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P&C Podcast: Preparing for Success Beyond the Game with Guest Kevin Carr

By Alliant

Joe Charles, Alliant Sports and Entertainment, welcomes Kevin Carr, an accomplished author, professor, CEO and former NBA executive. Kevin dives into working with athletes, personal development and the challenges young athletes face in the sports industry including Name Image and Likeness (NIL). He highlights the importance of athletes being more than just talent on the field and preparing for life beyond sports.

Intro (00:00):
You're listening to the Alliant Insurance Podcast dedicated to insurance and risk management solutions and trends shaping the market today.

Joe Charles (00:09):
Welcome back. I'm your host, Joe Charles, and with me today is author, professor, CEO and my good friend, Kevin Carr. Welcome to the podcast, Kevin.

Kevin Carr (00:20):
Thanks for having me. Pleasure and an honor to be on your podcast. You are moving up in the world, podcast man, come on. It never stops with you.

Joe Charles (00:30):
I appreciate those kind words. Thank you so much for the support as always. I was just thinking back to when we met and I think we met around 2003, 2004. We've known each other for a very long time. When you and I initially met, you were working for the NBA. I believe you were running the NBA D League at the time.

Kevin Carr (0:53):
The NBA, first of all, phenomenal organization to work for. It was a dream come true for me. I actually was born in Connecticut, just literally, transitioned all over the place and ended up back in New York for a professional career. I'd like to thank you, Joe. You're actually one of the first persons that really broke me in on New York. I was literally coming from the South then Midwest. I had worked at two Power Five conferences and got the chance to work with the league, certainly, the NBA G league was a brand new concept. People know it as the NBA G League now, but it was the D League back then and essentially it was the first minor league for the NBA and I got a chance to be one of the first executives to come on. It was about 12 of us, who imagine, starting a brand new league, never been done before in the history of the NBA. You had former Commissioner David Stern saying, "We're going to have this league and we're going to have the second best basketball in the world, and these are the people who get to do it." And David behind the scenes is like, "Hey, this is my baby, don't mess it up." And David Stern, he means that when he says that. So, a chance to start and make history. That's what we did. We literally took something from nothing. Probably one of the best startup sports businesses that I got a chance to do.

Joe Charles (02:17):
Tell me a little bit about your background before you worked at the NBA. You mentioned that you worked for a few Power Fives.

Kevin Carr (02:25):
I got into the business because of my older brother, not to be presumptuous, but my brother was an extremely talented two-sport athlete. Played football and was a champion wrestler, third best in the state of Florida. He was phenomenal. Got recruited by everybody as a little kid, we had everybody come to the house: Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, Michigan, Ohio State. And I'm watching all these coaches come out with my brother and he had been knocking himself out and he really did a great job getting recruited. So, it inspired me to one day go to college. But something happened along the way and unfortunately, he didn't last two years. He had gotten injured and he couldn't come back twice from an injury and it challenged him so much that he got tied up in the system where he didn't know how to ask for help. Being a first-generation college student, my mom really didn't know what to do for him as well and obviously, I was younger so I didn't know and nobody knew. So, he got a little twisted in the system and unfortunately, he ended up back home because he didn't get reinstated. And he actually was challenged by depression and other things that he lost his identity, the thing he loved the most. Football was taken away and something about that got me started in the development of athletes, seeing my own family member struggle. I said, "I'm going to help guys like my brother." I literally went to school thinking I could do something in that space. Very fortunate to get my bachelor's and master's and before I even graduated from Florida State, it was almost like I was avenging him. They offered me a full-time job in athletics as Athletic Academic Advisor for student athletes and that's where I started in the ACC conference. Didn't start at the top; I advised tennis, golf, track and cross country, learned those sports very well. We were able to work with athletes and basketball like Sam Cassell, Bob Sura, Charlie Ward, Douglas Edwards and they went to Elite Eight led by Pat Kennedy.

