From Super Bowl Champ to Rising Business Star

For a former NFL pro, life off the field begins at business school

Print this page
TBrand Studio / The New York Times

Geoffrey Pope’s path to business school was built on a promise to his family. Pope ’17 grew up in Detroit and was raised by his mom and grandmother. From early on, they instilled the value of hard work and gave him as many opportunities as they could to help him succeed. “They did everything to make sure I was going down the right track,” he says.

He promised them he’d make them proud. And that’s exactly what he did. In high school, Pope excelled at track and football, eventually landing at Howard University, where NFL scouts got wind of the speedy cornerback. He spent his rookie year with the New York Giants, where he achieved something he had only dreamed of before: winning the Super Bowl in 2008. “That was a dream come true,” he says.

Pope retired from the NFL in 2010 after sustaining an injury.

Fortunately, Pope had always wanted to enter the business world after his football career was over. “Everything revolves around business,” he says. “There are so many facets, whether it’s marketing, strategy, finance and investing. I knew that having a superior business acumen would be the way to go.”

One of his NFL mentors suggested that he focus on starting a career in insurance. Pope retired not long after the financial crisis in 2008, and insurance, his mentor reasoned, might be a good route to take. It also allowed him to tap into his passion for entrepreneurship: He was able to develop his own book of business and manage his own clients.

He worked his way up from account specialist to vice president of USI Insurance Services, where he now manages a team of 10. Still, he felt he had much more to learn about business.

Business school, he thought, would help him get a leg up on his peers. It would bolster his entrepreneurial skills, too: While he plans to stay in insurance, he’s also starting a new business this summer with two Columbia Business School classmates. It’s an online community — Left Center Right —  where people of all political stripes can gather to talk without the fear of social media backlash. “It allows people from all walks of life to voice their opinions in a manner that opens up dialogues from the political left, center and right,” he says.

For Pope, who lives in Philadelphia, enrolling in Columbia Business School’s Executive MBA program was a no-brainer. He’s always loved New York and thought the school’s stellar reputation, along with the opportunity to learn from top business minds, would give him the edge he needed.

Like teammates on the gridiron, his classmates at Columbia Business School have pushed him to improve in many ways. “They’ll get on the phone with me and say, ‘This is my opinion. Here’s what I think. This is what you can do to make what you’re doing better,’” he explains.

He believes this kind of interaction has already made him a better leader and manager. “You can see the difference in my conversations with clients,” he says. “I used to focus on the client’s business and what programs we can implement to reduce risk. Now my conversations are centered around industry and market trends, which is unlike other brokers in the region.”

Business school also gave him other opportunities that he hoped would make him stand out. And after two years in the program — he graduated in May — he’s confident that he is a better-rounded businessman. He recently finished a white paper on the impact that interest rates have on insurance premiums, real estate valuations and capital expenditures with one of his Columbia Business School professors. “My hope is that this paper, as well as other projects, will help me differentiate myself as an insurance professional in a rapidly changing industry,” he says.

articles by Topic