Emerging from his shell and planning for the future
Leighton Levy, Sunday Gleaner Writer
If you ask Asafa Powell when he plans on calling it a day he'll most likely tell you sometime in the next four to five years or whenever he is unable to run faster than 9.90 seconds over the 100 metres, whichever comes first.
It takes him a lot longer to tell you what he plans to do next because he would be retiring at a time when most people are just getting their careers started. Well, maybe not.
"When I retire I see myself sitting at home and collecting money," he said. His response is followed by hearty laughter. Clad in a white V-neck T-shirt, khaki-coloured shorts and slippers, Powell is sitting in the kitchen of his well-appointed Beverly Hills home surfing on his laptop from a kitchen island. The hiss of a pressure cooker bearing the makings of Sunday dinner dominates the background.
Powell has had much success in his track career that has seen him become one of the fastest men of all time. Being able to run fast has earned him millions of dollars that have allowed him to live lavishly and become a collector of expensive motorcars, his true passion. Some of those cars litter his two-tiered front yard that is obscured from public view by a retaining wall and giant gates. It's a good life, one that he hopes to continue living once the cheques stop coming in from the Diamond League. "Definitely, I am planning on running my own company; maybe a lot more things to do. I'm sure I'll have to be up and down all over the place; who knows. I might even change my mind and say I want to become a manager of athletes or something. I just don't want to work too hard."
It is this objective of not working too hard that sees the man, who has run the 100m under 10 seconds more often than anyone else in history, getting started early in building the foundation of what is to be his life after track. Shortly after his international career began in 2003, Powell began investing in real estate. He doesn't reveal much about the depth of his investment, arguing that he still has some strategic decisions to make in that regard. Early last year, Powell and his brother, Nigel, became partners in an online shopping network called IrieSocial. The business is being run by Garnette Rose, one of Powell's business associates.
"We came out with it last year but we're still in the phase of building the company," Powell reveals, "so now it's in the finishing stages and now we're going out to get people to invest."
The athlete's latest venture involves a clothing line called Sub-10 King. It's something that Powell says has been years in coming.
"For years, people have been asking me 'where is the clothing line?'. Before, Nike (his previous shoe sponsors) wanted to do something, but that didn't mature, then with my new sponsors - Li Ning - we're still working on a lot of things... . Over the years I have been getting offers from a lot of people to help me with it, but I couldn't really trust any and anybody .. now I think I have found the right people."
The line focuses mainly on casual wear, but is expected to broaden over time.
"It's casual wear. It started out really with what's easiest for people, so we started out with T-shirts for males and females. We also have clothing for kids. So we have things like 'Future Track Stars', Junior Kings. We even have some maternity tops for ladies that say 'Future Track Star Onboard', and then he got a lot of requests from the ladies, so we have things like little booty shorts and stuff like that," said Tara Playfair-Scott, the sprint star's publicist.
She revealed that the clothing line has been going very well, with a lot of business coming from overseas from people who buy the pieces online, adding that women from around the world send Asafa pictures of themselves wearing his pieces. Powell is negotiating with Western Sports to have his clothing line in their stores.
Playfair-Scott became Powell's publicist and business partner late last year and has been largely responsible for Powell's gradual emergence on to the public stage, much farther than he has ever ventured prior to now. This foray into public space includes writing a hugely successful advice column for women. According to Playfair-Scott, the process is a part of a strategic plan to expose the different sides of Powell.
"We got started in September/October working on a plan. We have a plan and, it's extremely important because a lot of the things are things that people have been asking of him, they've just seen him as this shy person in the background, not realising that this person has a fantastic sense of humour, that he is actually not that shy, but he is coming out of his shell and letting go of a lot of the things that may have been perceived to hold him back a little bit. So, it's a growth phase for everybody and I think it's the perfect time," she said, "Because, yes, he has about four or five years on the track, so for him it would have been about 15 years and he has other passions, and that's what we're working on."
Powell expressed his comfort coming out of his self-imposed cocoon just so long as he doesn't overexpose himself.
"I've been out there a lot more, but at the same time you don't want to go too much (out there) because people see me as this very approachable star, or whatever you call it, but I don't want to go too hard," he said. "This direction we are going in now, I think it's going to be very successful. I am very comfortable."
For as long as he can remember, Powell's mind has been fertile ground for business ideas, the seeds of which were planted during his many travels abroad and being exposed to ideas that he thinks would work in Jamaica. The challenge was that he didn't have the right people around him to bring them to life. Breaking free from his usual reserved nature has now allowed him to pursue some of those interests, he says.
"I've had ideas in my head for years now, but I didn't have the right people around me. My family, we're not into certain kinds of businesses, so I didn't have that kind of experience or the people around me to put me on the right track. That was why everything around me was just on one level so now we're climbing the ladder and going up."
One venture that will come up in the very near future is a calendar featuring Powell and his well- sculpted body.
"When this calendar comes out, a next hurricane going to hit Jamaica," he said.
Playfair said the calendar that is set to be released in September this year in time for 2014 will feature Powell appearing topless and in trunks.
"The women will be very happy, some will be available locally, but our main thrust will be overseas," she said.
With plans firmly in place for future success, however, Powell intends to give back to the country that has given him so much.
"I will walk away from track into the beginnings of an empire, one that we're building from now. By 2015, we should be well established, but as you know, we have our foundation, so we want to give back a lot to Jamaica. So, when I retire I will be giving back and establishing my own."