On the other side, we got a chance to work on football with Bobby Bowden, legendary hall of fame coach, and had an incredible run with Ward Dunn, Charlie Ward, William Floyd, Peter Warrick, all those guys who were extremely talented athletes and they won the national championships. So, in my first year at Florida State, Elite Eight, national championship and then we go on this incredible run for years being no less than one or two games lost. So, it was a phenomenal chance at Florida State and I actually was bestowed one of the championship rings. I'm probably one of the few people you'll know, Joe, that has championship rings wherever I work, with the exception NBA cause I worked for the league office. But I left Florida State, recruited with a private firm. So, I started my first startup with a company called INROADS. They developed and placed people in business and industry. I thought I wanted to be a businessman, I'm not sure sports was going to stay. And then I found out within a year I really wanted to get back to sports, kept my network, kept fresh contacts, and people have been calling me to come back and I went back. I got on with Michigan State, got a chance to work with Nick Saban, hall of famer, coach. And just really got a good sense of how to build successful cultures of environments for athletes winning on and off the field. My job was really to develop all the success strategies they needed to have the best winning chance to balance themselves beyond the game. I let the coaches coach but in my domain was like, "How do I set up success environments where they can be great personally, great in their careers, great in community, great in academics and in leadership?" So yeah, the colleges big team, the Big 10 and the ACC were phenomenal experiences. It was much warmer living in Florida and I froze my tail off in Michigan State but helped me learn how to live in different cultures and environments.

Joe Charles (06:34):
Wow. Sounds like you've accomplished a lot of things and you had a lot of success. Very excited and proud to call you my friend. I've seen you in so many different levels, so many different capacities. So, after you left the NBA you started your own firm PRO2CEO. Talk to me a little bit about that.

Kevin Carr (06:55):
Yeah, I mean obviously, it's an honor to get called by the NBA and come to work for them, start the G league and then move into a vice president role. I was the first vice president of social responsibility and player program in the league office. And for me, that single-parent raised and certainly first-generation college, that's huge for our family. But when you're at a league office and you're in such a high performing environment, athletes are elite, the administrators and executives are elite, the agencies you work with, you're working with some of the best brands in the world. You're creating programs like NBA Cares, and you're involved in changing major things like the dress code, and you're involved in lockouts and stuff like that. All of that is huge. Sometimes you do miss some of the things that normal people get to do. Like, people don't know when you want to watch a game at Christmas and Thanksgiving and spring break, we're working. It's not a sympathy thing, it's just the reality of the business and when the season is over, it's not over. You're recruiting for the next group. So, you're in combine mode, and you're recruiting, and talking to every kid and parent and coach about the next class coming in. So, as soon as the season kind of plateaus and the playoffs go, you go a whole other level in pursuit. And the NBA's trying to recruit 2,000 kids to get down to 60 for the draft, and you go right from draft to summer league to global games to pre-season training, then training camp, then you're right back in regular season. So, 14 years of that I felt like I had missed growing up, a few of my children. So, leaving the league wasn't like I didn't like it there, it was just, there was some things I could not control that I want. I wanted to be a little bit more present with my family and be more present in terms of who I was going to be next.

So, writing 14 strong chapters at the NBA wasn't a bad deal for a kid who never had anybody before him write that story. And for me, starting a business was very frightening. But I knew I had good relationships and really good capital in terms of exposure, access, networking, influence. I just bet on myself, man, and my wife said, "Hey let's move back and figure this thing out." So, we moved, started PRO2CEO and it's literally it's mission. We make pros, I would say into CEOs, and we help people understand how to be the CEO of not only a next step in their career, but of their lives. So, transition as a high school or if you want to transition from college to pro or you want to transition from pro to business world, and you don't have to be an athlete always. We work with some really great executives as well and becoming their own version of entrepreneurs. So, just when you think you leave the NBA, you can't really do better than that, PRO2CEO's delivered a hundred times over on some of the things I've been able to do now with my life. And not to say I would never consider working in a team environment or a business environment again, but so far my wildest dreams have been met and exceeded. And I really enjoy getting to work with people like yourself cause you actually have helped me with a second business, and you've helped my clients build their businesses and protect their businesses. Some of the things I get to do now certainly have encompassed tying in the cool initiatives with really great people but also building strong structures behind those so they're well positioned to succeed in their second act or third act.

