Big Business with Big George

UPDATED: February 3, 2009
PUBLISHED: February 3, 2009

George Foreman has three fundamentals of business success: selling, integrity, and “the shotgun tactic.” Over a lifetime, Foreman has created the kind of well-rounded success that most people dream of. He is a profitable businessman, a community leader, a husband and a father. His life is full, but more importantly to Foreman, his life is meaningful.

With nearly 100 million George Foreman Grills sold since 1995, Foreman
has had enormous influence in the wellness industry. He is also one of the
highest-paid and most recognized celebrity endorsers in the world.

In 1999, Foreman signed a $137.5 million deal with Salton Inc. (recently
merged with Applica Incorporated), entitling the grill manufacturer to
global, unrestricted use of Foreman’s name in marketing the Lean, Mean,
Fat-Reducing Grilling Machine and related products. The deal made Michael
Jordan’s $40 million deal with Nike look small by comparison.

Before his endorsement of the grills, Foreman made business deals based
primarily on a desire for income. “I was so successful,” he says. “All the
ads I had done for sausages, you name it, [I was] mainly thinking about
money. But then I went into the grill business.” He took the grills all over the
country, making personal appearances and boosting sales. “I was meeting
people who would say, ‘The doctor told me to get a George!’ I’m like, what
are they talking about? Get a George?” He realized his product was
making a difference in people’s health, and his perspective changed.
“From that point on, you know, I can never go back to what I used to
do where I just sell and sell,” he says. “Now everything I do has to be
connected to something healthy.”


The Importance of Selling
Of course, Foreman’s business success started with his success as
an athlete. Born in 1949 in Marshall, Texas, Foreman, nicknamed “Big
George,” was one of seven children in a struggling home. By the time he was
15, he was a street thug and mugger in Houston’s dangerous 5th Ward. His life
changed when he left for California to join the Job Corps and was introduced
to the discipline of boxing. In 1968, Foreman won the Olympic Gold medal in
Mexico City, in only his 25th amateur fight. A world champion was born.

Within a few years of turning professional, Foreman’s record was 37
wins—most by knockout—and no losses. In 1973, he defeated Joe Frazier
to become heavyweight champion of the world. Despite his fame, he maintained
a cold distance from the public, and his surly demeanor earned him
occasional boos in the ring. He defended his title twice before losing it to
Muhammad Ali in the “Rumble in the Jungle” in 1974.

A few years later, Foreman announced what he thought was his retirement.
A religious awakening led him to pursue a life in the church. He didn’t
know at the time that the seeds of his business success lay in these days of
personal transformation.

“It started because I left boxing in 1977 and worked in evangelism at a
church in Marshall,” he says. Foreman had made a fortune in boxing, but
now turned his attention fully to his faith. “I spent all my time preaching
with lots of money. Lots of money.” But he didn’t preach like a rich man. He
spent countless nights out on the streets of Houston, in all weather.
Just as in his boxing career, he was relentless.

He also made good on a personal pledge to help at-risk youth,
just as he had been helped during his early days as a teenage thug.
After he joined the Job Corps, a counselor saw young George’s
potential and got him involved in boxing, possibly saving him
from a life of crime or jail or worse. Foreman wanted to provide the
same kind of opportunities for young people and in 1984 founded
The George Foreman Youth & Community Center, which offers
scholastic and athletic activities including, of course, boxing.

But 10 years after he left boxing, he says he looked up and was
on the verge of bankruptcy. “I had to go back into boxing for our
survival, to feed my family.” Fortunately, his years spent preaching
on the streets of Houston had taught him valuable lessons that
would carry him into a second career as a businessman. “What
I found was the 10 years I was out of boxing, I was preaching on
the street corner and I’d make people stop. They didn’t know me,”
he says, “the old George with an afro and all that. So I realized I
could stop these people, who are always headed somewhere, for
a second and sell my message. That’s what I learned to do on the
street corner.”

He tried applying his newfound skills in the boxing world. “So I
went back to boxing trying to sell the old George Foreman heavyweight
champion of the world,” he says. “Nobody wanted to buy
it, though.” Foreman was 38 when he returned to the ring, a tough
sell for any athletic comeback. But the man in front of the camera
this time wasn’t cool or removed. He had a gentleness about him
that contrasted his toughness in the ring, and that appealed to
the public.

“In time, I learned the importance of selling,” he says. Foreman
realized he had power outside the ring to influence how people
viewed him. In 1994, at the age of 44, Foreman reclaimed the
heavyweight title. “That’s when people started to say, ‘This guy
can sell himself. Let’s let him sell Doritos or Kentucky Fried or
McDonald’s.’ ” And sell, he did. In addition to promoting these
companies, Foreman became the spokesman for Meineke Car Care
Centers. The boxer and preacher was now an advertiser’s dream
come true.

But he says his athletic ability was less a factor in his business
success than his selling skills. “If you learn to sell, it’s worth
more than a degree,” he says.” It’s worth more than the heavyweight
championship of the world. It’s even more important than
having a million dollars in the bank. Learn to sell and you’ll
never starve.”

Integrity: His Greatest Asset
“The greatest asset, even in this country, is not oil and gas,”
Foreman says. “It’s integrity. Everyone is searching for it, asking,
‘Who can I do business with that I can trust?’ ”

By 1994, Foreman’s life was again on the upswing. When he took
the opportunity to endorse what is now the George Foreman Lean,
Mean, Fat-Reducing Grilling Machine, he found a new drive to
help people improve their lives by improving their health. Now he
won’t settle for anything less when it comes to endorsements. “One
of the biggest things is to fight,” he says. “Just don’t go absolutely
for the buck.”

