Dr. Joseph Profit
Article by Georgiann Potts and Photography by Kelly Moore Clark
“With God’s grace, hard work, and a plan we can achieve just about anything in this country.”
Those words have served as an inspiration for Dr. Joseph “Joe” Profit throughout his lifetime. He heard them spoken by his father, Simon Profit, countless times as he was growing up, and often later on when he was grown and a successful athlete and businessman. Today, Dr. Profit is more than a courageous barrier-breaker in Louisiana collegiate football, more than a 1st round draft choice for the NFL, and more than a businessman who made his first million before he was thirty years old. No, he is much more than that, and his remarkable lifetime of achievement is why he is BayouLife’s April BayouIcon.
Dr. Joseph “Joe” Profit’s humble beginnings were like those of so many African Americans in the south during the 1950’s and early ‘60’s. He was born in Lake Providence, Louisiana, as one of nine children in a sharecropper’s family. His father, Simon Profit, was a veteran of World War II in the United States Army, but like so many others, could not find any work when he returned to Louisiana other than sharecropping. Joe’s father had a third-grade education and his mother, Ethyl Profit, had a sixth-grade education. Both parents believed that education was the way to escape the farm and find a better path to success in America.
The Profit philosophy was based on hard work and God’s grace combined with a plan. Even though his parents did not earn a lot of money during those years, they still managed to accomplish their goals. Of their nine children, six would graduate college, three would earn master’s degrees, and two would earn the Ph.D. Today, six of them own their own businesses and are successful entrepreneurs.
WORKING IN THE COTTON FIELDS
Joe Profit is widely known for his solid work ethic. He attributes that to his work as a young boy in the Louisiana cotton fields. He would work alongside his father and his siblings, trying to earn money to buy his school clothes and to help pay some of the bills. The family’s goal was to work their way off that farm and Joe wanted to be a part of that effort. Learning that “cause and effect” early on helped him to realize firsthand the rewards of hard work. He was to apply that same work ethic later when he played high school, collegiate, and professional football and entered the business world.
Christmas meant gifts of special fruit – apples and oranges – and lots of time spent with family and his grandmother who lived close by. The best gifts in those days were those of time and story-sharing, keeping alive the memories of those who had gone before.
When Joe was 9 years old the family moved to Monroe. He attended Swayze Elementary where he was active in sports. Football and track and field were his favorites, and he was good at both. There was no junior high at that time, so after Swayze Joe went to Richwood High School. Here, too, he was active in sports. “I loved athletics, and that’s why I was able to say in school,” he explains. “This was a way to earn money for college through a scholarship.”
INFLUENCE OF AN OLDER BROTHER
Not surprisingly, Joe says that many of his mentors while he was growing up were football players. His older brother, Simon Jr., was a football star in high school and an All American. Simon Jr. taught his younger brother to work hard and train regularly. “Simon taught me that practice did not make perfect, but that perfect practice makes perfect,” Joe remembers. “He believed that if you goofed off in practice, you would goof off in the game. I never forgot that, in athletics or in business.”
There were others, of course, beginning with his father whose example set the tone for Joe’s life. Joe’s teachers and coaches helped him to believe that there was nothing he couldn’t achieve if he worked hard enough. Some quietly encouraged him to compete in areas he didn’t think he could; others pushed him headlong into those areas. Along the way, Joe realized that he could be successful – and that success depended almost entirely on him.
FOOTBALL PROVIDES ACCESS
When Joe graduated from high school, his aspiration was to go to college and further his education. Playing football was the best “ticket” for him to use to achieve that goal. At the time during the beginning stages of integration, there really weren’t many – if any – black athletes playing football at predominantly white colleges.
With courage and determination, Joe began his collegiate football career at the University of Louisiana at Monroe (then Northeast Louisiana State College) as a walk-on. Joe had been awarded a full scholarship to a predominantly black college but he walked away from that opportunity so that he could seek another, greater one on a predominantly white football team.