Joe Charles (10:45):
I know it's very challenging working with athletes as they try to figure out what they're going to be doing next when the ball stops bouncing or they’re no longer running the field. They're thinking about, my career's over, what am I going to do next? And you're the perfect guy to help them segue into their next part of their journey. Kudos to you. I know you've worked with a lot of players, you've worked with a lot of teams, colleges. I'm happy to see that you're keeping this great legacy going. I know you wrote a few books, one in particular that stands out is The ERs.

Kevin Carr (11:22):
Yeah. Funny name right? Yeah. So, The ERs really came about from me working at the NBA. People say I can't write a book, I can't possibly write a book. It can come. I'm living proof. You can write several books. I've got another one coming out soon. This one I was in a team meeting and I heard somebody say, "Don't be a blamer, be a doer." And I said, "Hmm," I wrote that down. And I had always seen the environments for success, this - I'm putting a little bit of my professor hat on - is environments that are hyper successful. People are able to assess themselves and they're able to assess everything around them to figure out how to connect the dots and make the pieces work together. And with that, I wanted to write a book that kind of approached dysfunction and turned dysfunctional emotions into functional emotions, so people don't get in the way of their own emotions and prevent success. So, The ERs was a cool, quirky, fun way to come up with four characters and they all kind of converged around this newbie guy named Eric, the newcomer in the book. And he has to navigate his way through these four ERs and get to the top of his career. We got to get the book to get the rest but I will tell you it's colorful, animated. We use the animation cause we thought adults still need to have fun at work. We're able to train people and go all over the country. We've done it with the best NBA teams, NFL teams, we've done it with conferences, we've done it with nonprofits, we even did it with police officers and fire chiefs. We've done it, we're everywhere. So, we're pleased after so many years that the book is the gift that keeps giving. We use it in training and now we've developed stuff that even the lay person can say, "Hey, my name is so and so and I'm your trainer for the ERs." So, thanks for asking. It's one of my works that I started before I left and then when I pushed myself out there I had to get something going. That was my first true piece that I leaned hard in my business. It proved itself right, was still thriving with one of those, with that early product. So, thanks for asking. That's cool.

Joe Charles (13:35):
No, I appreciate you sharing that. So, I know you have a lot of stories, you've experienced a lot of things working with a lot of athletes and coaches and teams. Are there any interesting stories that you could share with our audience?

Kevin Carr (13:49):
Yeah, I got a chance earlier to work with LeBron James and it was when he was in high school. He was in the McDonald's All American Game and we were given the opportunity to train the young men in decision-making goal setting. He was in my class, and we did an activity that says write on a three by five card, how do you plan to use basketball? And I can remember to this day - I wish I still had the card - he says, "I'm going to use basketball and not let basketball just use me." That statement right there, knowing how he is and seeing his career and actually having had a chance to work with him. I was the player development rep for the league office when he was at Cleveland. To see him go from high school, early years, and then his second stint at Cleveland, I was able to sort of have some time there and to see the maturity from there to there, his trajectory was certainly super high. And people say, "Is he the real deal?" I can tell you back then there was definitely a way about him that let us know as professionals working that we have a unique individual right here. This guy is certainly talking and thinking differently than what we've seen in maturity; he was way beyond what we could see a 17-year-old at the time. So, we knew he was quite special. But that right there, signifies that right now he's a first current billionaire athlete and still able to play. So, he certainly used basketball, in his words, and not let it just use him. So, that's one I like to let young people know, talent isn't just enough, you have to have more going for you. And I think that's what he was trying to say, "I'm going to have more going for me and not just be a basketball player." And I think that personifies how we're seeing today's athletes even be more business savvy and more engaged. That's one that I tend to think about very early seeing somebody do something special and then take it to a whole other level.

Joe Charles (16:04):
Yeah, that's pretty interesting. See, I met LeBron when he was named Rookie of the Year and there was an event, his agent at the time invited me to, and he introduced me to LeBron. And the maturity level that I saw in him in five minutes that we spoke, I felt like I was talking to someone who was a seasoned vet, the way he carried himself. He wasn't your typical 18-year-old. I wanted to also find out, so what are some of the challenges that you see in the sports industry as a whole?

