Cal Ripken, at FPA National, Stresses Work Ethic and Benefits of Beer

The Orioles’ Iron Man shares his business insights with 1,800 FPA conference attendees in Baltimore

Former Baltimore Orioles' Cal Ripken Jr., throws the ball around before the start of an exhibition spring training baseball game in Florida in 2015. (Photo: AP) Former Baltimore Orioles' Cal Ripken Jr., throws the ball around before the start of an exhibition spring training baseball game in Florida in 2015. (Photo: AP)

The Financial Planning Association launched its annual conference in Baltimore on Wednesday by celebrating the planners’ group diversity and then turned the stage over to hometown hero Cal Ripken, the former Orioles’ shortstop turned philanthropist.

Speaking in the cavernous Baltimore Convention Center, FPA President Pam Sandy began the formal conference opener by rhetorically asking the more than 1,800 attendees “isn’t it great to be among friends?”

Sandy then spoke of the FPA’s diversity—by ethnicity, race, sexual orientation and compensation models—including geography, announcing that conference attendees hailed from 16 countries and across the U.S. She then introduced the FPA’s diversity scholarship winners:

Yi ‘Bessie’ Liu, from Texas Tech University by way of Mississippi, who Sandy says wants to focus her financial planning career on serving clients who are first and second generation Americans. Diane Marie Manuel, of Urban Wealth Management in El Segundo, California. Lauryn Williams, from Dallas, the founder of Worth Winning, a virtual financial planning firm that focuses on serving the needs of millennials and professional athletes. Williams, Sandy noted, is quite an athlete herself, seeing as she won medals in both the winter and summer Olympic games.

Sandy then introduced Sharon Epperson of CNBC, who in turn interviewed Cal Ripken Jr., another athlete of note, in a “fireside chat” in which the Hall of Fame baseball player spoke of his baseball playing career, his record 2,632-game record playing streak, when he knew it was time to leave the game and what lessons baseball taught him that he uses in his business career.

Referring to Ripken’s playing streak, Epperson won a laugh from the audience when she said “2,632—I’m sure you haven’t seen that many clients in a row—or would want to!”

Ripken began his comments on baseball and business leadership at Ripken Baseball, which runs Ripken baseball leagues and provides baseball coaching, by telling a story. He says his firm hires young people “to get on the phone and sell” Ripken Baseball’s products—“experiences” and participation in baseball camps, for example. “They think they can sell, but they don’t want to learn” first, but rather want to start selling right away. Some may even have initial success selling, but when that dries up, they can become dejected and realize they need the training to be good salespeople.

(Related: Will Smith's 8 Life Lessons for Advisors)

Ripken compared it to when pro ballplayers experience a slump at the plate. The important thing is perseverance, he said, to keep working on your craft even when you’re not performing well. “The work ethic matters; the number of hours you spend” in the batting cages and with hitting coaches and analyzing your swing. He acknowledged that he was accurately known, and sometimes criticized, for frequently changing his batting stance, though he characterized it as trying different physical poses in a bid to address the ball with his bat in the way he knew to be successful: “I had the courage to try different things.”

After all, “you get four measly at-bats a day” when playing a baseball game, but what fans may not realize is that the players spend “thousands of hours of preparation” for those four at-bats. “When you force yourself to play, you learn about yourself,” he said, and ironically that “lowering your expectations and pushing yourself” after getting that advice in a slump can pull you out of that slump.

Another business lesson he learned is that “you need to be a quick learner,” as a baseball player “you learn how to hit, field, throw, but you need to keep learning, especially as your talent” declines. One thing he’s learned in his business dealings is the importance of “what we called in baseball, chemistry,” but in business is called, culture.

“You need smart people who fit your culture. To build culture, choose the right people, people who care, people who want to be at the table when you have a problem” at the firm. When asked the one piece of advice he’d give to somebody starting a business, if an employee isn’t working out, isn’t fitting into the culture, “make the decision more quickly” to let that person go. In the beginning of his business career, Ripken said he was “too empathetic,” though he’s since come to realize that firing an employee who doesn’t fit “isn’t personal.”

Regarding his famous streak of games played consecutively, Ripken said that once he was able to “to do it once,” i.e., play 162 games in a full season, that gave him the confidence that he could do it again.

Ripken brought together financial planning and baseball by telling another story. Ripken currently has a son in the Washington Nationals’ farm system and is encouraging him to carefully manage his money, mostly by curbing his spending. He recalled what he learned from his agent, who once he started getting a major league salary would get an “allowance” of about $1,000 from the agent every two weeks; the remainder of his salary would go into “investments and savings.”

It turns out that his Orioles’ teammate Eddie Murray had the same agent. When Murray “got a $1 million salary” one year, Ripken learned that despite his much richer salary, Murray’s “carry-around money was exactly the same as mine.” So he tells his son, Ripken said, “keep your lifestyle as low as you can; everybody wants to buy cars; before you realize the value of money, focus on baseball.”

How did he know when it was time to retire? Following back surgery and the rehab process in 1999, he saw the Orioles going through “another rebuilding process,” which did not appeal to him. So he announced his retirement in June of that year, which in addition to giving him the opportunity to “get a lot of gifts” and say goodbye to many people, “it gave me the limelight to help launch the baseball” company that he had planned after his retirement from baseball.

Who was the toughest pitcher he ever faced? Ripken first mentioned all the number one pitchers from teams in the American League during his career—Nolan Ryan, Roger Clemens, Pedro Martinez—before settling on former Yankees’ pitcher Goose Gossage, who he said was “throwing 100 miles per hour when everybody else was throwing 90.”

Ripken admitted to being intimidated by Gossage—“he was terrifying”—before he figured out a way to allay his fear. Knowing that a teammate was a friend of Gossage’s, Ripken arranged to meet the two men at a “rib joint five minutes from my home” near Baltimore. Upon entering the restaurant, the teammate called Ripken over to join him and Gossage at the bar, where over the course of the evening he learned that Gossage “was a nice guy.” Subsequently, “we closed the place down and the next day I got three hits off him,” since the intimidation factor was gone. Ripken concluded: “that’s how you overcome an intimidating person—have some beers with him and close down a bar.”

(Related on ThinkAdvisor: Will Smith's 8 Life Lessons for Advisors)

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