By Van Adams, Player Engagement Insider
After spending four years in the NFL (Houston Texans, New York Jets, Atlanta Falcons), transitioning was more of a challenge than former defensive tackle Thomas Johnson, Sr. imagined. Forced to retire after a nagging Achilles injury that never fully returned to normal, in 2010, Johnson found himself facing a new reality --his NFL career had ended.
“One day at the gym working out on the bench machine I asked myself, ‘Why am I doing this?’ At that moment, two years out of the game, rehabbing and working out hard every day, I realized it was over. For the first time in my life I had no reason to train this hard. It was a dark place,” said Johnson who started playing football when he was 11 years old.
While in college at Middle Tennessee State, Johnson wanted to be a teacher and give back to the community. With a family to support and no work experience, making use of his degree in education wasn’t a sound financial move at the time. So he turned to a former teammate for insight on career transitions and took advantage of the NFL Player Engagement Bridge to Success initiative.
“When you transition from football and a sport that you’ve been doing your whole entire life, and now it’s time to go into the real world, it’s intimidating,” Johnson said. “You never sat for a job interview, you don't have a resumé that includes anything other than football. The Bridge to Success program provides mock interviews, and opportunities to talk to representatives from Fortune 500 companies who are there to hire athletes.”
Johnson sought the help of people with resumé writing skills to help him present his skills in a manner that would resonate with executives and work with him on interviewing.
“Putting the NFL on your resumé is not a bad thing. If you made it this far in athletics, companies see you as coachable. They know you’ll come in, work hard and try to get it right,” Johnson said. “Being coachable is a good trait to have in business.”
Johnson has attended the Bridge to Success Symposium multiple times. At his first symposium he met an executive from UPS who sparked his interest in logistics.
“Logistics is about problem solving. Football is about problem solving. I’m good at solving problems,” Johnson said. “My father and grandfather drove 18-wheelers. I have friends who also drive trucks, but I had no idea there was so much more involved with moving freight. I was fascinated by the details and wanted to learn more.”
Johnson knew he had to move past the disappointment and depression of life without football and move forward with the next phase of his life. So, he called on a former teammate who owned a family-run trucking company in South Carolina who gave him an apprenticeship where he could learn the business aspects of logistics.
Shortly after, Johnson secured a Commercial Drivers License (CDL) and went to work for a trucking company where he learned operational aspects of the business and took classes on how to maintain successful freight brokering. Recognizing he had natural abilities in sales, he moved up the ladder quickly. After 18 months, Johnson took the leap and decided the time was right to hang his own shingle, Unite Us Logistics.
“The leap to starting a business was not easy. [Logistics] is an expensive industry. The learning curve will be expensive if you don't prepare yourself,” Johnson said. “A lot of guys have trucks and trucking companies but end up collapsing because they didn't take the time out to educate themselves. The process was difficult but we got it done.”
In less than two years in business, Unite Us Logistics is off to an impressive start as a National Minority Trucking Association Certified Carrier, and has secured a major contract with UPS, a connection made at the Bridge to Success Symposium in 2012.
Methodical in his approach, Johnson gave careful consideration to each aspect of establishing the business including brand identity. The Unite Us Logistics mascot is a bull inspired by his observations of cattle on a farm in Tennessee owned by his wife’s family and is symbolic of the camaraderie of a team sport.
“The farm sits on 300 acres. Out of all that land and space, the cattle choose to stick together and graze together. Wherever one moves, they all move,” Johnson said. “In football there are 53 guys working for one common goal together from the time you start paying football until it’s over. I know a lot of guys are still looking for that togetherness. Unite Us brings everyone together.”
At the 2017 Bridge to Success Symposium, Unite Us Logistics introduced a newly established mentoring and consulting program to educate former players on the trucking and logistics business.
“The most rewarding experience is being able to give guys the opportunity to make a great living,” said Johnson, who hires independent contractors with their own equipment and full- time drivers.
Johnson is keenly aware of the challenges entrepreneurs face in securing capital, and has mapped out a growth plan that will move the business forward to securing more contracts generating revenue to purchase more equipment on the way to becoming a multi-million-dollar enterprise.
Unite Us Logistics is an asset based transportation company headquartered in Memphis Tennessee with a location in Atlanta Georgia that transports perishable goods and freight under 80,000 pounds.
Van Adams is an award-winning entrepreneur and small business owner with expertise in sports business and business development. Over the last decade, she has represented a number of iconic sports celebrities and executed marketing campaigns for their personal celebrity and/or business ventures. An advocate for women in business, Van is the creator and producer of Gathering on the Greens, a women’s golf initiative, and serves as President of the Board of Directors for the NYC Metro Chapter of Women in Sports and Events where she oversees programming and strategy. Van is an adjunct professor and often conducts workshops for the small business & sports business communities. She spends her spare time in a test kitchen baking or on a golf course working on her short game.