Foreman learned after his fi rst retirement that to go back into
boxing he had to protect the brand of George Foreman. “So now
I understand you must preserve the quality of your name, your
integrity,” he says. “You don’t want to lie about anything. And it’s
something that people will be happy about once they get to know
you. Because people count on you. You know, a contract you can
easily break. I’ve found in business, everyone signs a contract to
make a business deal, and they always leave a loophole so they can
break them.

Foreman says people with integrity are in high demand. “There
are a lot of guys who are successful, they make a lot of big money,
I mean millions overnight with a contract, and they don’t understand
the evaporation. It evaporates. You’re always back to square
one. I found that out, so integrity is how I do business. That’s my
main asset.”

This attitude is one he intends to impart to his kids. He has
10 children—five with his current wife, Mary “Joan” Martelly.
George III, nicknamed “Monk,” is Foreman’s business manager.
“Your children are looking at exactly what you do,” he says. “You’ve
got to believe in something. And you’ve got a line that you can’t
cross. I point this out.

“I’ll give you an example. I had the opportunity to go into the
restaurant business. A chain of restaurants, the George Foreman
restaurants. And it was an opportunity right out to make lots of
money.” But Foreman is opposed to selling liquor in his establishments,
in accordance with his religious beliefs. “And they said,
‘Well, this is what will make more profi ts. You can just donate them
to charity.’ I said, ‘No, I can’t do that.’ And my sons, who were in
business with me, watching me put this deal together, they could
not understand it. They just couldn’t understand. Not to say that
they have to have the same feelings I have about things. But at least
have something you believe in and you cannot be talked out of by
dollars and cents. And that’s what I try to pass on.”

The Old Shotgun Tactic
Foreman is approached by hundreds of potential business
partners every year. He reviews offers daily with George III, and
asks for input from his wife and children before he signs a deal.
So how does he choose from all the opportunities he sees? “I call
it the old shotgun tactic,” he says. “My grandfather used to go out
hunting during the days of the Depression. The good shooters, the
marksmen, shot with one shell.” But during the Great Depression,
you couldn’t put all your bets on one bullet because those bullets
were expensive. “If you missed the squirrel,
so to speak, you don’t have anything but an
excuse on the table,” Foreman says. “But if you
buy these cheap shots, which are buckshots,
they scatter. You come back in with a squirrel.
Although you got a lot of buckshot in it, you
got a decent meal on the table.

“So now I use the same thing, although
you’ve got to be selective because you have a
name to protect.” Foreman believes that one of
the many opportunities he investigates will hit
it big. “You know you put out a lot of buckshot,
you’re going to strike one,” he says. “You’ve got
to start out early in the morning and look at
hundreds, literally hundreds of things, looking
for that quality. And it may take a year, it may
take three or four years, but you’re going to hit
something so you have something to put on the
table for your family.”

Foreman’s company, George
Foreman Enterprises, consistently
strikes new deals for
products and services that
meet Foreman’s requirements
of being high-quality
and beneficial to the
consumer. He has lent
his name to a line of
clothing for big and
t a l l men sold by
Casual Male and
endorsed a new
brand of shoes
for diabetics by
InStride as well
as a health-food
restaurant chain
called UFood Grill.

“And then we have the
green cleaning products,
which I’ve been working
on for a couple years,”
he says. “We finally got it
absolutely, totally biodegradable.”
He hopes that
using biodegradable products,
like George Foreman’s
Knock-Out Household
Cleaning System, will help
preserve the land for his
grandchildren. His other hope is that the established cleaning-product
manufacturers will follow suit. “This is going to be so good it’s going to make
the big companies jealous, and they’re going to outdo me. And I still win,”
he says. “I still win. Because it makes the planet much better.”

But it doesn’t end there. Through Foreman’s Web site, visitors can
purchase cookbooks, memoirs and autographed boxing gloves. His 10
books, three of which were published by Thomas Nelson in the last two
years, offer inspirational insights into life, comebacks and fatherhood.
And then there are the grills. The newest version, the 360 Grill, is selling
well and is one of several George Foreman brand small kitchen appliances,
including the Lean Mean Fryer for reduced-fat frying and the Grill & Roast for
convection cooking.

He’s also become a star of the small screen; his reality series Family Foreman
starring him and his family debuted in 2008 on the cable channel TV Land, and
an ABC sitcom starring Foreman ran for nine episodes in 1993-94.

Foreman has succeeded in creating more than a brand. He has created a
relationship with consumers based on integrity and a gift for making the sale.
This relationship allows him to transfer his brand to a wide range of products and
succeed in staying diversified. “The bottom line is, you make a decision you’ll be able
to sleep with, wake up the next day, look in the mirror and feel good about yourself,”
Foreman says.

“You want to leave something, you really do,” he says. “I mean, in the end, statues
and all those things, that doesn’t mean anything. Leave something that we’re all
going to benefit from. I think that’s what I’d like to do.

Amy Anderson is the former senior editor of SUCCESS magazine, an Emmy Award-winning writer and founder of Anderson Content Consulting. She helps experts, coaches, consultants and entrepreneurs to discover their truth, write with confidence, and share their stories so they can transform their past into hope for others. Learn more at and on Facebook.