, since he knew the odds of his football career lasting long were slim. "Some were at McKenzie & Co. or Bain & Co. and then going onto business school," Profit says. "So I knew I was doing something a little bit differently. All you have to do is look at the average age of football players and you know you're going to have a lot of life left after your career."
Sports Illustrated points out that within two years of retirement, 78 percent of former NFL players have either gone bankrupt or are struggling financially because of joblessness or divorce. Many also grapple psychologically with the transition from on-field stardom to sideline "has-been," according to GamesOver.org, a web-based nonprofit organization that helps retired athletes build new lives.
But after his on-field career came to an end in 1991, due to a torn hamstring, Profit would face no such challenge. His second career began with a job as a retail broker with asset manager Legg Mason. And while Profit says he enjoyed his time as an athlete, his days at Legg Mason gave him an opportunity to dive into a passion he unearthed during his days at Yale: managing money.
A 'Real-World' Education
Profit's path to finance began during his days growing up in South Central Los Angeles, a predominantly black, working-class neighborhood. Although he was a stellar athlete in high school -- starring in football and track and field -- one of his coaches took notice of his academic strength and steered him toward Yale.
"Economics was probably the closest degree to real-world applicability, as far as I knew then," Profit says of his undergraduate studies. "I liked the idea of supply and demand and how the markets worked. I did an internship on Wall Street between my junior and senior years and wrote my college thesis on strategy and economic analysis."
As a retail broker at Legg Mason, Profit says, he was tasked with gathering assets from clients that were then packaged into mutual funds. But he didn't manage the money. So after a few years with the investment management giant, Profit decided it was time to launch his own business.
In 1996, armed with $100,000 in start-up capital that his family helped raise, he began Profit Investment Management, which is based in Silver Spring, Md. "I knew I could do registered investment advisory work with high-net-worth individuals," Profit recalls. "But in order to have a mutual fund, you have to have $100,000, and that's what we wanted to do." To help raise the funds, he designed the business to enable small investors to buy in for as little as $50 a month.
But like most start-up ventures, success did not come easily. According to Profit, margins were razor-thin over the first seven years while the firm functioned mainly as a retail operation. "It was a very expensive way to do it," he says of relying on retail investors to get his business off the ground. "But I didn't grow up with access into the stock markets, and so I thought it was important that I provided a forum where everyone could have access."