Sep 08, 2011 • By

From the Big 10 to Big G

It’s a big week to be a football fan in America. The high school and college football seasons are already under way, and the NFL kicks off its season tonight when the Packers host the Saints in Green Bay.

Here at General Mills, we’re proud to say that we have some employees who used to sport shoulder pads and lace up their cleats to play at a high level.

In fact, two of them were teammates at the University of Minnesota and are now based at our headquarters in Minneapolis.

They’re living proof that skills from sports do indeed carry over into the business world.

Omar Douglas, a director in Human Resources, and Justin Conzemius, a marketing manager, played for Minnesota in the early 1990s.

Omar, a wide receiver, was the Golden Gophers’ MVP in 1993. He set a Big 10 Conference record for catching five touchdown passes in a game against Purdue (see highlights of that game here, along with a postgame interview). Omar was drafted by the NFL’s New York Giants in 1994 and was with them until 1998. He joined General Mills in 2007.

Justin was a standout on the defensive side of the ball at Minnesota. He ranks in the top 10 in tackles and interceptions among all Gopher players. He started his career at General Mills in 2000.

More importantly than their football accolades, both Omar and Justin were Academic All-Americans at Minnesota. Justin is the school’s only three-time recipient of that honor.

I asked both of them what kind of reaction colleagues at General Mills give them when they find out they played football at such a high level. You can hear their responses in this audio clip (Justin is first, followed by Omar).

Though the itch to play football for both Omar and Justin has passed, both now take time to coach the game. Justin coaches his 7-year-old son, while Omar coaches his 12-year-old son’s team.

Justin also is involved on the Gopher football radio broadcasts on KFAN radio as a postgame analyst, and also discusses the team’s outlook in a segment on the station every Thursday morning.

Both Justin and Omar say there are similarities between their football days and their workdays at General Mills.

“We’re very team-focused at General Mills,” Justin says. “It’s very similar. You’re working with different people with different backgrounds. And how you build a team, sports-wise, is a lot how you manage the brands here at General Mills.”

“It’s important to understand what it takes to be successful as a team,” adds Omar. “And as an individual at General Mills, you need to know how you contribute to the team and how you hold yourself accountable for excelling.”