In the latest installment of the Entrepreneurship Speaker Series last Tuesday, October 8th, Bullis alum Brian Rolapp recapped his journey from small-time high school student to the NFL’s chief of media. Already impressive in itself, Rolapp’s ascension to power is particularly awe-inspiring given its rapid progression: he received his MBA from Harvard Business School in 2000, entered the NFL corporate structure in 2003, then – before he even hit 40! – was promoted to his current title of Chief Operating Officer of NFL Media in 2011. The immense success that Rolapp has found in his career is rare, so when he stands in front of students and shares his advice, they listen.
A faulty PowerPoint among other technical difficulties forced Brian to begin his presentation differently than he had planned. He opened with an introduction of his personal life and what led him to Bullis 26 years ago, instead of opening with a background on his job. Rolapp started Bullis in 7th grade, and according to him, the school prepared him well for the world ahead:
“Bullis was the biggest employer in my life,” he declared.
Rolapp added that although the things you learn at school may not seem important to you now, they may end up playing a big role in your life ahead. One example of this is note-taking - Rolapp still takes the same “big I, big a, little I, little a” notes today as he did when he was a Bullis student. This conveys the practices and habits you develop in high school, whether positive or negative, often stick with you throughout your career. Rolapp therefore encouraged students to focus on truly learning their techniques, rather than just going through the motions.
About half way through the one-hour time slot, the NFL executive presented the four golden tips for success. Going back to his note-taking example, he said the first part on the path to success is learning how to learn. Rolapp stressed the importance of learning during high school, noting that students should focus not only on learning facts but also on developing the methods with which they go about that learning process.
The second piece of advice Rolapp offered was learning how to work. According to him, “there is no substitution for hard work.” And this begins in high school, he added, where the “long days” can often get the better of people. He emphasized how although the overwhelming work hours of a high school student can seem endless, it teaches you that hard work gets you places.
The third ingredient in Rolapp’s recipe for success is “learning your talent.” He encouraged that “everybody has a talent,” and “it’s just about finding that talent then using [tips] one and two to make that talent even better.”
Finally, Rolapp explained his fourth tip for success – learning how to fail - by using an example in the football world. He asked students and faculty what they remembered about the 2006 AFC championship game. A Patriots fan, Upper School principal Andrew Delinsky replied with a hint of regret in his voice, “Peyton Manning led the Colts back and beat the Patriots.”
Delinsky’s recap is, in fact, what happened in the game; however, Rolapp wanted a different answer. He responded by showing a clip from the final play of the game in which Patriots quarterback, Tom Brady, threw an interception with 40 seconds to go, his team down by four points on the Colts 40-yard line.
“Everybody in the world thought Tom Brady was going to do what he always did in that situation: lead his team down the field and win the game,” Rolapp said. “Instead, he threw a terrible interception, which caused his team to lose.”
But Rolapp suddenly changed his tone when he asked the crowd, “Did any of you notice how Tom carried himself after that game?” After a silent response, Rolapp answered that Tom Brady walked off that field with his head held high, and that next year, he went on to have arguably the greatest season a quarterback has ever had.
“What Tom Brady did was know how to fail,” Rolapp said of the QB who built off of his failure and came back with more confidence and accuracy than any quarterback the NFL had ever seen. Learning how to fail is one of the most important parts of life according to Rolapp. As students, it is our responsibility to learn and grow from our mistakes, whether they occur in the classroom or on the field.
After a captivating 55 minutes, Brian Rolapp delivered a clear message to everybody in the auditorium: to make the most of our time at Bullis, as we will shape some of the most important aspects of our lives every day at school. And who knows? If we embrace Rolapp’s keys to success, then maybe 25 years from now, we’ll be the highly successful Bullis alums inflecting our own wisdom.