Kevin Carr (16:40):
For me, I think one of the things that's continuing to be an area is just really trying to keep the integrity of the business there. I think there's so many people wanting to get in and do anything to be part of it. It's changing the sport and the values of it. As long as we can continue to have a pure game, sports can continue to be successful. But some of the practices behind the scenes, you may hear of people doing this and that, that hurts the sports. And I think just the level of truth and professionalism and integrity, I think we're losing a little bit there. The other thing changing is I think the name, image and likeness is certainly one in which, on the collegiate level, it's the single biggest disruptor that we've seen. When I started PRO2CEO, I meant for the person to be the CEO of their life and to really understand as an athlete that there's more than just playing. You have to learn how to assess, you have to learn how to forecast, you have to learn how to read and really analyze where you play a role beyond just your playing role. How do you manage the people around you? How do you manage your money? How do you manage your ability to have skill sets that help you be a better professional? Talking, writing, managing your social media, not you personally, but how do you get ahold of your enterprise so it does well? And we saw that very early in PRO2CEO. We've always been on campuses saying that you have to be more than just a student and an athlete, you have to manage.

So, now for it to come to fruition where student-athletes are now having to own their brand and have to protect their brand and to manage that, we were right. We're seeing an athlete who has to be much more savvier today than he was 10 years ago, 20 years ago, even two years ago. And we felt that we are positioned well to continue to help and be a leader in this space. My background experience from colleges to pros really positions us well. But at the same time, the athletes themselves are taking on a new responsibility and they're going to have to protect themselves. So, I think we're going to see turbulence still before we get to some smooth air. It's going to continue to be an area that we're going to have to watch out for. So, there's some huge implications. My interest is always on that when it's over, how well will these student athletes be in college and pro levels, will they be that much better? I think it is a wakeup call to teach more business now and to be prepared. So, I think there's some good things that can come out that, we should be using NIL for education. It's going to be interesting with the name, image and likeness, and I think that's changing sports in itself. We're even questioning whether there'll be a better pro athlete after you leave college now or leave high school. If you get early deals, will you be as hungry, as they say, to get to the next level if you're already kind of got a nice situation. So, we'll see how those play out. But those are some of the things I think about, Joe.

Joe Charles (20:04):
Those are very valid points. One of the things that I've seen and I've done a little research on is some of the NIL deals that are out there. There's so many people that claim they're experts in the space and I don't know if that's true. You don't know who to believe. I know that there are potential implications for a kid who gets NIL deal and a lot of them are not thinking about, "okay I need to pay taxes on this money that I just received from this company or this corporation." And they're not prepared. Schools are getting involved but a lot of them are trying to figure it out as well. So, it seems like kind of the wild wild west and it's uncharted territory.

Kevin Carr (20:44):
When you ask what's changing in some of the more important things, that right there, implications for the entire spectrum of collegiate sports. You might see kids and their parents or their organizations going to bankruptcy cause they didn't do what they needed to do or have to file for problems because of tax evasion. I'm hoping that is not the case; there's a lot of fine schools doing a lot of great work and trying to prevent that. So, it's going to be interesting though. I do think all in all student athletes, for their time and effort, should own part of having their name, image and likeness under their control and discretion to use it however they see fit, cause it is them. So, there should be a partnership in that and there should be some more revenue sharing. So, I do believe that's where we are and we'll see how it unfolds. Very good question though.

Joe Charles (21:36):
Yeah, that is something that you can go into different water coolers and you'll hear a different perspective in the office or wherever you are. People have their opinions. What I was thinking, is with a lot of these athletes, what advice would you give a young athlete who's trying to be a top level athlete? Always tough with family balance, there's physical demands on their bodies, training and preparation, the mental part of getting themselves to a high, high level. What advice would you offer to a young athlete who has the potential to play division one sports or better yet, become a pro?

