Ulysses Junior Bridgeman converted a basketball career into a multimillion dollar career in business. His success has come largely from the ways he continually learns from his environment, leads confidently his staff, and mentoring others to be successful in business after sports.
Bridgeman spent 12 years in the NBA playing mostly for the Milwaukee Bucks. When he retired in 1987, he had scored a total of 11,517 points and played in 711 games. Although his basketball career was illustrious, retiring from the NBA 20 years ago didn’t equal the enormous wealth and fortune that athletes today can command. His peak earning year in the NBA only brought him $350,000. For comparison, the top earning player of 2015 to 2016 was Kobe Bryant, who brought in $24 million.
He invested in money in Wendy’s restaurants, first buying a couple in the Milwaukee area before using the profits to purchase more. Bridgeman believed in hands-on learning and dedicated time to mastering every aspect of the business: from flipping the burgers, to cleaning dining rooms, and everything up from there. Bridgeman told Fortune Magazine in 2014 a story about a time when he was working behind the counter at one of his restaurants when a woman seemed to recognize him. On the radio the next day, a woman had called in to complain about the sad career prospects of retired athletes.
Bridgeman believed in earning the trust and respect of his employees and that by building a relationship he could inspire them to work harder, which would, in turn, make his stores more profitable. This belief in mentorship expanded beyond his workforce and right back into the NBA.
Bridgeman has said that financial literacy is something that more athletes need access to. Most athletes, he says, do not have business backgrounds and did not come from families where parents were business owners. Entering the NBA, these players are handed enormous amounts of money for their work and lack the understanding of how to make that money work and grow. A few years ago, Bridgeman paired with Chauncey Billups to purchase 30 Wendy’s restaurants, which served as an example of his dedication to helping others achieve investment success.
Bridgeman has also invested heavily in Chili’s restaurants, Fannie May Chocolate stores, and many other franchises. In 2016, his company announced it would be selling many of his Wendy’s restaurants and purchasing a number of Coca-Cola bottling plants in Missouri, Illinois, Kansas, and Nebraska. His net worth is estimated at $600 million and his professional basketball salary is a drop in the bucket of lifetime earned income.