Former shortstop and third baseman for the New York Yankees Alex Rodriguez "A-Rod" on August 08, 2019 in New York City.
John Lamparski | Getty Images Entertainment | Getty Images
Behind the Desk

Alex Rodriguez on his life and career: ‘It’s an imperfect story’


This story is part of the Behind the Desk series, where CNBC Make It gets personal with successful business executives to find out everything from how they got to where they are to what makes them get out of bed in the morning to their daily routines

"I think it's an imperfect story."

That's what Alex Rodriguez wants people to know about his life and career.

New York Yankees designated hitter Alex Rodriguez (13) is pictured kissing his mother in a pre-game ceremony in the rain before his final game on Friday, August 13, 2016.
New York Daily News Archive | New York Daily News | Getty Images

Today Rodriguez, 45, is a famous former New York Yankees third baseman and CEO and chairman of investment firm A-Rod Corp, but he has experienced both great highs and lows during his career.

At 17, Rodriguez went straight from high school to the majors. Over more than two decades playing professional baseball, A-Rod had contracts worth over $450 million. But in 2009, Rodriguez admitted having used performance-enhancing drugs from 2001 to 2003, which later got him suspended for the entire 2014 season.

After retiring in 2016, Rodriguez was well-positioned to pursue his second dream: becoming a successful businessman.

While Rodriguez was building his baseball career, he was also building investments. At 27, Rodriguez launched A-Rod Corp, which since 2003 has invested in more than 40 companies and partnerships valued at more than $1 billion, according to the company's website.

His motivation was simple. "It was fear," Rodriguez says. "For me, it was simple, it was fear. I did not want to be another unfortunate negative statistic of athletes and entertainers that get into financial issues once they retire."

Today, A-Rod Corp's portfolio includes investments in real estate in more than 40 states, gyms, fintech company Acorns, Vita Coco and telemedicine company Hims & Hers (which he invested in with his fiancee Jennifer Lopez in 2019). Rodriguez is also the co-founder and director of Lopez's skincare company, JLO Beauty. (Though there have been reports that Rodriguez and Lopez broke up, they released a statement saying that are still together.)

Here, Rodriguez talks to CNBC Make It about growing up with a single mom, how he scored Warren Buffet as a mentor, his biggest mistakes and what Jennifer Lopez taught him.

Alex Rodriguez, from his career to his mistakes: 'It's an imperfect story'
Alex Rodriguez, from his career to his mistakes: 'It's an imperfect story'

On growing up: I saw my mom's 'resilient, really powerful work ethic'

I was born in New York [City] and raised in Miami. I'm really a product of my environment.

My mother was a secretary in the morning and served tables at night. I saw a resilient, really powerful work ethic there. It inspired who I am as an adult.

Growing up, I always wanted to be in baseball and business, and that was a lot like my father who was really good with numbers and who was also a catcher. Though he left when I was 10, and then it was just my mother and my two siblings.

I always wanted to work really hard and have an opportunity to be the landlord, not the tenant. Because I saw how difficult it was for my mother to always keep up with rising rents.

On what makes him stand out: 'I've always been process driven'

I've always been process-driven. I feel that if you have a process and you have a foundation, there's a lot you can put on top of that.

I'm constantly with our team thinking about how do we make the process more efficient, better, with better alignment. And it is all really about great, great people. We call it "VCP" [at] A-Rod Corp: vision, capital, people. If you get those three letters right, there's a lot you can do.

I think what makes me even a better businessman is the fact that I did play 25 years of professional baseball. I bring those attributes and work ethic and collaborating with the team into the boardroom.

[I've also] had some unbelievable mentors, who I spent thousands of hours collectively just picking their brains and talking about best practices and actually being in the boardroom, winning and losing and learning.

I attended Columbia Business School and [University of] Miami Business School, and I took courses at both.

And now I'm in my fourth year of teaching a class at Stanford at the business school. It's a class called "Strategic Pivoting." This year was more relevant than ever because most of us, including [myself], are going through some strategic pivoting in our lives.

I think it's all part of it.

On what he's like as a boss: 'Probably tough'

[As a boss I'm] probably tough. I probably say one thing and my teammates would probably say something else.

We don't have bosses at A-Rod Corp, we are all teammates. I'm probably just like I was with my teammates as a Yankee in our clubhouse — someone that wanted to work hard [and] someone that wanted to lead by example.

When things are going great, you won't see much of me. When things are going really bad, I'm very visible and I also communicate a great deal. And I think we've done that through the pandemic.

On leading through a pandemic: 'We didn't get rid of one person'

In the heat of a pandemic, I started having meetings with our team every morning at 10:15 just to make sure that we gave them the security blanket that we were there, that we were strong, that we had a balance sheet, that we had very, very little debt and that everybody's job was secure.

We didn't get rid of one person. We didn't decrease anyone's pay.

The greatest boss I ever had was [New York Yankees owner] George Steinbrenner, and he told me the three most important things to winning are a team, team and team. He was always there and he was always visible and he was always leading by example.

One of the things that I found from being in New York that is very valuable is accountability. The office and the Steinbrenners always made you be accountable for your actions. That's what I try to do at [A-Rod Corp].

I think that if you go around the room and verbalize what the goals are, you have a higher probability of actually following through because you're basically putting your neck on the line and saying, "hey, these are the three things I want to do." A week from now, we're going to be sitting here. I'm going to ask you, how did you do?

On Jennifer Lopez: 'I've never met anyone that understands people more than her'

I've learned so much from Jennifer.

I've never met anyone that understands people more than her. And she can see around corners. She's a great communicator. She's incredibly bold.

Where she's helped me most, I think it's maybe storytelling. Really understanding that every story has an arc, it has a start, a middle and an end.

And not to be afraid to be myself [and] to become less robotic and more human.

Alex Rodriguez and Jennifer Lopez attend "Project Destined" Yankees Shark Tank Presentations at Yankee Stadium on March 4, 2018 in New York City.
Jessica Golden | CNBC

On having Warren Buffett as a mentor: 'I just cold called him'

In 2001, when I signed my contract with Texas Rangers, there was a shortage in the coverage of my 10-year contract with the insurance. So he took the last three years and he insured my contract.

When I heard that, I thought it was so cool and neat, so I just cold-called him and sent him an email. His long time assistant, Debbie, wrote back a very kind note from Warren.

Shortly after that, I started a string of five or six years that I went out to Omaha and sat with him to go over the business. And then we would always have dinner and he would drive me to the airport.

On his daily routine and handling stress: 'Keep it chilly'

I try to work out for at least an hour a day. I try to sleep seven or eight hours. I don't always accomplish that. I like to say I have at least five to seven [cups of coffee a day], but my staff will probably say 10.

I think you have to slow down sometimes to speed up. I think it's just really taking your time and doing a little meditation or yoga to calm your mind.

But I've always been kind of a cool cat. One of my mentors says, "Alex, keep it chilly, keep it chilly." That was Vinnie Viola, who's the great owner of the Panthers, the hockey team, who's one of my great friends and mentors.

On mistakes: 'You're an average of the five people that you surround yourself with the most'

I have a very healthy list of mistakes that I've made throughout my life. I mean so many.

Most of them have been when I've surrounded myself with the wrong people. It's like a magnet that takes you to the wrong place. I'm a firm believer that you're an average of the five people that you surround yourself with the most.

So what I've done in learning from my mistakes is really to gravitate to the best people I could find that have not only an incredible set of skills but also have a moral compass that aligns with mine.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Disclosure: NBCUniversal and Comcast Ventures are investors in Acorns.

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