Kevin Carr (22:19):
I would say like anything that is good and exciting and has lots of upside to it, there's always going to be an end to it. So, know that you're on the clock as you are excelling and doing sports and you're trying to get to a high level. At some point it will have to end and the in between, that is where, I believe, we got to get better. There are a lot of people on the front end of this thing Joe, and there's people going through it. But when you get towards the end, people are leaving you and that's when you need help as well. So, for the athlete I would say you can solve that by owning more of the journey by being the CEO of the space that you're in. Be a better communicator. Learn how to not shy away from talking to kids, to adults. Cause if you become an elite athlete contractually you will be obligated, at least in the NBA, they require you to speak and have appearances. So, that's a fundamental aspect of your job. And speaking and talking is a fundamental aspect of life. Other aspects are just being able to build alliances and knowing how to use your relationships and being able to leverage. I think athletes are coming through, people say, "I got you, I'll take care of you, I got you man, don't worry about it." And you lose the ability to have the perception to even say, "No, I want to meet this person, I want to shake their hand, I want to have a two-way conversation." And not just, you step in and talk for me, and then you give me soundbites of what you think is best for me. I think athletes should never lose the ability to want to have some levels of interface in the beginning, middle and end of their career. So, they know what it's like to be in real deal-making situations, negotiation, relationship building, how to have a rapport and be diplomatic, or when you have an issue and you have a conflict, how do you work through those? That's real life skills there and you got to know what else is there out there for you.

When I was at the NBA, trying to make sure I have balance and I think that's part of it. When you're going through and having these high-level jobs, it's hard to find a balance and still be a good husband if you're married, a wife, be a good son, brother, friend. It's hard cause the ride is hard and fast and swift, and you’re on such a trajectory and you want to keep up that cause you know it doesn't last long, but in saying that, it doesn't last. So, you want to always be prepared with the duality mentality of what else can I be doing? What else do I endure? And while I was at the NBA I had a second computer and I would type and instead of sometimes go to the bar and hang out after and have drinks, I'd go to my room and I'd work on The ERs, or I'd work on the other book I had or I'd look at how people build brands and how people were building their websites. I was kind of a little weird dude in the sense, but I knew I had to have something ready one day when that day came. And I can tell you it's hard to leave the NBA. I think I even talked with you before I left and said, "Hey Joe, I'm thinking about this." And a lot of people, not you, but a lot of people like, "Man you crazy to leave that." But I knew at some point I would and it just was in me to be able to do that. So, I think the advice I'm saying is have a duality mentality. Lock in some skills that you know you need being an athlete but for life and then everything to realize that you're in a profession that's very short, it doesn't last forever. So, have some things going for yourself. That's what I would say, man. And do it to your fullest cause when it's over you don't want any regrets.

Joe Charles (26:20):
I think you just offered tremendous advice for a young athlete. And I've seen this so many times, I've seen this movie. A lot of young athletes, they're not prepared cause they didn't invest in themselves. No one was giving them real advice. I think a lot of people are only involved for the short game instead of helping to prepare the young athletes. So, how can PRO2CEO help a lot of these young athletes?

Kevin Carr (26:49):
What we try to do is just be very clear that we see you. We see you as a leader, not just as an athlete. We see you as owning something, managing something, leading some aspect of your life. So, if you'd like to leave and work with kids, do that one day. So, we try to make people very clear on what your possibilities are and we build models and programs and support systems that allow us to do that. Right now, we're working with extremely elite athletes and not only just them, their parents, working with their representations, their agencies, if we need to, working with the league and building out programs. So, I would say if there's a young athlete who's looking to really be super serious about his or her focus and where they're going, we produce things like the PRO2CEO report that is out there. And it shows you athletes who have gone through what you're trying to do as a young athlete and how they landed and they've had success. We've done one, if you're a baseball player, go look at where these baseball players who made it and they're done now, where did they land and what are they doing to stay fulfilled and challenged? I would say we're at PRO2CEO, we're not going to just be your biggest fan supporting you in sport, we're going to challenge you to be successful in something else cause we know that makes a better athlete. We've done some research that says the athlete who's busy knows what he or she wants besides the game. Game lets you down. Joe, you know what it's like to take an L and then buy the Ls in a row. That sends an athlete in a depression. But if you have some other outlets and other things going for you, it's not so hard when you have those down periods. And that's where we're saying build yourself to be more than just talent on the court, or on the field or on the diamond. Do you want to be developing talent for yourself and fulfillment for yourself so you can make it? So, those are things that I think about how we can help.

