The same traits that served Michael Teeter well as a professional athlete are now getting a tryout in the business world.
Teeter, a former professional football player who played several seasons in the NFL and spent two years coaching at the college level, has made the career transition to business, working as a commercial real estate broker for Investment Property Associates Inc. in Grand Haven.
The 34-year-old Teeter, a defensive lineman in his playing days, believes business people can learn a lot from pro sports about attitude and outlook, especially when it comes to getting people to work as a team for the common good of the organization. While a little bit of a self-centered attitude is required in business, “at the same time there are things that are bigger than you are,” Teeter said.
“If good things happen, they happen because of a cumulative effort,” said Teeter, who still struggles from time to time finding the right balance between self and team.
“I’m so used to ‘team.’ It’s hard to shift gears,” Teeter said.
A Fruitport native who earned an athletic scholarship to the University of Michigan, where he played football for four years, Teeter ventured into commercial real estate after leaving the game and a career in which he played on U-M’s 1989 Rose Bowl champion team, made All-Big 10, and played for four NFL teams: Philadelphia, Minnesota, Houston and Carolina. He retired from the NFL at the end of the preseason in 1997 when he was with Phoenix.
Teeter broke into the pro ranks even though he was passed up in the NFL draft. After inquiries from 15 teams, he signed with Indianapolis. Despite not being drafted, Teeter was determined to make it in the NFL.
“To me it was unacceptable to think I wasn’t going to continue on and play, because I knew what I could do. I knew what my abilities were,” he said.
The NFL career stalled when he left the Indianapolis Colts at the end of his first preseason. After spending a season playing in Europe with the World Football League, Teeter signed with Philadelphia.
The eventual decision to leave football and change careers came after a soul-searching process while Teeter was working as an assistant coach at Indiana University. Wary after two years of putting in 100-plus hours a week during the season, he contacted Bill McCartney, a former assistant coach Teeter played under at the University of Michigan and former University of Colorado head coach who left the game to form Promise Keepers, an organization promoting Christianity among men.
Teeter spent 15 minutes at a Promise Keepers gathering and made his decision. He resigned his position with Indiana University the next day.
Football, he said, had become “all consuming.” Rather than pursue another coaching position, Teeter decided it was time to pursue something else. He and his wife, Kim, decided to move back to their hometown of Fruitport with their three young children.
“I said ‘No, I’m not going to do this to my family anymore,’” Teeter said. “I had to ask myself, ‘What am I doing and why am I doing it?’ I couldn’t say I was doing it for my family.”
“Football wasn’t who I was; it was just part of me,” he said.
Three days after arriving home, Teeter received a call from a friend, Steve Mastella, who worked at West Wind Realty in Muskegon. The same friend had called two years earlier, when Teeter retired from the NFL, asking him what he planned to do next.
Teeter decided to take the opportunity this time and earned his real estate license. His second transaction was a $1 million commercial deal that whetted Teeter’s appetite and catapulted him toward the new career. The lure of commercial real estate for Teeter was the complexities of arranging a deal, he said.
“There are so many things you have to overcome and they’re not easy,” Teeter said.
After two years with West Wind Realty, Teeter met Bill Fettis, a partner in IPA, through church. Their conversations led to Teeter moving to the Grand Haven firm in February 2001.
“One thing led to another and three lunches later I was with IPA,” he said.
Teeter does miss his playing days — especially during this time of year, he says — particularly the camaraderie and the aspects of being part of a team “that you can’t get anywhere else.”
Teeter holds onto the values that helped him as an athlete, most importantly teamwork and integrity. He speaks proudly of a business partnership with Chad Bush, a fellow broker at IPA (and a Michigan State grad), and of trying to build business relationships with clients that are based on loyalty, trust and honesty.
“My dad told me, ‘If a man isn’t worth his handshake, don’t shake his hand.’ I still believe in that,” said Teeter, who these days is finding a better balance between family and career.
“The balance is getting on track. I’m confident with where I’m at and confident with where I’m going,” he said. “When I get this thing really going, it’s going to be fun.”