The early going was not easy. He was denied a jersey twice before on the third try, a coach threw him a jersey. “He told me that they did not recruit college players and that I was on my own,” Joe remembers. He ran track in the spring to improve his football skills. Just four years later, he graduated with a B.Ed. and his football jersey was retired. That marked the first and only athletic jersey retired in ULM’s history. It would be another 25 years before another one was retired in any sport.
As Joe tried to settle into life as a college student-athlete, he found himself in a very unfamiliar environment both socially and culturally. He quickly learned to use his ability to work with those who did not like him, to understand their feelings, and to get things done anyway. He maintained a positive attitude using what became his 3-step formula for success: the “3 A’s” – Appearance, Approach, and Attitude.
The others on the football team, like Joe, had attended segregated high schools. Because of that, it was challenging for everyone. By being part of a team, that transition was in many ways easier and quicker than it was for the average student. In the classroom, Joe did feel contempt from some of the professors, but not all. As for the students, he says that they eventually accepted him – although in class he often made better grades.
One of Joe’s favorite memories of his collegiate career concerned a teammate from south Louisiana, Howard Swindler. Swindler was a starter on the team. Joe, although an All-American, was not allowed to start any games. One night before a game, Swindler pretended to have a severe stomachache and convinced the coach that he could not play that night. The head coach panicked and begged Swindler to play, but Swindler insisted that he just couldn’t. “It was our private joke just between the two of us,” Joe remembers with a chuckle. “Ironically, it took a white kid from South Louisiana to act in a totally non-selfish way that allowed me, a black, to take my rightful place as a starter in the first home football game in 1968.”
“Back when I was the only black student at ULM I experienced a lot of hate. But I never let it get me down. I stayed positive, treated people with respect, and ultimately, I found acceptance and was able to succeed. If I had succumbed to the hate, I never would have made it to the NFL and I never would have been able to achieve great success in business,” Joe recalls.
PROFESSIONAL FOOTBALL BECKONS
Joe’s earliest career aspiration was to be a certified public accountant. His football coach in elementary school was the only black CPA in the community and Joe wanted to be just like him. Once he was in high school, his career plans changed and he wanted to be a great football player. When he became a member of the ULM football team, he requested jersey #40 – the number that his hero, Gale Sayers – wore.
Joe’s collegiate career did not escape notice at the professional ranks, and he was selected the #1 draft pick by the Atlanta Falcons. He became the first Falcon’s running back to receive a multi-year six-figure contract. From the first, injury played a part in his career. During the 4th game of his rookie year, Joe was injured and had to miss the entire remainder of the season. The next year, he came back strong and led the NFL in rushing. He became the first Falcon to score 3 touchdowns in one game in which he rushed for 169 yards on 21 carries. During his third year, Joe was traded to the New Orleans Saints – a dream come true as now he was able to play in his home state in front of family and friends. After leaving the Saints, Joe played in the World Football League for the Birmingham Americans (1974) and the Birmingham Vulcans (1975). His injuries foreshortened his career, but Joe was ready for his next chapter. He trusted God, had worked hard, and had a plan.
INVESTING FOR THE FUTURE
Just as his older brother Simon Jr. had transitioned from star football player to a successful career away from athletics, Joe was determined to invest for the time in his life when he could no longer play football. Simon became one of the best insurance salesmen in Louisiana, showing Joe that life beyond football was an important “next step” in that plan their father had always insisted was necessary.
Joe’s own business career began when he was injured during his rookie year in the NFL. The injury gave him time to think about the future and what his plan should be. As he rehabilitated his body, he explored opportunities.
Joe became involved with the fast food industry and became the first African American to own an International House of Pancakes franchise in the southeastern United States. Later, he was approved as a McDonalds and Burger King franchisee. “I had seen too many professional athletes leave the game of football and end up just scraping by,” Joe says. “I was determined to stay in business for as long as I was playing, and then to continue to grow that career after my time in the NFL. I did not want to become a statistic.”