Joe Charles (29:05):
You guys start the communication on a grassroots level, which I think is important cause these kids are so talented and they're being scouted at an early age. People are paying attention, they're being ranked. So, it's good that you guys are a tool and a resource for the families and the athletes.

Kevin Carr (29:25):
Absolutely. And I like to think that in coaching parents, one of the things I try to do is, I really want your parents listening who have young student-athletes, what can I do, what should I do? If you have a little Johnny or Susie who's knocking it out of the park, baseball-wise, and you see something in them and you want to keep providing and making sure they have the best of the best. Here's one thing for you, the parent, don't ever forget that they need mom and dad. They have plenty of coaches, people screaming at them, telling them what they need to do to be a better athlete. But there's one thing that you can own as a mom and dad, and that's still to be mom and dad. So, they have a refuge and a place to go where they can have support and be available for their son or daughter when the grades aren't good, when their relationships aren't good, when they're injured and they need a voice that says "Hey, you might want to take it easy." Wherever that is don't lose that touch with your son or daughter.

Joe Charles (30:29):
I was just thinking about that. That must be challenging if you're a kid’s coach, and then you have to take off the coach's hat and then be a parent if they have a bad game. It's tough conversations sometimes, but you got to be able to balance it, right? So, how do you see Alliant helping out with some of your clients?

Kevin Carr (30:50):
Well, a lot of our clients tend to want to venture into things and where I've been able to use you as a talented person to help us, is really help us assess our needs around risk. It's a huge, huge challenge to start a business. We've done this before actually where we helped somebody have a business and structured up some protections for them that they weren't aware they needed and they actually couldn't start their business without them. So, you have been real helpful in doing that. And anytime I have needs, whether it be from the home to the cars, to at least giving them a second opinion, if they've already got somebody as well, you've been able to do that. So, I think for us it's always been having a trusted relationship with someone I know I can trust and really help us. Help the client really get the protections that he or she needs to shore up and stand up a business or at least protect their assets. And give them better coverage and give them, even in some cases, maybe even save them some resources on terms of money and be more efficient in the service delivery. Cause efficiency and service is huge and this you want to be able to reach your person and talk to their person. We've never had that issue where I couldn't reach you. So, I would say even in my own second business, you were innovative during COVID; how do we do this when I can't talk to or see you every day or whatever? You were able to really structure up a really unique business and you were the first in the country to help us figure out how to do that. And that had nothing to do with PRO2CEO, that was a separate entity.

Joe Charles (32:45):
I've told you this many times, it's a pleasure, it's an honor to be working with you and your clients. I just want to make sure that they're protected, they're able to sleep at night, you're able to sleep at night and putting together a solid risk management strategy. What I've seen over the years is that a lot of young players, they'll have their mothers help with their insurance, they'll have their girlfriends, their brothers. The worst thing you can do is have a non-professional try to put together a risk management strategy. Cause a lot of times they're just looking at cost, price; they're getting the least amount of coverage possible. And then in the event of an auto accident, then they realize that they're grossly under insured. So, I'm very excited when we get a chance to give a young athlete and his parents, his agents, some insurance recommendations.

Kevin Carr (33:39):
Yeah, oftentimes it's their first time, a lot of them. And you got to have somebody who's experienced to know how to guide him through that and you've been able to do that.

Joe Charles (33:48):
Well Kevin, I really appreciate your time today. It's been awesome having you as a guest on the Alliant podcast. If anyone wants to contact you for your services or your expertise, what is the best way to get in contact with you?

Kevin Carr (34:04):
We operate real super easy,, there's a button on there, contact us. We also can have direct messages on most of the social media platforms. We even have our YouTube channel where you can come and hear and learn a lot of professional development aspects and even angles that have to do with entrepreneurship. We're everywhere, to some degree.

Joe Charles (34:29):
Well, once again, I'm Joe Charles and for more information, visit us at I'd like to wish everyone an awesome day.


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