Just for Father's Day, we present to you a special interview with one of the biggest Dad's in America -- George Foreman. David and Tom Gardner interviewed the former heavyweight champion on The Motley Fool Radio Show last April. The champ and Fool co-founders talked about family -- George is the father of 10 -- boxing, best and worst investments, and, of course, the famous George Foreman Grill from Salton
TMF: He's a puncher, a preacher, an author, a rancher, a family man, and a business man. He's got one of the hottest-selling home products in years. The Motley Fool Radio Show is pleased to welcome the former Heavyweight Champion of the World, George Foreman, who joins us from Houston, Texas. George, welcome to The Motley Fool Radio Show.
George Foreman: Uh, thank you. And you forgot to mention that I just overcame the IRS.
TMF: Is that true?
GF: The 15th of April.
TMF: You paid your taxes this year, George?
GF: I finally paid my taxes. I'm telling you it's done. I can live now.
TMF: Amen, amen. Now we've got a lot of ground to cover. We'd like to start out by talking a little bit about the George Forman Grill, which has got to be one of the best-selling home products ever. How did the idea originate, and how are things going these days? Are we still seeing rapid sales?
GF: Rapid sales, no doubt about it. But it all started as a joke. Of course, I was doing so many commercials and campaigning for so many products out there, and a friend of mine asked me, he said, "George, why don't get your own product? Since you're making everyone else so successful."
I said "OK, I'll do it. How much are you going to give me?" He said "No, no, no, no. No money. You get your own." So the grill, it just came up. It was an invention that had been around for a long time, but I got with the people at Salton
We did an infomercial, which I didn't like. Infomercials -- I've bought everything from hair tonic to "do you bet you're gonna catch a fish," and nothin' works. So, for me to go on with a product on an infomercial... I didn't like it, but we started using it, the grill. The grease would drop. I didn't have to put my hands in the oven to broil food anymore. And this thing got around by word of mouth. I think by 1983, '84, people were talking about it. Nobody was buying it, but they were talking.
TMF: George, what are your favorite things to cook on the George Foreman Grill?
GF: Salmon steak. That's what I love, the salmon steak. If I put one of those on, I could have them for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. There's nothing better for me than salmon steaks. I love them because my wife, she doesn't mind if I eat 'em all day.
TMF: Now, as a business show, we've gotta ask: Do you think you've made more money from your boxing career or from sales of the George Foreman Grill?
GF: No doubt the grill has been more successful, but it never could have happened without the boxing career, I can tell you that.... You know, it's strange.... People recognize me more now [because of the grill], and now people say "George, I love the grill!" And it works. I've lost so much weight. You hear these kind of things, and that makes me know that success cannot be measured with money when you're talking about this. Because with boxing, it wasn't about the money -- you was just trying to be heavyweight champion of the world and Olympic gold medallist.
TMF: And obviously a lot of people love their George Foreman Grill. George, do you know how many you've sold?
GF: Oh, probably somewhere over 12 million. No doubt more than that.
TMF: George, we want to back up for a minute and talk about the early days. We're a business show, as you know, so we like to talk to our guests about money. You were one of seven children. What was the money situation like growing up?
GF: Boy, we were so poor that we had to take one of the "O's" out and even the "R." We were just poor. We would sit around, and I would think about daydreamin'... I would watch through the windows of families who would have food, and I would see them leave the skin of a piece of chicken, and I'd wish I could have that. You talk about poor. Life was rough, and there wasn't anything called money around.
TMF: What type of boy was George Foreman?
GF: Because my mother worked all the time, and I come from a family where the mother was the rule, and my mother and father broke up early, and she'd have to scare me. "I'm gonna get you if you do this." That... would scare me, and that scare would wear off after about half the day. And then I was out in trouble, being your typical juvenile delinquent
TMF: Now what was the turning point for you? I've certainly read that you had a religious vision during your boxing career and decided to become a preacher. Now, what was that moment that you would identify as the turning point for you?
GF: I was a high school drop out, of course, way back in the early '60s, about '64, and in '65, Jimmy Brown, a great football player, did a commercial for the Job Corp. He said that if you're looking for a second chance in life, an education, a chance to play sports -- do it. And I was nowhere, just literally in the gutter. Lyndon Johnson started this anti-poverty program to give high school dropouts in the inner city a second chance at education. I took it. And I got a chance to learn to read and write, and even had three meals a day in the Job Corp. program. That changed my life more than anything.
TMF: George, let's talk boxing now. After a 10 year retirement, you decided to fight again. You came back in 1987. Why did you come out of retirement?
