From NFL Running Back To An EMBA At McCombs & Then JP Morgan

Chris Ogbonnaya at graduation at UT-Austin McCombs School of Business

AC: So how did you settle on business school as your next move?

CO: About an hour later my dad came back and asked, “What do you want to do?” At that time, I had been doing some television and radio and I had been doing TV bootcamp that the NFL does. Coach Brown had transitioned to ESPN and I had been looking at doing similar things with ESPN and the NFL network. But I realized that for every Ray Lewis or Donovan McNabb who can walk off the field and into broadcasting, I knew I wasn’t of that caliber. So my sister suggested it may be a good idea to get into business.

I was lucky enough to have a sister who had gone through business school at The University of Chicago. Both she and my dad created tables, charts, and graphs that illustrated probabilities to see what my chances were in a variety of fields and we started toying with the idea of me going back to school for an MBA. At first, I was averse to it. As an undergrad at UT, I’d double majored in History and Communications so I thought that was sufficient. Then the more I thought about it, the more I started looking into programs.

Around the time I began my search, it was already June so most schools weren’t looking at MBA admissions until August of the following year. Then I started looking into Executive MBA programs which have a different schedule for applying and enrolling. The executive program application for UT was due in a week. I didn’t want to sit around doing nothing for a year, so I worked on it and was able to turn in my application materials by the deadline. Two weeks later, I was lucky enough to get interviewed and I got in.

My eldest sister, who is a Harvard Law grad, suggested I give Harvard and a myriad of other business schools a try. I also sit on an ethics committee at Harvard, but ultimately I decided UT was close to home and would allow me to spend time with my dad, the rest of the family, and not sit around for a year waiting. I didn’t want to let complacency set in. I started UT’s Executive MBA program August of that year.

P&Q: This year, you were featured as one of our Best & Brightest EMBAs. In that article, you talk about having to get over the intimidation of going to business school. What did the intimidation stem from?

CO: I had been away from mathematics since 2004 or 2005 during my freshmen year of college. I was a History and Corporate Communications major so there’s not a lot of math in that. Here I was going from third down blitz and pass protection to corporate finance and standard deviation.

Initially, there was some anxiety. I asked my dad, “Will I be able to do this?” It was the unknown and that I hadn’t done formal schooling in a long time that had me intimidated.

P&Q: And how’d you overcome these fears?

CO: Any issue I have in life, I was taught not to run away from because it’ll be there whether you like it or not. So I ran to it. I just faced it head on. But UT does a nice job of creating a diverse mix of working professionals and I found that a lot of it was foreign to the others too. We formed some good study groups and most of our professors were really accessible. There was never a time I felt like I couldn’t get a question answered.

P&Q: Any similarities on the field versus inside the classroom?

CO: To be a great running back, you have to go through countless drills that help you become great. Those things take practice. It was the same concept in business school. I wasn’t working at the time, so I would set aside time to do stats and corporate finance until I understood it. By the time test time came, it wasn’t foreign anymore.

P&Q: What three words would you use to describe your EMBA experience?

CO: I’d say growth, family (it’s been constant at UT), and perseverance. Not to be cliche, but anything worth doing should be done well. I remember it being August 2015, I was embarking on this journey and thinking, “Am I going to make it?” Then, the final semester was tough. Balancing my new job and school was hard, but I saw my classmates and thought, “If they can do it, why can’t I?”

P&Q: Did your classmates know about your NFL career? How did they react?

CO: I had to get it out the way really early in the process. When we started, we went around the room and shared pictures each of us had drawn to illustrate who we were. At that point, I said I guess I’ll let them know. They really didn’t make a big deal about it, which I appreciated because I didn’t want my football career to take away from my MBA experience nor from others.

P&Q: In January of this year, you started your new role with JP Morgan.

CO: Correct. I’m working in the private bank focused on private wealth. Every day is different. We work on prospecting clients or taking care of present clients in all different capacities: lending, mortgages, etc. I’m partnered with an executive director and we go over things like prospects, client events, client visits. You stay very, very busy. Yet the culture here is very similar to what I know of being on a team. Our company’s motto is very team oriented.

P&Q: I’ll ask the same question that I did about your classmates: do your colleagues at JP Morgan know you played in the NFL?

CO: People know and we’ve talked about it. It’s not really a factor. Every now and again it comes up, but it doesn’t dominate conversation. Besides, everyone comes from a different and interesting background. It’s such a privilege to play, but I want to create another tentacle or add to that and build my second career. That’s what I’m looking forward to in this next chapter.

P&Q: Speaking of next chapter, what are your long-term goals?

CO: Long-term career goal now is just to be able to do a good job. When I look up, I want to be a better version of myself a day later or a year later. I don’t have a specified goal to obtain this position or that title. I just want to be better. I live by the mindset that you either get better or worse, but you never stay the same.

DON’T MISS: The Best & Brightest EMBAs: Class of 2017