Former NFL Defensive End Helps Athletes with Their Financial Game Plans

After an 11-year career in the NFL, defensive end Patrick Kerney ’12 tackles a new goal: working in finance.

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When Patrick Kerney ’12 stepped off the football field on January 3, 2010, it was the end of an NFL career spanning more than a decade. It was also the beginning of Kerney’s transition to the business world.

A defensive end, Kerney played eight years with the Atlanta Falcons and three with the Seattle Seahawks. Though multiple injuries pushed him to take his talents off the field, the pro was far from ready to retire.

Kerney retired as a player in early 2010 and started at Columbia Business School that August. “I had decades of competition left in my blood,” Kerney says of his choice to get an MBA. That drive led him to a job in the NFL office overseeing player benefits and creating the Personal Finance Boot Camp for current and former NFL players and their spouses. He later worked as a money manager at an investment firm, and most recently, started his own insurance company.

Read on to see how Kerney transitioned from sports to money management, why he chose Columbia Business School, and what lessons he thinks every pro athlete should learn about money.

Did you always know you wanted to be a professional athlete? Or work in business? Or both?

If you had told me it was even an option to be a professional athlete, yes, I would have said I always dreamed of being a professional athlete. But I never even dreamed it to be a possibility. As much as I loved playing sports, I thought that even with my greatest efforts that level of competition wasn't for me. I certainly wasn’t the fifth-grader every coach is drooling over to get on their Pop Warner team, saying, “This kid is a future NFL player.”

As for business, I wasn’t sure. I think like a lot of college kids I wanted to go into finance, but didn’t really know what that meant. I just knew that it was a competitive industry that would keep me on my toes. It was something I wanted, and even though I ended up going into the NFL, I always kept an eye on an opportunity in finance because frankly, my NFL career didn’t start off with a boom. I thought I’d be applying to jobs sooner than I’d hoped.

What made you choose Columbia for your MBA?

A lot of my informal business education came from studying up on Warren Buffett, MS ’51. Columbia is the epicenter of value investing and it’s hard to study Buffett and not become a huge fan of Columbia. I wanted to follow in his footsteps.

Are there any lessons you learned while at Columbia that you reference today?

Countless. I know professors use the term “You’re going to be drinking from a fire hose,” and that’s exactly what it felt like — especially when my 11 years prior wasn’t terribly applicable compared to some of my classmates who had majored in finance and worked in investment banking for a couple of years. I felt like I was drowning at the time but here I am six years later still drawing on lessons I learned then. It was incredible to witness the reprogramming of my brain, if you will.

One of the best measures for me was the speed at which I could go through a copy of the Wall Street Journal before and after attending CBS. Before, it would take me maybe an hour, and I had no idea what I was looking for. After, I could flip through it in about four minutes, know exactly what I was looking for and really understand how to draw value from it.

What did you do after graduating from Columbia?

I started my own shop where I was doing consulting presentations for NFL teams, similar to the ones I had once attended. I ended up aligning with the NFL and that led me to a full-time position at the NFL office.

I was overseeing benefits and was also charged with creating a personal finance boot camp. I had gone into the NFL office and said, “So long as there is some level of fiscal discipline, 100 percent of our players should have a surplus to manage.” I worked with the NFL on creating programs to educate the players. It is going into its fifth year now and I still teach and stay involved, though I’ve since left my role there.

Why do you feel it’s so important that personal finance resources are available to pro athletes?

It’s funny, probably one of the biggest pieces of advice I give is a formula I learned in my entrepreneurship class at Columbia. “Trust equals intimacy times credibility squared, divided by risk of future outcome.” When I ask athletes, “Why did you trust that guy who defrauded you?” The answer is always “Man, you just know in your heart.” That equation can get players to understand that it doesn’t matter if a person is your uncle or your best friend or how well you know them, if they don’t have the credibility you should not trust them with your finances.

Where did you go after working for the NFL?

I left the NFL in 2015 and joined NFC Investments, a Memphis-based investment firm that I had already been working with as a client for years. During my time overseeing benefits for the NFL, players used to ask me what I did personally with my money, but I was there to represent the NFL and didn’t want to subject my employer to that risk. As an investment manager at NFC, I took the relationships I had made throughout my career and turned them into my client base. Now I can say, in the words of Warren Buffett, “I eat what I cook,” and can advise people to take risks that I’ve taken myself.

And you also started your own insurance company?

Yes. One of the CEOs of a private insurance carrier owned by NFC suggested to me that the agency side of the business has enough complacent competition that a firm built on being proactive and transparent could lead to a great deal of success. Opening my insurance company also allowed me to offer yet another service to my client base that I think differentiates me from the competition.

Any lessons you learned on the football field that you brought into your business career?

Everybody is trying hard 90 percent of the time. If you can be the one who tries hard that last 10 percent of the time when no one else shows up, you’re going to be the one who wins more often than not.

I had to remember that in my professional sports career and during my time at Columbia. I had to understand the hurdle of not coming in with the prior experience that others had, so during a happy hour as much as I wanted to join my friends, I would go to the library. And it’s what I do to this day. When there’s still work to be done after hours I remind myself that that’s when everyone else quits. Don’t be everyone else.

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