Steve Young won three Super Bowl rings as quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers and made it to the National Football League Hall of Fame by running away. And that’s what he did when he left the game after the 1999 season.

Intent on making a name for himself in investing, Young resisted leveraging his on-field fame for years. When his longtime business partner Rich Lawson would hang Young’s former college and pro jerseys in the headquarters of HGGC LLC, Young would take them down, and bring them home.

Now, having closed HGGC’s latest and largest fund at $2.5 billion, Young and Lawson have gathered almost $7 billion across four funds and completed $50 billion worth of deals and Young is no longer running from his past life. The jerseys are up on the wall for good, and Young’s side of the Palo Alto, California, office he shares with Lawson is crammed with a unique mash-up of Wall Street deal toys, football helmets and NFL memorabilia.

“I thought, the more famous you are as a player, the more accomplished you are, the more I thought it would be difficult to have people take you seriously,” Young said in an interview for the latest installment of Bloomberg Quicktake’s “Athlete|Empire” series. “Maybe I overplayed it. I can admit that at this point, but if you’re going to start from the beginning and be a founder and kind of claw out from the beginning, you can’t bring that with you.”

Constant Motion
Hailed for his quick feet and willingness to scramble down the field evading defenders, Young remains a man in constant motion, now intent on marrying his private equity ambitions with his goal of advising current and former players about how to be successful in business. He’s created an empire of overlapping interests in which his network of athletes, portfolio companies, charitable partners and even his family regularly team up for his, and their, benefit.

At an April golf tournament in Scottsdale, Arizona, supporting his Forever Young Foundation, the golfers included New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson (who, like Young, played at Brigham Young University before turning pro), Integrity Marketing Group Chief Executive Officer Bryan Adams and Young’s father, LeGrande “Grit” Young.

Young uses such tournaments, held several times a year, to raise money for children in need, as well as convene top executives from the HGGC portfolio. About a dozen company finance chiefs gathered the day after the golf tournament for a conference that Young kicked off.

HGGC invests across the middle market, including in consumer and technology companies. Its current portfolio includes Better Being, a vitamin and supplement business; AutoAlert, a data-mining company in the automotive industry; and Entrata, a property-management software firm.

Bloomberg Photo

Staubach, Manning
Young is among the more ambitious retired NFL players who have pursued business careers after their playing days. He says he emulated his childhood hero, Roger Staubach, who made his post-football fortune in real estate. More recently, fellow former quarterbacks such as Peyton Manning and Eli Manning have begun building empires, with Eli joining private equity firm Brand Velocity Group.

At 60, Young says he’s intent on paying it forward, whether that’s through securing HGGC’s future by widening the ownership and succession planning, counseling current and retired players on business, or making personal deals with a next generation of entrepreneurs.

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