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Volume 24 No. 112
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Catching Up With Jordan Classic Motivational Speaker Eric Thomas

ERIC THOMAS sits in a corner cafe in uptown Charlotte and admits this is the quietest setting in which he has ever been interviewed. Thomas, not used to having to tone down his often vivacious and passionate comments, was in town as the motivational speaker for the Jordan Brand Classic. When Thomas isn’t making the rounds as a motivational speaker, he is an avid Detroit sports fan. In fact, his residence in Detroit has seen an opposite effect of the recession. As the economy took a turn for the worse, he utilized the opportunity to deliver a good message amid dire straits. And he notes that now more than ever, people need to hear a good message; to get inspired and motivated to look for a greater goal. With experience as a consultant for Michigan State for the past seven years, he has insights as to how the NCAA could better serve today’s athletes, the one-and-done rule, the Saints' recent troubles and more.

Q: Where can the NCAA do a better job serving today’s college athletes?
Thomas: I think we have to do a better job of giving them the support that they need. The principles that they need. The books that they need to be reading. Their character courses that they should be going through. They should be connected to mentors like MICHAEL JORDAN. Individuals who didn’t just play the game but who have a business mind, who have a vision. Who see the bigger aspect of the game. I think that we could mentor them better, put them in programs that will support them so when they get to college they won’t be asked to make some of the major decisions they are being made to ask without the tools that they need.

Q: How about NCAA and the one-and-done rule?
Thomas: I think the one-and-done, if used properly, it could be advantageous for younger athletes. If the students go in with the mindset of ‘I’m not just coming here because of a rule. I’m not just doing one-and-done. I’m here and I want to maximize, I want to meet professors. I want to meet other students. I want to meet other athletes.’ Think about it, when you play basketball, you have an opportunity to meet guys who play football. So when graduate or when you get drafted, your network is so much greater.

Q: Talk about motivation -- what’s the biggest area where you feel people or employees can be motivated?
Thomas: I go back to personal motivation. My thing is intrinsic values. We got to tell people how their lives will be so much fuller if they reach their own personal level of excellence. There are people who want to be promoted, there are people that there are certain things that they want in life, but I think the intrinsic value is the greatest one of all. We need to motivate people to think differently about themselves, think differently about their opportunities.

Q: What are the biggest mistakes you see companies making today in leading people?
Thomas: I think what most companies do wrong is that they come up with this vision statement, they come up with this brand but they don’t walk it out. They don’t live it. That’s the mistakes companies make. They ask you to do what they say, but not do what they do.

Q: Do you find Jordan to be a successful businessman?
Thomas: I do. I know there are people who beg to differ in terms of the outcomes ... the Charlotte Bobcats are having. But when you talk about a brand, he’s a guy that’s with Nike and has found a way, you know Nike is a major brand, and he’s found a way in Nike to duplicate that and brand himself. Definitely a successful businessman.

Q: When do you turn off your ‘motivational’ buttons?
Thomas: 9:30 at night (when he goes to bed). … Other than that, I’m on. Let’s be honest, we’re in a recession right now. We’re coming out of it, but this country we’ve taken a hit in the last 10, 12 years. So if people ever need to be inspired and encouraged, if people have ever needed hope to keep going, it’s now. And I’ve been given that gift, and until I die -- like a MOTHER TERESA, like a GANDHI -- I want to give out every single inch of it.

Q: If your business was booming during a recession, what happens when the recession comes to an end? What happens then?
Thomas: I think managing in success is different than managing in poverty. … Our business will be around for a long time because there are people who seem to be successful in one area of their lives but not in the other. And then more specifically, we’ve seen people’s personal lives even hinder their professional lives and the success that they’re used to attaining because their personal lives unfortunately, some of the negatives, are now creeping into their professional life.

Q: Do you have a bucket list of teams or organizations you would like to talk to, or some that you think need to hear your message?
Thomas: I would like to talk to (the Saints) not necessarily because of the bounty issue but when you lose your leader -- you know they are losing a coach. … So not necessarily from the bounty perspective, but from the loss. … There is a gap right now that the Saints are dealing with and I would love to just go in and not just talk to them, but I’d like to talk to DREW BREES. I’d like to talk to other players and really get a feel for them. Ask, ‘Hey guys, how are you going to keep going under these circumstances? What are you going to do?’ I wish I could have talked to teams during the lockout who didn’t know if they were going to be playing football again. Who didn’t know if they were going to be playing basketball. Because the information that I get from them I could use in Detroit. GM, Ford, Chrysler – people have lost their jobs and to be able to go back to them and say, ‘Hey guys, I talked to some other people who have loss and this is how they manage it.’

Q: What’s the largest audience you ever spoke in front of?
Thomas: Cairo, Egypt was about 10,000 people.

Q: What is the worst part of your job?
Thomas: I have to leave people’s lives. I’m with this kid for 30 minutes to an hour, he’s pumped. He’s motivated, we're feeling each other. Now I got to get on a plane and go home. And then my family, you know I got to leave my family. I’ve got a son who needs just as much motivation as these kids I’m talking to right here. … That’s the biggest part: coming in people’s lives for a moment, then having to leave.