BUSINESS CLASS

Offensive guard Ryan Lilja and defensive end Jeff Charleston were among Colts players participating in the NFL Business Management and Entrepreneurial Program this month. Colts defensive end Raheem Brock and cornerback Antonio Smith also attended.

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Colts Veterans Attend Management and Entrepreneurial Program

INDIANAPOLIS – The experience is one Ryan Lilja said he won't soon forget. Jeff Charleston said he won't, either.

And this experience had nothing to with football.

Lilja and Charleston, veteran offensive and defensive linemen for the Colts, respectively, were among the 114 NFL players who participated in the NFL Business Management and Entrepreneurial Program earlier this month at the Harvard Business School, Kellogg School of Management (Northwestern University), Stanford Graduate School of Business and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

"It blew me away," said Lilja, who attended the program at the Wharton School, which was held in two parts – one in late February and the second Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

"You have the top professors, not just at the school, but in the country, maybe the world. Most of these guys have done it on their own, been out in the real world and experienced all that stuff. They come back and they just want to teach. They have a passion about teaching, because they can.

"They're not doing it for a paycheck."

Lilja was among three Colts players attending the program at the Wharton School, with the others being defensive lineman Raheem Brock and cornerback Antonio Smith. Jake Scott, a Colts starting guard the past four seasons who recently signed with the Tennessee Titans as a free agent, also attended the Wharton School session.

Charleston attended the session at Stanford.

"It was a full day," Charleston said. "They put us in at master's level courses. We had master's students who were helping us in our study session and they were like, 'Yeah, we have the same study for homework.' It was amazing. Each case study we had was actually a different area of business, a different startup. Usually, for most of them, the CEO would come in and talk to us and tell us where it went from there.

"The case study would examine the startup to their first kind of benchmark. They were able to fill us in on the decisions they made."

According to the NFL, the program is part of an ongoing NFL-NFLPA initiative to assist players in preparing for their post-playing careers.

A year ago, 116 NFL players participated, with 112 taking part in 2006. In the program's first season (2005), 66 players took part at Harvard Business School and the Wharton School.

The four schools offered executive education activities in their respective areas of expertise. The Wharton School and Harvard Business School held programs February 24-27, with continued coursework this week and early next month.

The Stanford and Kellogg School of Management held three-day sessions from March 2-5.

Player enrollment criteria included level of education; professional business experience; interest in starting, owning, or managing a business; and leadership and community involvement. Under the NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement, players may be reimbursed for up to $15,000 this year for education expenses at an accredited institution of higher learning.

Lilja said the sessions covered areas such as negotiations, leadership, entrepreneurship, real estate development, analyzing investments, stock market analysis and philanthropy.

"I'm sure they dumb down a lot of the stuff," Lilja said. "It's, 'Boom, boom, boom.' It makes me want to go back and get my MBA when I'm done."

Lilja and Charleston each said beyond what they learned in the sessions, the time was valuable for who they met.

"Every professor, every MBA student, gave you contact information and said, 'Listen if you get an investment proposal and you're not sure about it, shoot me an email, send it to me,''' Lilja said. "These guys can look it over and pick it apart. That's what they do.

"They were all sincere about it. They all said, 'Here's my mobile. Call me anytime. Here's my e-mail.' They said if this course keeps you from making one bad business deal, it's all worth it for us.'''

Said Charleston, "The network you build out there is invaluable. Every guy, every CEO, said, 'If you have a business plan and you want me to go over it, send me an email, I'll help you out.' In the real world, you've got to pay money for that and you're probably not getting the best advice. This way, you have someone who has been successful at it.''

Lilja, like Charleston, said the sessions were anything but a vacation.

"We thought we were going to go up and see a little bit of Philly,'' he said, laughing. "They have a hotel on campus. You live there, eat there, and you go to your classes there. You work out there.

"It's all the same building. We didn't leave the building in three days. It's great. It's, 'Bang, bang, bang.' It's efficient. It's a great program. I told the guys, 'You're crazy if you don't do this.'''

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