Adam Bighill rises at 4:45 a.m. most days – and it’s not just to prepare for the coming season as a linebacker for the Grey Cup champion Winnipeg Blue Bombers. He’s also answering client e-mails and poring over financial news.
Besides being one the Canadian Football League’s (CFL) more accomplished defensive players, Mr. Bighill is also an investment advisor.
“This will be my career post-football, and for me to start building it now is important,” says the 31-year-old, married father of three young children.
Mr. Bighill has had an illustrious football career. The 10-year veteran has been awarded the CFL’s Most Outstanding Defensive Player twice and has also won the Grey Cup two times.
Now, Mr. Bighill has also joined another exclusive group of CFLers – those working in the investment industry. Hired last year as an advisor at one of Canada’s fastest-growing, independent investment dealers, Wellington-Altus Private Wealth Inc., Mr. Bighill is distinctive even in this respect.
That’s because most CFLers who joined the industry did so after their playing careers ended. Yet, Mr. Bighill has no intention of retiring from football anytime soon. In fact, he signed a three-year, $750,000 extension with Winnipeg last year. Rather, he plans on doing both for as long as possible.
Although football and managing other people’s money seem like an unlikely match, pro athletes’ skill sets often transfer well, says Charlie Spiring, founder, senior investment advisor and chairman of Wellington-Altus Holdings Inc.
“Some people label them ‘dumb jocks,’” says Mr. Spiring, adding that they’re anything but. “[Mr. Bighill] is very intelligent and one of those guys who had to work harder than others.”
Certainly, Mr. Bighill is very familiar with herculean workloads.
“To be a professional athlete, the amount of hard work and dedication you put into your craft is elite. So, what I do on a daily basis is normal to me, even if it’s not for most,” he says.
That same work ethic and passion were applied to his interest in investing after a disappointing experience working with an advisor early in his CFL career. He started managing his own money and enjoyed it so much he took the Canadian Securities Course.
“Then, it was like, ‘Okay, I’m definitely passionate about this … so let’s turn this into an opportunity.’”
Mr. Bighill is following the path of many CFLers before him who have forged successful careers in wealth management. That includes the league’s commissioner, Randy Ambrosie, who played nine seasons before building a successful career in the industry, most recently as president of AGF Management Ltd.
Yet, few have done both at the same time. Mike Philbrick, president and portfolio manager at ReSolve Asset Management in Toronto, is one of them.
He began his football career on the practice roster. “So, my schedule and income were a little light,” he says, adding that CFLers frequently work side jobs.
Over 11 seasons, Mr. Philbrick worked his way through the investment industry while becoming a fearsome defender on the field. He knows the challenges of balancing both jobs well, including long hours before and after games managing accounts and taking client calls.
The effort was worth his while, he adds. “You get to that point where you have to make a hard decision between two great options.”
Mr. Philbrick chose to retire from the CFL and continue in the investment industry, but the skills learned on the field remained useful.
“Sports is a metaphor for life condensed into much quicker feedback loops, which enhance your ability to learn valuable skills,” he says.
That’s because mistakes are called out, so you’re forced to learn from the criticism and make the necessary adjustments to be successful. “And that’s a super power in this industry,” he says.
John Rothwell vice-president, national business development at National Bank Financial Wealth Management, played in the CFL briefly after being drafted in 1977. He says adversity – including rejection by prospective clients and losing existing ones – is commonplace in wealth management. So, the resilience learned playing sports comes in handy.
Football is particularly “brutal,” he adds. Players sacrifice their bodies; injury and extreme pain are commonplace. But the investment industry can be just as bruising – without physical injuries.
So many aspect are beyond one’s control, volatile markets chief among them, and so both vocations takes a special individual, Mr. Rothwell says. “Adam is the real deal.”
Mr. Spiring thinks so, too, noting that Mr. Bighill is working alongside veteran advisor Rica Guenther in order to learn and manage the workload of both professions.
A proverbial team player, Mr. Bighill is thankful for the help. “What does a client do when they need something and I’m on the field? Well, Rica’s there to handle those needs,” he says.
As well, Ms. Guenther guides him through the complicated back-end administrative aspects of the business. Fortunately, football made him a quick study.
“Most of what I do is analytical … studying your opponent … breaking it down into fine details,” he says.
Of course, the investment industry also involves plenty of salesmanship, so some name recognition doesn’t hurt when trying to win over clients, Mr. Spiring says.
“There’s no question we’re parlaying his name and the Blue Bombers’ recent Grey Cup win,” he says.
Still, Mr. Bighill says that only gets him so far.
“People don’t just hand you money for being a football player, but it gives you a chance to get in the door and explain why you can create value,” he says.