Cobb was an early investor in Coca-Cola.
Jazz musician Les Paul created one of
the frst solid-body electric guitars, and
bandleader Fred Waring backed the
development of the blender that would
bear his name. Golf great Arnold Palmer
proved an ace businessman, auto racer
Roger Penske was even better at selling
cars than driving them, and boxer George
Foreman wasn’t too punch-drunk to
ofoad his grill gadget for $137 million.
More recently, actress Jessica Alba
launched the Honest brand of household
products, and actor Ashton Kutcher
invested in everything else, or so it would
seem. Athletes and entertainers such as
Bode Miller, Pharrell Williams, and Sofía
Vergara are in various stages of entrepreneurship (see sidebars on opposite and
following pages). And nearly every
hip-hop artist is also an aspiring entrepreneur, trying to become the next Jay Z.
Yet the scorecard on celebrities
and jocks as business people isn’t all
that pretty. They’ve been victims of bad
advice if not outright fraud. They’ve also
been susceptible to the delusion that
name recognition alone will lead to
success. Thousands of celebrity-themed
restaurants have died that way, from Joe
Louis’s to Mickey Mantle’s.
For Williams, EleVen isn’t a short-
term play designed with a payday and
an exit in mind, a perspective that infu-
ences decisions about individual designs
and overall collections. “If you want to
grow, you have to hit a lot of home runs,”
she says, “but you have to know your
strengths. In fashion, you have core
pieces everyone wants every season; no
matter how many years you carry them
in your line, people look for them. Yet we
also change our collection every season,
and that’s important too. But our path to
success is knowing who we are and
always staying true to that.”
She wears EleVen designs, and
she often debuts them; they are then
available at retail. Her collections are
intended to look great and send a positive
message: For example, her Olympic
dresses were inspired by the comic book
character Wonder Woman. “When I go
out there, that’s how I want to feel,” she
says. “I want to feel like I can do any-
thing, like I can make anything happen.”
As a tennis star, Williams has long
been acquainted with the business world
through endorsements and racket con-
tracts. Yet how many pro tennis players,
at the peak of their career and earning
power (she’s won more than $34 million
in prize money), take the time to earn a
college degree to plan for the future? She
has a degree in business administration
from Indiana University East and is now
working on her master’s in interior
architecture. “In our home, we weren’t
allowed to be just athletes,” she says.
“We had to be students.” The curriculum
included business. “Our dad taught us to
be entrepreneurs. We would drive to a
tournament somewhere, and he would
put in a cassette about buying foreclosure
properties,” she explains. “Serena was
8 and I was 9 years old, and we had to
for a week’s work. The Williams family
listen to how to make money on foreclo-
sures. Obviously, we didn’t understand
much of it. That didn’t really matter,
because our dad was trying to establish
that mindset of multitasking, of being an
entrepreneur, of charting your own path.”
It was a path that was charted even
before she was born. Her father, Richard
Williams, an entrepreneur in his own
right, was watching the 1978 French
Open and was astounded to hear that one
of the players had just cleared $30,000
lived in Compton, California, a gritty Los
Angeles satellite far removed from the
suburban (read: white) world of tennis.
But Compton had public tennis courts.
Richard thought, “Why not my kids?”
He created a 78-page plan for how his
daughters would become champions.
Richard and his wife, Oracene Price—
Serena, and three of their half-sisters
how to play. (The couple later split;
Oracene remains a focal point of the
family.) The lessons started before Venus
and Serena, the two youngest, were 5.
A million hours of practice later,
Venus and Serena emerged as the family
prodigies, turning pro in their teens, and
then turning women’s tennis on its head.
A sinewy 6 foot 1, Venus had a wingspan,
speed, and power unheard of at the time.
She and Serena unleashed a new generation of players: women who could blast
away from anywhere on the court. Their
reward? Criticism, tinged with racism,
for being too strong and too muscled,
which they handled with grace and
relentless honesty. And championships.
Play hard, work hard, and enjoy both.
“At EleVen, we have a clear point of
view,” says Williams. “Our focus is on
being your best, bringing your best, living
a healthy lifestyle, and enjoying the
clothes you wear. Who we are is distinct.
That makes us stand out. We don’t want
to be anyone else. We want to be EleVen.”
TRANSLATED TO THE retail evel, a sports brand such as EleVen needs a core athletic-apparel franchise augmented by fashion wear. For EleVen, that entails four deliveries per season in activewear
and a fashion drop—new duds—every six
weeks. The latest is a line called Epitome.
Williams not only designed it; she’s also
“On the tennis court, it’s just me.
I’m very hard on myself,
because I have to get the whole job
done. In tennis, I believe in one winner.
That’s the great thing about
business. There isn’t just one winner.
There’s room for everyone to win.
I love that.”
26 - INC. - FEBRUARY 2017