Helping Joe see the possibilities was his father-in-law Andy Nelson who everyone referred to as Uncle Andy. He owned a restaurant in the community and a motel. Having an older relative successful in business set an example for Joe for what he could achieve. “Uncle Andy would also dress in a suit and tie, and he wore a hat to work every day,” Joe remembers. “He did not allow any loud talking or any bad behavior at his business.”
Joe was featured on the cover of a restaurant magazine for having one of the highest volume restaurants in the nation at that time. Over the years, Joe has invested wisely. A millionaire before he was 30, he has frequently been recognized for his business acumen. Among his honors are that he has been named Entrepreneur of the Year by Venture Magazine and Arthur Young & Company, inducted into the Institute of Entrepreneurs as a Lifetime Member, named America’s Best and Brightest Businessman by USA Today, and CEO of the Year in the state of Nevada.
Among his many business achievements, Joe cites founding and serving as CEO of telecommunications company Communications International, Inc. (CII) his most rewarding professionally. CII was named by Inc. 5oo Magazine as one of America’s fastest growing, privately held companies for three consecutive years. It has over 800 employees in 34 cities and 9 countries. In 1991, CII became the first minority-owned firm to win a multimillion-dollar contract to help with the reconstruction of war-torn Kuwait. Interestingly, Joe also cites this experience as being one of the biggest challenges he has faced during his life – transitioning from professional football player to international businessman.
Joe also found time for politics in the 1980’s when he served as chairman for the Blacks for Reagan campaign in Georgia. Soon after, he was appointed to advisory positions with both President Ronald Reagan and President George H.W. Bush. Through these experiences, Joe learned the inner-workings of the federal government and knew that one day he would seek an elective office. Today he is following up on that dream and is running to represent Georgia’s 6th Congressional District.
LIFE BEYOND BUSINESS
Joe is a proud father of 7 children and grandfather of 10 grandchildren. He is loving his life and always trying to help others. Just as in his professional life, his personal life has had both good times and bad. When, after 27 years of marriage, Joe underwent a divorce, for the first time he felt that he had failed. He readily admits that at first his career and marriage worked well, but the busier he became with his work demands, the more the marriage suffered. This experience taught him a valuable lesson. “Since that time, I have learned to manage my career and nourish my personal life as well,” Joe says.
Joe has a healthy sprinkling of athletes and entrepreneurs among his descendants. A 16-year-old granddaughter ranks #2 in track and field in Georgia. His oldest daughter owns a series of salons across the southeast. Joe’s oldest son has his own financial services firm, and his youngest son has a consulting business.
A casual meeting at a book signing in Louisiana brought Joe his second chance at love. Though Wanda McVan was 20 years younger, Joe found her to be more mature than women twice her age. The attraction was strong and mutual, and marriage followed. Today Joe has found a better work/life balance and always finds a way to maximize their date nights.
GIVING BACK FROM THE HEART
Giving back to the community has always been a part of Joe’s busy life. Through the years, he has always tried to lend his time and talents to organizations that were making a positive difference. He has served as chairman of three important fundraising campaigns: cystic fibrosis, sickle cell anemia, and cerebral palsy. Twenty-two years ago, Joe created the Youth United for Prosperity Foundation, a 501 (c)(3) non-profit designed to mentor the young and teach them how to become responsible adults. One of the questions that he always asks of young people is this: “What kind of a person do you want to be – a person who gives, or a person who only takes?”
Today, when asked what he hopes his life will be like in ten years, Joe’s answer is simple. “I will be grateful to have been of some service to others along the way,” he says. “I would like to think that I have given more than I’ve taken from the community.”
Along the way, Joe has earned a master’s and the PhD, become a published author, succeeded in the world of international business – and never forgotten where he came from. Although he has traveled the world (Peking, Singapore, and London are among his favorites), he is never far from that farm in East Carroll Parish on which he was born and from which he learned important lessons of life. He no longer has family there, but he still does his best to mentor and encourage residents whenever he can.
Simon and Ethyl Profit, both gone now, would be very proud.