Hollywood CEOs: George Foreman
By Jarrod Dicker Oct 28, 2009 7:45 am
Out of the boxing ring and into the kitchen.
But he sure aint po’ no mo’. The financially savvy father of ten, five of whom are also named George, is currently one of the highest-paid celebrity endorsers in the world.
Foreman became the prince of the pitchmen in 1994, when he signed on with a company now called Applica to be the defining face of its newly launched contact grill. Foreman gave the company’s “Lean, Mean, Fat-Reducing Grilling Machine” its name: the George Foreman Grill. In 1999, he signed a $137.5 million deal to give the manufacturer unrestricted use of the Foreman name in marketing the grill and other related Foreman products internationally.
Prior to his involvement in advertising, of course, Big George was a two-time heavyweight champion in boxing, a feat he accomplished after conquering the gold medal at the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games. It seemed like he had it all, but Foreman’s life wasn’t always such a grillin’ picnic.
A disreputable street thug from Houston’s Fifth Ward, Foreman made ends meet through street crimes, using his massive build to hustle lowly pedestrians. Escaping this life of crime, Foreman entered the boxing ring and found immediate accomplishment. After his Olympic triumph, the young boxer had a string of noteworthy victories in the ring. These led to the notorious “Sunset Showdown” between himself and Joe Frazier, where Foreman knocked out Frazier, spurring the famous cry from Howard Cosell, “Down Goes Frazier! Down Goes Frazier!”
The frequent pounding of Foreman’s head didn’t shake his senses, as his mind was constantly focused on his financial situation. In an interview with The New York Times, the boxer explained how the enduring monetary troubles that plagued Joe Louis throughout his career inspired him to keep his own finances on track.
I had so much time alone. Not many people thought I would be champ of the world. Didn’t have any friends at all. And what I would do is walk to the bookstore, and I’d buy books on taxes, accrual taxes, estimated taxes…I had all this time dreaming of [money], so that when [it] came upon me I was already prepared.
Foreman’s boxing career was successful all the way until his retirement in 1977, when he claims God told him to hang up his gloves after the sport took a toll on his health. Soon after, he took the path of becoming a born-again Christian, and it was in the church where he found his true passion: Sales.
Foreman realized while working with the church that he had a bizarre persuasive power over people. For an article in Success magazine called "Big Business with Big George," Foreman said, “[People] didn’t know me. I realized I could stop these people, who are always headed somewhere, for a second to sell my message. That’s what I learned to do on the street corner.” This would be the lesson that would eventually keep Foreman’s wealth pond full for the rest of his life.
Photo by Martin Oester/AFP/Getty Images
After a series of successful fights, he was set to battle for the championship once again against a much younger Michael Moore. At 45 years old, Foreman defeated Moore in a 10-round battle that left Moore on the canvas to be counted out, making Foreman the oldest man to ever win the championship belt.
After this legendary victory, skeptics and critics alike began to realize that this old boxer could market himself pretty well. “That’s when people started to say, ‘This guy can sell himself. Let’s let him sell Doritos (PEP), Kentucky Fried Chicken (YUM), or McDonald’s (MCD),' ” Foreman told Success. Big George sponsored these products, acting as a welcoming face to promote corporate goods. He also joined the Meineke Car Care team to further expand his advertising repertoire.
Once Foreman realized he was able to successfully promote other companies’ products, he decided to embark on one of his own. And that's when the Man of Meat was born, promoting healthy ways to fill your grill. Complementing his commercial success with the Lean, Mean, Fat-Reducing Grilling Machine, Foreman also took a shot in 2008 at reality television with Family Foreman on Nickelodeon (VIA), as well as in consumer products with his own line of biodegradable cleaning products: George Foreman’s Knock-Out Household Cleaning System.
So how much is Foreman worth? No one knows for sure, but in 2004, BusinessWeek estimated that his lifetime earnings are about $240 million. But as Foreman himself told the Times, “When you start knowing [your net worth], you’re scared. I have lots of money…But I will never feel secure again. I’ve got to earn, earn, earn, earn.”
No positions in stocks mentioned.
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