GF: I spent 10 years as an evangelist. I had this dynamic experience back in '77, after my last boxing match as The George Foreman. And I lost, and I had a religious experience in the dressing room. I had a vision. In a split second, I was dead and alive again. On my hand, and on my forehead... I started screaming, because I saw blood, "Jesus Christ is coming alive in me!"
Of course, they rushed me to the emergency room. You know what I mean? But I will never forget that experience. To have a vision of death and life again. And I had a second chance to live. It changed me. For 10 years, I couldn't even shadow box. But something happened: I got broke. And I wish I had been a golfer, believe me. But because I was a boxer, and it was my only profession, I had to come back. Of course, the high point was to regain the title in 1994. I defeated Michael Moore. It was unbelievable because people say, "Look, you a middle-aged man."
TMF: How old were you then, George?
GF: I was 45 years old. The oldest man to ever become heavyweight champion of the world.
TMF: You ever thought about breaking that record?
GF: I do, I think about it all the time. I told my wife just the other day, "Look!" David Tua was about to fight Lennox Lewis for the title, but they couldn't agree on money. I said to my wife, "Look, I can pay David Tua that money he wants and fight him. He's the number one contender. I could beat him, and then Lennox Lewis has got to fight me. I could be the heavyweight champion of the world!!"
And I went on for about two hours and after I finished, she said "Shut Up!! Go lay down." When it gets to the point where you're more afraid of what your wife is going to do to you than Lennox Lewis and Mike Tyson, you know its time to leave it alone.
TMF: Now speaking of family... George, you've got five sons and five daughters, all of your sons, as we understand it, are named George. Why?
GF: I've even got a daughter who's Frieda George Foreman... And, if you gonna be a good boxer, you gotta make preparation for memory loss (laughs). It's like what am I gonna call them? How many fingers you see? One! Two!!
TMF: Let me ask you, George -- you said that you came back to boxing because you were broke, but we have to think that during your initial boxing career that you made quite a bit of money. What happened to that money along the way?
GF: Well, you've heard of fast women and slow horses. And I just had no idea about life -- that you needed to save money and look for the future. Even though I boxed for 10 years, I thought that the money would continue to come every day, and I just spent. I had no idea that one day you'll be a middle-aged man, and that you gonna need money. You don't want money, I thought, and that was the end of it.
TMF: Let's talk about that right now, George. We are a show about investing and money. And we frequently feature people who are well known, and they tell us, looking back over their lives, their smartest and dumbest investment
GF: Oh, I can tell you the dumbest. The price of cattle was skyrocketing back in the late- or middle-70's. I invested more hundred thousands than you could ever guess in the cattle business. And the bottom fell out of them quick; they were worth 10 cents overnight.
TMF: How much did you lose?
GF: I think, at that time...about $700,000, which is the equivalent of $2 million today.
TMF: That's exactly right. And they're still the same cattle, right? I mean, they're all still cattle. They're there, they're yours.
GF: Yeah, they're cows, but then you end up with the cows, and then you gotta feed them, too.
TMF: Now what about the smartest investment?
GF: The smartest is the annuities. You put your money in a few of those annuities, and they never do anything adventurous, and you look back and you say "It's still there." It hasn't grown much...
TMF: But it's still there.
GF: The annuities, I'm telling you: investing with those insurance companies and buying the annuities through them... I've had some more aggressive investments, and I've done well, but I've never seen anything like that. You come back, and the money's still there.
TMF: And George, we're going to close with a little game that we play with our guests that we play on The Motley Fool Radio Show. It's called Buy, Sell, or Hold. Now we're going to be tossing out people or things going on in our society, and ask you, if they were stocks, would you be buying, selling, or holding, and maybe a sentence or two about why. Are you ready?
TMF: OK, let's start with.... If he were a stock, would you buy, sell, or hold... Mike Tyson?
GF: Uh, hold.
TMF: And why?
GF: I think the best is yet to come.
TMF: Buy, sell, or hold... marriage?
GF: Marriage... hold
GF: Jump in the water, it's fine. I've been in there five times.
TMF: Five baptisms... Ok, buy, sell, or hold...another boxing comeback for George Foreman?
GF: Buy. Cuz if I get broke, I'm coming back!
TMF: George, you're not spending too much of that grill money, are you? He's got the annuities, and he's got a wife.
GF: My name is George, and I cannot tell a lie.
TMF: He throws a mean punch both in the boxing ring and in the business ring. George Foreman, thanks for joining us on The Motley Fool Radio Show.
GF: Thank you.