From Player to Coach

By Robert Green Atlanta Trend
  • Dec 28, 2022

During halftime of the Georgia - Tennessee game on November 5th in Athens this year, the UGA athletic association took time to recognize the business success of one of its own. Mohamed Massaquoi, former wide receiver and captain of the 2008 Bulldogs, was given the Arch Award, honoring the former student-athlete for achieving exemplary business success after his collegiate and professional sports career.


The Arch Award is the athletic association's way of showcasing how performing in sports can ultimately translate to performing in business. "Fortune Magazine estimates that 95 percent of its Fortune 500 CEOs played sports at some point in life. It's an honor to be recognized for contributions off the field," says Mo.


Mo's company, VESSOL, consults with organizations looking to improve how leadership teams work effectively, while strengthening manager-to-team relationships by aligning organizational and individual goals. "You have to create situational awareness around the actions that must be taken to achieve desired outcomes," he says, "and reorient how individuals work together to create value." Teams must learn how to effectively communicate and collaborate across functions to create an effective team culture. 


"As I mentioned, my consulting career started almost organically. When I was starting out, I'd get asked to give talks, and I would naturally ask, 'what is it that you're really trying to accomplish?" he says. "I frequently found that what business leaders wanted from their people required more data, structure and practice, not lectures and discussions."


According to Mo, businesses have to produce results, and for that to happen, people have to produce results. Often, however, the human dynamic is the most challenging and least looked at. "I was soon able to provide data showing business leaders 'this is what you can achieve if you solve for human execution,'" he says.


Addressing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) is intertwined with organizational effectiveness and is a specialty for Mo. "Organizations have to look at the current composition of their employees against the global talent market to see if they are accessing the very best talent and establishing a culture for them to perform." "Companies are starting to realize that they could easily miss out on the global talent pool," says Mo. "I firmly believe that DEI in business should be approached from a business perspective, not an 'ills of society' perspective. Diversity can be a superpower for setting up high performing teams, but a critical element is that everyone knows how to create value with each other at work."


Mo's company, Vessol, has done consulting work for a variety of brand name clients. One of the engagements that he is most proud of is building a global DEI training for Microsoft HQ and its partnership employees worldwide. "Microsoft covers the globe and technology changes fast," says Mo, "we had to get a very diverse group of 500 people to see how they could effectively work together to accomplish goals. It was a large and delicate operation. You don't want to create a problem at the same time that you're solving one, but you may have to take people out of their comfort zones for a while."

Projects such as this, with complexity and a lot of moving parts, offer the best hope for breakthrough insights that high performing teams can build on. "Learning that very different people can work together to achieve stellar results is as important for a company as it is for a sports team," says Mo. "At this point, when a diverse group of people learn that they can trust each other, you have the foundation for unlocking hidden performance."


Born in Charlotte, North Carolina, Mo was always interested in learning, sports, people, music, and design. "I started to lean into sports a bit more in high school, but my mother always saw to it that academics were the main focus," he says.


Math and social studies were his favorite subjects, but he still enjoyed tremendous success on the football field. "We won four state championships while I was at Independence High School and never lost a game while I was there," he says. Actually, Mo was part of the school running up the longest winning streak in high school football history, winning 109 games and 7 consecutive championships without a loss.


"Selecting where to go to college was a fun process for me, especially as a first generation American. Texas and Tennessee looked good," he says, "but Georgia had all the right things for me. Coach Richt was building a great program, and I wanted to be a part of something special."


Being a student-athlete meant constant tension between school and football for Mo. "There was no getting around the conflicting priorities," he says, "the only way around it was through it. Sometimes I would have a big test coming up at the same time that we were preparing to play a big opponent. That could be rough, but you learn discipline, time management, how to navigate challenges ." Constantly on the Dean's List, Mo was an All SEC Academic winner and achieved other academic honors. ", "he says


Originally on a business track, Mo became fascinated by psychology and switched majors. His main interest was to learn how people performed and how they could be taught to perform better. This would become even more important to him in years to come.


Being on the Bulldog football team was still incredibly important to Mo, of course, and he gave a big smile when talking about the 2007 season. "We beat Florida, won the Sugar Bowl and finished number 2 in the country," he says. "All my years at Georgia were great. I got a good education, played high level football, and ended up with the chance to play at the next level."


Mo was drafted by the Cleveland Browns in the second round and says that the money was life changing. "For a first generation American with Liberian parents to suddenly have millions of dollars, it was an adjustment as well as a blessing," he says. "I avoided large, attention grabbing purchases and managed to escape making too many stupid mistakes. 


Living in Cleveland during the football season, Mo finally settled on calling Atlanta home during the offseason in 2011, putting real roots down. "My girlfriend was in Atlanta, I love the city, and I had the UGA connection, so it made all the sense in the world," he says. Mo married his girlfriend in 2013 and retired from the NFL in 2014, taking some time to decide what he wanted to do next.


Mo's transitioned out of the NFL and started working in wealth management for Morgan Stanley. I was good at math and wanted to learn what not to do to be an athlete that went broke. 


In April of 2017, Mo was joyriding in the country on an ATV with friends when the vehicle flipped and changed his life. "The next thing I feel is like an explosion went off in my hand," he said. "I'm in shock so I don't feel it, but I'm very aware of what's going on because there is blood everywhere."


Mo and his friends saw what was happening somewhat differently. He initially thought he had just broken his hand, but his friends thought his hand had gone through a meat grinder. Doctors were at first able to put his hand back together, but upon later evaluation were only able to save his thumb. 


Enduring 10 surgeries over a two month period, followed by five months of rehab, he now wears a mechanical prosthetic device.


"A part of me was no longer there," says Mo, "but a lot of other parts of me were still there. I definitely gained perspective of how precious life is and how fast things can change."


He officially left Morgan Stanley after the accident and started to think about what he wanted to do next. "The accident both literally and figuratively forced me to sit down and figure out how I could best add value to the world," he says.


Watching Charlie Rose one evening, Mo saw Anita Elberse, Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, speaking about the business of athletes and entertainers. "I reached out to her and she suggested that I come up to Cambridge to take her four day course," he says. "She had crafted a way for athletes and entertainers to see how they added business value in business in a different way. This was eye opening for me."


Professor Elberse also suggested to Mo that he would benefit from an MBA. In the midst of all this, many business and organizational leaders started coming to Mo, asking him to tell his personal story of achievement and overcoming setbacks. These talks soon led to requests to consult with companies on building teams for high performance.


"I began to see that I needed to develop more to add real value says Mo. "I enjoyed the work and decided to pursue it full time. In order to do this work well, Mo then went back to Harvard, completing their alternative to an executive MBA, Program for Leadership Development, to better understand the perimeters and challenges leaders faced. Mo later returned to Georgia to earn a Master's in Industrial and Organizational Psychology, where he got a 3.8 GPA to better understand what contributed to organizational and employee success. 


Mo is enjoying what he is doing and wants to continue to grow his business. "I was a player focused on athletic performance for years and now I'm using psychology to help business leaders drive sustainable performance in their organizations," he says. "In the process, I want everyone to thrive." "I'm showing organizations how people can be their secret sauce and put them on the road to extreme success," he says.


In the future, Mo's company will develop software and other tools for understanding and measuring how people perform in organizations. "Companies of the future will have their brand, technology, and products, which will all be dictated by people. Their best bet will be to make sure that organizations are doing everything they can to make their talent engaged for impact.