From the NFL to Target Corporation
By: Julie Nelson
Professional athlete transitions are different than any other career change due to the intense level of identity foreclosure and connectedness that goes along with being an elite competitor.
However, transitioning is eased for athletes that engage in learning continuously and when they have a plan in place before their athletic experience comes to an end.
For Purdue alumnus and NFL Legend Ian Allen, transitioning from the National Football League to the business world included a plan and a sequence of moves, each one preparing him for his next opportunity.
Allen, who signed as an undrafted free agent in 2001 and worked his way into the starting lineup during his stint with the New York Giants, always had a sense of what his life would look like beyond football.
He was intrigued by the ability to calculate ‘mathematical recipes’ and the rigor of how to attack problems and immersed himself in furthering his education, earning his MBA, with a concentration in finance and strategy from his alma mater. He also gained a better understanding what the term ‘Corporate America’ really meant.
“Coming out of the NFL, I did not fully comprehend what that term meant,” said the former offensive lineman. “I wanted to know more about the corporate jargon when I was choosing a concentration and prove that I could do and be more than just an athlete.”
Unsure of the path he would take, Allen kept an open mind to a wide range of business opportunities through connections he made over the course of his playing career.
Former offensive lineman Ian Allen lines up during a game against the Washington Redskins (2003).
The Atlanta, Georgia transplant by way of Newark, New Jersey started out in television working as a Game Day Analyst with the Big Ten Network, pursued his entrepreneurial passions with his music business, Nova 53, served as the Sr. Financial Analyst with General Motors Co. and continued to strengthen his portfolio as the corporate Strategy & Development Lead for Xerox.
In 2016, a company reorganization offered Allen the chance to take some time to assess the knowledge he gained since receiving his MBA and contemplate another opportunity where he could apply his experience. He met Keith Elias, Sr. Director of Player Engagement for the NFL and participated in the NFL Bridge to Success program.
The NFL Bridge to Success is a four-day program designed to empower and equip eligible former players and their significant others through the transition from the NFL mentally, emotionally, physically, and financially, and prepare them for the next season of life. This is accomplished by providing them with the tools and peer-to-peer support to navigate the transition into post-NFL life.
"Participating in the NFL Bridge to Success I thought was a way for me to reconnect with other players," Allen said. But the career fair portion at the end of the program provided me the opportunity to meet a lot of executives from top companies, including Brad Smith, former Intuit CEO and current Executive Chairman.”
Allen speaking with current NFL players about his transition from professional football into retail on their visit to HQ in MN during Super Bowl week in 2018.
After some great conversations and a series of interviews, Allen almost joined the Intuit team but ended up accepting a position with the Target Corporation in February of 2017, a position he felt was better suited to his skill set.
Allen started out as the Senior Manager of Finance and Strategy in the Kitchen Division for a year and a half before taking over as the Senior Manager of Corporate Strategy Finance. He was promoted almost a year ago into his current position as the Senior Manager of Strategic Partnerships and Business Development for Target Plus. His responsibilities now include developing, defining, and driving organic and inorganic business and financial strategies, through partnerships and or new business models.
Former offensive lineman Ian Allen blocking for teammate during a game against the St. Louis Rams (2004).
The former Boilermaker understands first-hand that the transition is not necessarily an easy one and therefore has made it his personal mission to pay it forward and assist those stepping away from the game and trying to figure out their next steps by serving as a representative for Target during the NFL Bridge to Success career fair experience. He has been able to hire over 10 former players and help provide them with the necessary tools needed as they navigate their own success beyond the game.
“It is about showing them that there is a path where they can bring who they are in terms of being authentic but also the battle-tested leadership skills and being able to operate in ambiguous situations,” said Allen. “The fast thinking that they bring is just unmatched. They don’t understand the value of that skill, but I do, and that is how I assist them in learning the value of that trait as it applies to the business sector.”