While L.C. Greenwood spent hours practicing and running plays as a defensive end for the Pittsburgh Steelers, he also fielded calls from clients and oversaw projects as the owner and operator of a paving and construction business, Greenwood Enterprises.
In his 13 seasons with the Steelers in the 1970s and early 1980s, he played in six Pro Bowls and won four Super Bowls. Off the field, he’s been similarly successful in a number of entrepreneurial enterprises.
In the last three decades, he’s led businesses that focused on coal and mining brokerage and civil structural engineering. Now, he operates Greenwood McDonald Supply, an electrical supply company, and Greenwood Manufacturing, a fulfillment and corrugated packaging company.
Greenwood spoke to Diversity Executive about the difficulties of leading a minority-owned and operated business as well as the parallels between his time in the NFL and the business world.
What was it like starting your own business while still playing in the NFL?
Most people don’t realize that in the 1970s football players earned as much as a teacher, and both being admirable professions, many of us had to scour for work during our offseasons. As the oldest of nine children, I was always entrepreneurial. My parents gave us all what they could and were very generous when they could be, but growing up in Mississippi gave me an opportunity to start my own business at an early age. I started a paving, construction and odd job company. My work ethic was ingrained early on, so when the opportunity came about to start a company while playing football, it was a no-brainer.
What challenges did you face as a minority owned and operated company?
When I first started my business in Pittsburgh in the 1970s, there was resistance to give contracts or hire businesses that were minority owned. Although I was embraced publicly as a football player, the transition to business owner was not as well received. My skin color was a huge hurdle in the early days, but I refused to quit and slowly the company was awarded work based on quality of our products and customer service.
Are there any lessons you learned in the NFL that apply to your work as an entrepreneur?
Hard work and perseverance. Being a business owner is not a 9-to-5 job. Even today, I am on the clock 24/7, just like in football. During the offseason for football I had to stay in shape, practice and go over plays. Now, I have to make sure my business is moving forward, securing work and revenues. Additionally, I learned from the Steelers organization to take care of its own. The Rooneys treated us well and were concerned about our careers and welfare. Their leadership taught me early on to really care about my employees. I feel responsible for their well being and I do not want to let them down.
How do you think your time in the NFL translates in the business world? Are the fundamental skill sets to thrive in both similar?
The skill sets are similar. You need to work hard in both, learn how to be effective in your role, learn how to do it well and increase your capabilities by testing yourself every day. You also have to have a steel exterior. Just like losing a game, you need to be prepared for rejection in business. And be repetitious. Practice does make perfect.
What do you enjoy most about your career as a business owner?
The challenges: Day to day, there are so many unexpected decisions that I have to make. And I am enticed and motivated to make the right choices for my employees and my businesses. I am strategic with every decision, just like every play in football.
Jeff Cattel is an editorial intern at Diversity Executive magazine. Kelly Parker Hanna, director of sales and marketing at consultancy KEYGroup, also contributed reporting to this piece. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.