Q&A with Dhani Jones
Photography by Brian Ambs
Dhani Jones graduated from the University of Michigan in 2000 and was drafted into the NFL by the New York Giants (the New York Football Giants, Jones respectfully insists). He played in the NFL for eleven seasons, including four with the Cincinnati Bengals from 2007 to 2010. Jones retired from football in October 2011 and became the star of a television series, Dhani Tackles the Globe, in which he learns how to play international sports that are unknown to most Americans. He's an entrepreneur as well, having opened a coffee shop in Mount Adams called the Bow Tie Cafe. Jones is also a founding partner of VMG Creative, a New York City creative agency with clients such as Michael Kors, Capital One and P&G, and he is chairman of Qey Capital Partners, an investment fund based in Cincinnati.
Jones does more than that. Much more. But in the interest of time, let's just say that Jones' career accomplishments to date are prolific. Still, the ex-NFLer and former Michigan Wolverine has his sights set on a future of even greater entrepreneurial success.
LEAD Cincinnati sat down with Jones when it honored him as a Great Leader Under 40 in January, 2015.
LEAD Cincinnati: What is the best advice you’ve received form a mentor?
Dhani Jones: I think the best advice I’ve received is just to stay locked on your goals, to believe in your mission and your cause and to always stay focused. There are a lot of people out there that will deter you, there are a lot of people that will try to take you off your course. But you are the one that has to stay centered and be directionally oriented.
LC: What was a pivotal or defining moment in your work life?
DJ: One of the most pivotal moments in my career was when I was on the Philadelphia Eagles and I made a decision to not work out with the team. I decided to move back to California, where i was born, and to work out there and create my own island. It was a difficult choice because I knew that there was the potential that the team wouldn’t like it. But at the time I was working with a gentleman and he told me sometimes you have to make a stand for who you are and what you believe in. I decided that my current working environment was not to my liking. I couldn't get better there. So I went to California. I did get better out there and I came back to the team and then I got released. That moment, when I made the decision to leave and go work out elsewhere, was a difficult one. But it was a defining moment too, because it was a choice I made for myself. Ever since that moment I hope that I have made all my decisions based upon what I truly believe is good for me.
LC: What three characteristics do successful leaders need to have?
DJ: Successful leaders need to be determined, they need to trust in collaborations with other successful leaders and they need to be extremely focused on their goals.
LC: If we interviewed your former teachers, what would they say about you and would they be surprised about where you are today?
DJ: It depends on what teacher you ask! Whether you ask my Montessori teacher or my middle-school teacher or my high-school teacher or my college professor. But they would probably all say that Dhani is out meandering the world with a backpack, exploring life and getting to know people, because he cares about community and culture. So I guess I am where they all thought I would be. And if I can always get to know people, if I can always travel, if I can always be a part of change, then I’m comfortable.
LC: Where did you think you were headed when you graduated from college and where do you believe you will be ten years from now?
DJ: Graduating from the University of Michigan and getting drafted by the New York Football Giants, I was going into the NFL. But even in my junior year of college I thought I was going to be a doctor. So I was someone who always paid attention in my biochemistry classes and in my chemistry classes and in my calculus classes and in everything else that had to do with medicine. But then I got drafted and my track became playing football. Still, I always knew in the back of my mind that entrepreneurship was a part of my life.
Ten years from now I expect to be in an accelerated growth period, just like I am now. Because when you are growing a business, that growth happens in stints. You have a ramp-up period and then you have a growth period and then you have another ramp-up period. So I believe that in ten years we will be at an accelerated point in growing Qey Capital, which is focused on growing businesses throughout the Midwest.
LC: What is it like living in Cincinnati as a young professional?
DJ: When I'm on the coasts, people always ask me about living in Cincinnati, because most of the time they don't believe me when I say that I live here. But I really love it. I may be at CVG more than most people, but that's because of the fact that my television career, whether with Spike TV or Direct TV or CNN, takes me all over the place, to Atlanta, New York and LA. But that's just part of paying homage to the industry that has taken care of me.
Being a young professional in Cincinnati is all about understanding what the culture is, and that culture is all about entrepreneurship. The fabric of the Midwest is built upon entrepreneurship. I love living here because there is a lot of vibrant energy. This city is an amazing place of change and growth and I want to be a part of that. The coasts will always be great, but right here, right now we are in a defining and pivotal point. Especially in Cincinnati, where it's become so easy to grow a business. Because, if you think about it, Cincinnati has more Fortune 500 companies than Boston. Right here! So the question is who is going to build the next one?
Favorite burger in Cincinnati?
Favorite Graeter’s Ice Cream flavor?
Favorite Cincinnati neighborhood?
It's a tie between Hyde Park and Over-The-Rhine
Favorite gift to receive?
An airplane ticket to anywhere in the world
Favorite thing to wear?
Favorite comic book or toy growing up?
Transformers Optimus Prime
Stoli Elite Rocks
Anything from Rhinegeist
Favorite vacation spot?
Turks and Caicos
Favorite sporting event or concert you’ve been to?
A homegame in Michigan Stadium
Favorite quote or mantra?