He Got Kicked Out of High School. Now His Company Is Worth $22 Billion
You may think you know the story behind one of America's most successful apparel brands--but there's an inspiring twist.
Maybe you read about the guy who went from the dead-end job he hated to becoming a billionaire, within just five years. This example is almost even better.
It's about Kevin Plank, the founder of Under Armour. Perhaps you know the highlights of his story: He walked on to the football team at the University of Maryland, grew frustrated by how his uniform became sopped with sweat, designed moisture-wicking shirts, maxed out his credit cards, started working from his grandmother's basement, and ultimately built a publicly traded company that, as of this writing, has a market cap of more than $22 billion.
There's another piece of his story, however: It's that long before any of this, Plank was traveling down the wrong road. He grew up the fifth of five brothers, and he'd followed them to Georgetown Prep, a private Jesuit high school outside Washington, D.C. However, academic problems combined with an alcohol-fueled brawl he was involved in got him kicked out of the high school. As Plank told Forbes a few years ago, "I was a knuckle head back then."
The Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail picks up the story.
Nearby St. John's College High School accepted him, thanks to his ability to play football, and once there, he cleaned up his act. Yet his pugnacious attitude stuck with him all through college (you need a certain amount of self-assuredness to walk on to a Division I football squad), and he eventually applied it to his company.
Plank was only 17 when he graduated from his second high school, and he wanted to play college football but wasn't getting recruited. So, he explained to Sports Illustrated, his parents sent him to Fork Union Military Academy--a prep school known for getting students into top college football programs. (Pro Football Hall of Famer Eddie George, who won the Heisman Trophy and played for the NFL's Tennessee Titans, was a classmate.)
Had he not been kicked out of Georgetown Prep, he never would have gone to St. John's and Fork Union--where, as Sports Illustrated pointed out, "Plank made the contacts that, a few years later, would form the foundation of his customer base."
Obviously, I'm not advocating getting involved in drunken brawls or failing out of high school. And, there's more to Plank's story still--including the fact that he seems to have been a born entrepreneur, with all kinds of tales of starting small ventures during his youth.
However, it's important for any of us who has ever thought that "life is over" because something hasn't gone as planned to be exposed to these kinds of stories. (I'm the first to admit I've had those moments.) A job doesn't work out, or a business idea fails, or a relationship ends--or even, possibly, we screw up and got in trouble. Getting kicked out of high school seems like it would fit the bill.
One of the great things about America, however, is that many of us get second and third acts (if you're willing and courageous enough to try). And ultimately, if things go well and you take advantage of opportunities, those bad moments can be nothing but a footnote in the success story of your entrepreneurial life.