Shaq’s Message to Small Business Owners: Stand Strong and Keep Fighting

When the coronavirus lockdowns took effect, superstar former athlete Shaquille O’Neal, like many small business owners, especially those in the restaurant industry, just had to wait it out.

“Everything stopped,” he shares in an exclusive interview with BLACK ENTERPRISE.

Except, of course, for his business expenses: “For the first few months I was just paying. Still paying people. Paying the rent. I didn’t have to furlough a lot of people, a few but not a lot. Maybe like five to 10.”

O’Neal credits his experience in sports with helping him stay adaptable and resilient as an entrepreneur, even amid something as unprecedented as a global pandemic.

“As an athlete, you always try to make adjustments, right? So, I never worry about something until it happens,” he says. “Now when it happens, you can go into adjustment mode or panic mode. And we just had to adjust.”

Helping him weather the storm was the fact that he’s always careful with his reserves.

“After I take care of my business expenses, I don’t really touch the profits. I just like to put them somewhere in case of a rainy day. Like if I profit $100, I’m not going to go buy something for $80. I will leave the $100 in there and just wait that next month or the next year, and try to get it up,” he says.

“My motto has always been it’s not about how much you make; it’s about how much you save. So, we had some potato chips in the back to hold us over. We had some cushion.”

But he realizes that many small businesses weren’t in such a fortunate position.

“A lot of these mom-and-pop stores, they don’t have that. So American Express and myself, we want to continue to show up, continue to show them support, continue to give them the money that they need to stay afloat,” O’Neal says. “Because mom-and-pop shops are the ones that really keep the country going.”

That’s why O’Neal is participating in Business Class LIVE: Summit for Success, American Express’s free conference for small business owners. Today’s day-long virtual summit has more than 30 sessions—with several dedicated specifically to the needs of minority businesses—to give entrepreneurs the networking, resources, and tools they need to survive these difficult times. It also features fellow athlete-entrepreneur Venus Williams, marketing guru Bozoma Saint John, journalist Elaine Welteroth, the design duo behind Coco and Breezy, and U.S. Black Chamber CEO Ron Busby, among many other experts.

“We just want to tell inspiring stories. Give tips on what the big boys do. Answer questions. I hope it
motivates them, encourages them to keep fighting,” O’Neal says.

O’Neal recognizes that the pandemic has had a devastating effect on many small business owners. And as a board member for Papa John’s, he has a unique window into the challenges that entrepreneurs like his fellow franchisees are facing.

“I hear all the stories,” he says. “There’s people out there who are really really struggling. The businesses they’ve had from generation to generation, they had to shut down. Try to get a loan, they can’t get a loan. You got honest people who work, people whose livelihoods have been shut down, and all they need is a little assistance to keep going.”

With Business Class LIVE, he hopes to be able to provide that little bit of help.

“Business is not always going to be roses and peaches and cream, where’s there’s not any bumps in the road. You have to educate yourself. You have to be ready. And you just have to stand strong,” he says.

“Whenever everything’s at zero, at some point it must come back.”