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Former Northwestern Football Player Shares Insights on how Football Helped Him Become CEO

To show some real-life examples of how sports can impact athletes post-college and in their careers, NCSA recently interviewed Tom Heymann, CEO at EveryPenny, an innovative technology-based fundraising company built for K12 schools that provides complete administrative control over fundraising activities and enhances a school’s ability to raise money. Prior to becoming CEO at EveryPenny, Tom held various other upper-management positions, including CEO at Mastros Restaurants, Chairman CEO at Knowledge Learning Corporation, President of The Disney Store, and President at The Levy Restaurants. Tom is a former collegiate football player of Northwestern University. Now after several years of leadership experience, he explains how playing football in college has helped him attain a greater understanding of the business world.

1. What College or University did you attend?
Northwestern University

2. What college sport did you play?

3. What are the most important lessons you learned through sports?
Some important lessons I learned are the importance of operating a team well, and the critical nature of everybody having to do their own role on any given play so that the team can be successful.

4. What did you learn through sports that your “formal” education did not teach you?
The importance of hard work, being committed to a goal.

5. How is business like sports?
Sports directly relates to business. You have to match up the right type of people to the right type of business. For instance, a football team is like running a big retail chain, like I did at The Disney Store – there are 9 or 10 different departments but every department has to be working from the same playbook to make sure the business succeeds. It’s one big collective effort.
You can find a metaphor for every kind of business and how they operate like sports. It’s important that you find the right type of people – you don’t want a guy who was a tennis player to be in a football type of business. If a guy was a champion tennis player and I was interviewing him for a football team type business, he probably wouldn’t be hired because he doesn’t have the team background.

6. How have sports helped you become a leader in the business world?
From the time I was in 5th grade through college, I was captain of a football team, and it helped me hone in on my skills as a leader and a CEO. Sports gave me the opportunity to prove my leadership abilities at a young age in terms of providing direction in sport and leadership to my teammates, like I am able to do now in the business world.

7. What advice do you have for up and coming college athletes?
The most important advice I can give to up and coming athletes is to make sure they are absolutely committed to being an athlete in college. It’s a huge commitment, much greater now than when I was playing college football. They have to work-out 52 weeks a year, many hours a day. They can’t be hesitant – they have to wake up everyday and think ‘all I want to do is be a college football player.’ If they don’t feel 100% committed to playing, then I recommend not to participate in that sport at the college level, no matter what sport it is.


About the author
Aaron Sorenson