Former linebacker Gary Brackett has spent his life turning opportunity into advantage. The New Jersey native first earned a spot on the Rutgers University football team as a walk-on, ultimately earning a scholarship and becoming the team’s MVP. Four years later, he went undrafted in the 2003 NFL Draft, but was signed as a rookie free agent by the Indianapolis Colts. He spent the next nine years there, taking home a Super Bowl ring in 2006.
Brackett retired from football following the 2011 season, but that was just the start of even bigger things. Brackett was always focused on making sure he kept the future in his sights. He participated in the NFL's Business Management & Entrepreneurial Program at the Wharton School of Business and immediately started to build upon the post-playing career he had set up early on. In fact, Brackett took the additional step of earning a Master of Business Administration (EMBA) in Entrepreneurship/Entrepreneurial Studies from The George Washington University.
Real estate investment was the first area Brackett ventured into and he still keeps a hand in that. But, he had always dreamed of owning a restaurant and he knew he could make that dream come true. Brackett is currently a partner in two locations of the Stacked Pickle in the Indianapolis area and recently opened Georgia Reese’s Southern Table and Bar there, named after his youngest daughter (he and his wife, Ragan, have two other children, Gabrielle and Gary, Jr.). He plans to expand his restaurant interests and has formed the Brackett Restaurant Group.
Brackett also knows that to make things succeed he has to be hands on. He visits each restaurant at least once a day to ensure that things are running smoothly and that there’s consistency in the daily operation. He impresses upon his employees his philosophy that success comes through dedication, hard work, communication and everyone being on the same page and doing their individual jobs. As with football, it’s about properly executing the game plan.
“When you start with a philosophy, it’s easier for everyone to buy in and it gives you a competitive advantage,” he said.
Brackett learned not just about the restaurant business, but about leadership and delegation of responsibility at a very young age.
“My first job ever was a dish boy at 15 years old,” he said. “[My family] didn’t go out to eat a lot, especially fine dining. [I worked at a] fine dining pasta place. I was there seven months and I was the senior dish guy. The [manager] would come out screaming mad to clean up the bathroom. So I said, ‘OK’ and then I’d get someone else to do it. The boss had no idea, but he was happy because I got it done for him. It shows you that you have to rely upon other people. The first few months I cleaned up the mess and then I figured out how to get other people to do it.”
Brackett hopes his story is a lesson to others, especially his fellow football players, in preparing for their own lives. His goal is to always be thinking ahead so as never to reach a dead end.
“What are you going to do next?” is the question he said people, especially professional athletes, should pose to themselves. “The average NFL career is three-and-a-half years. That’s why education is important. College teaches you to learn.”
Brackett recalled his Wharton classes with astonishment. There were always empty seats; seats that could have been filled by other NFL players who weren’t taking advantage of the availability of the program.
Family tragedy served to reinforce many of Brackett’s life lessons. In less than an 18-month period, starting in October 2003, he lost his father to a heart attack, his mother to a stroke and his older brother to T-cell l leukemia.
“All those experiences evolved how I thought about things,” he said. “I understand the struggle. I’m one person removed from tough times.”
From his first days as a dish washer, Brackett realized the importance of having a plan and creating specific steps to implement them and continue to move himself forward.
He also runs Gary Brackett’s Impact Foundation, which helps children in need, so his plate truly is full.
“I learned a lot of the processes [for] how you’re successful along the way. If I can scale this and put in the same hours I put in to football I can probably go a long way. “
For more information about Gary Brackett and his many endeavors: www.garybrackett.org and www.georgiareeses.com.