For NFL player Zoltan Mesko, Gillette Stadium — with all its cheers — is usually his office. But the New England Patriots punter is spending the offseason in a cubicle.
Mesko is using the pro football labor dispute to get his foot in the door of a new career.
His cubicle sits in a corporate office park in suburban Philadelphia. It’s where the standout punter — and now, entry-level intern — is having trouble with the printer.
"There’s too many pages here. I forgot to add a section to it. All right, I’m lost," he says, sighing.
The tall 25-year-old still works out and gets his practice punts in each day. But at a time when many of his teammates are vacationing or playing video games, Mesko is trying to learn a new marketable skill. The idea, he says, is to know what he’s going to do when his pro football career ends.
"You know, a little step ahead of things," Mesko says. "Because football could end for me any day."
Mesko’s interning at the private equity firm Graham Partners, Inc. It uses money from big investors to buy manufacturers, improves their businesses, and then sells them for more a few years later. Mesko may have earned a business degree when he was punting for the University of Michigan, but he’s practically a private equity rookie.
"From a technical standpoint, he’s raw," says William Timmerman, one of the firm’s principals. "Financial modeling, accounting, just the blocking and tackling of what an analyst does in corporate finance.
"He’s like anyone else coming out of college, he just hasn’t had the training, and that’s what he’s here for."
So Mesko’s putting in 12-hour days, sitting in on manager conference calls, plugging sales figures into spreadsheets. The 6-foot-4 Zoltan passes as a suit, typing away in the cubicle he shares with Ali Butler.
"I think a lot of people in this office would have killed for this spot," Butler says. "And I was like, 'OK, I guess I have to have somebody next to me. It might as well be this guy'." She laughs.
Butler's not into pro sports — unlike some of the firm’s IT guys. In fact she says Mesko really played down his NFL experience.
"Hour five of him being here, he was like, 'Just pull these up, let me show you a little something'," she says. They were YouTube videos of himself, doing a face plant or tripping as he ran out onto the football field.
But here, Butler and Mesko are on the same playing field. While she works on PowerPoints, he makes diligence calls — phoning a target company’s customers or retailers to find out more about its sales.
"You know, I was asking about a product," Mesko says. "And the secretary had the thick Texas accent. And I was like, 'Well why is your product great?' Because they were an exclusive dealer. And she was like: 'Well, No. 1 is we’re made in the USA!' So we got a good laugh out of that."
Mesko is looking forward to going back to his day job as an NFL punter, and so is Scott Glickman, one of the firm’s senior advisors. He’s a Patriots season ticket holder and can’t wait to see Mesko play.
"This was the guy who was at the cubicle," Glickman says," pounding away at the computer, who worked on my deals. It’ll be nice to see him."
That depends, though, on the NFL and a labor deal. Until then, Zoltan Mesko is going to keep studying the private equity playbook.
This program aired on April 28, 2011.