Shaquille O’Neal, the king of franchises: 155 burger joints, 40 gyms and a $400 million fortune

The former NBA player has a Ph.D. in education and a master’s degree in business. He has owned over a hundred Five Guys restaurants, 150 car washes and a movie theater, and he now runs his own fast food chain

Shaquille O'Neal, photographed in 2020 in New York.
Shaquille O'Neal, photographed in 2020 in New York.MIKE COPPOLA (Getty Images for Carnival Cruise)

Those attending last February’s International Franchise Association conference in San Diego were surprised to discover that the gathering’s speakers included former NBA player Shaquille O’Neal. “I learned from the great Magic Johnson that it’s okay to be a basketball star, but at some point you want to start investing in businesses,” O’Neal told CNBC during the event.

Gone is the 21-year-old athlete who spent his first million in a single day, after signing with the Orlando Magic in 1992. Thanks to his 19 seasons as a professional athlete and his investments in different restaurant franchises and fast-food chains, among other businesses, O’Neal now has a net worth of $400 million (just under €380 million). He is one of the five richest players in the NBA, only preceded by Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Junior Bridgeman and Lebron James, who a net worth of $1 billion.

“The franchise is a simple model. If it works, you follow the rules and it will continue to work. If you stick to the values you’ve learned, you can’t go wrong.” This philosophy has made O’Neal, who has an MBA from the University of Phoenix and a Ph.D. in Education, into the king of franchising. “It’s just something to have on my resume for when I go back to reality. Someday I might have to put down a basketball and have a regular 9-5 like everyone else,” the player said at his graduation ceremony a decade ago.

Since he announced his retirement in 2011, the NBA star has become the owner of 155 Five Guys hamburger establishments, which represented 10% of the total company. (He would later sell the franchises.) O’Neal also owns 17 Auntie Anne’s Pretzels restaurants and has invested in nine Papa John’s restaurants.

In addition to putting his money into 150 car washes, 40 24-hour gyms and a movie theater in his native Newark, he also runs his own fast-food chain. In 2018, he founded the Big Chicken brand of chicken sandwiches. With more than 10 establishments in the city of Las Vegas, the businessman is looking to expand to other American cities such as Austin and Phoenix. The franchise’s chicken sandwiches also now appear on the menus of the Carnival cruise company, of which he calls himself the “Chief Fun Officer.” His passion for food has even led to a recipe book that he published in early April. With a cover featuring burgers, brownies and fried chicken, Shaq’s Family Style promises “championship recipes for feeding family and friends.” He says in the text that he wanted to call the book “recipes for dummies” and that he opted for simple recipes from his childhood: “Things I love to eat, places I’ve been, people I love, things I believe in and some of my best inventions,” he writes, referring to the Big Chicken recipes.

Believe in the business and follow your instinct

As he has stated in interviews, the four-time NBA championship winner has always known that money could disappear just as quickly as it appeared. According to a study published in Sports Illustrated, 60% of former NBA players go bankrupt within five years of retiring. This has been the fate of players such as Dennis Rodman and Scottie Pippen – but not Shaq.

When the player retired from the NBA, he had earned more than $292 million (€277 million) from basketball, in addition to another $220 million (€209 million) in sponsorships and advertisements for brands such as Oreos, Pepsi and Reebok. But before he said goodbye to the courts, O’Neal had already made his big investment: buying Google stock. “One day, I hear these two gentlemen talking about Google search engines [...] I would like to invest in this. My guy hooked it up, we invested and then I forgot all about it,” he explained in 2019 in an interview with The Wall Street Journal.

In the same interview, the athlete confessed that his success as an entrepreneur is based on never investing in or advertising for a company whose products he would not use himself. “My skill is, if something comes across my desk, and I don’t believe in it, I won’t even look at it,” O’Neal explained. The athlete said that the Wheaties cereal company wanted to make him the face of the brand, but he refused because he preferred their rivals: Frosted Flakes – he would later appear on their cereal boxes.

He admitted, though, that following his instincts has not always worked for him. O’Neal, who is also a DJ, actor and talks how host, recalled how one of his biggest regrets was not doing business with the CEO of Starbucks. my agent calls me up and he says ‘Howard Schultz wants to do business with you, And I’m like coffee? Because growing up, in my household, I’d never seen a Black person drink coffee,” he told American journalist Graham Bensinger. “So, I took the great Howard Schutz in his face,” he continued, “and said, ‘Black people don’t drink coffee, sir. I don’t think it’s going to work. And you should have seen his face.”

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