James van Riemsdyk of the Flyers uses his business acumen to build his personal brand
When Philadelphia Flyer James van Riemsdyk finished Harvard’s Crossover Into Business program, he made sure to buy a sweatshirt.
“I was like, ‘No one is going to believe me,'” van Riemsdyk said with a laugh.
While his teammates Sean Couturier and Travis Konecny ââdid not know he was participating in the program [âI guess I donât know my teammates,â Konecny joked], the news did not surprise them at all.
âNo, not at all,â Konecny ââsaid. âI wouldn’t be surprised if he took a class right now. He’s still learning, and it’s hard to do. A lot of guys say they want to do this and stay on top, but it’s another thing to do, which he does.
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Education has always been a priority in the van Riemsdyk family. However, when demanded of him in high school and college, it was less appealing. But once he left the University of New Hampshire in 2009, his natural curiosity drove him to keep looking for more knowledge.
When he heard about the Harvard program, originally created in partnership with the NBA, van Riemsdyk jumped at the opportunity to work with current Harvard MBA students. He filled out the application form, which consisted of a series of open-ended questions (he’s glad he didn’t have to include his transcripts – he didn’t know where he would find them, although he said maybe his mother would know).
After being one of some 70 professional athletes accepted, he became one of seven NHL players to participate in the program, along with former Flyers goaltender Brian Elliott. They looked through case studies that were of interest to them, ranging from learning how a team should make decisions in a small market to studying small business plans.
Before joining the program, Van Riemsdyk’s natural fondness for mathematics had already led him to the financial sector. He had started to focus on business lessons before leaving UNH. While he initially hesitated as a young athlete to partner with investors, once he saw other athletes like LeBron James develop their business interests, he gained the confidence to start to explore.
âJust seeing how they did this stuff, like it’s okay to have those interests,â van Riemsdyk said. “It’s OK to continue with these things, and that has nothing to take away from anything else.”
Van Riemsdyk learned through trial and error, as well as through the guidance of trusted mentors like his brothers-in-law. He learned that loving a product doesn’t mean you should support it. There must also be a good business plan behind it.
He quickly discovered how his interests as an athlete could match his interests as an investor.
Early on, he teamed up with State and Liberty, a men’s clothing company founded by hockey friend Lee Moffie and Moffie’s college friend Steven Fisher. The company’s goal is to create the perfect dress shirt for athletes across size and material.
“I thought it matched who I was,” van Riemsdyk said.
Van Riemsdyk started building a brand through his investments. His interest in health and wellness has manifested itself in the organizations he has partnered with, from a company that develops mouthguards through 3D imaging to Lactigo, a recovery gel that you helps to recover faster.
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The relationships have proven to be mutually beneficial. Van Riemsdyk provides support as an athlete and financial backing and, in return, can “see behind the curtain” and learn about new products and ideas early on. Now he’s the guy with all the connections.
âHe has it all,â Konecny ââsaid. âYou can ask him about anything, and he knows a guy. It could be a pair of sneakers; it could be a new jacket; it could be a new stick. He’s got someone who has a connection, so that’s pretty cool.
As a kid from a small rural Ontario town, Konecny ââsaid it was cool for him to be exposed to new things through van Riemsdyk. At first he wasn’t too sure what van Riemsdyk was up to, however.
âHe was looking at me like I had six heads with some of the things I was doing, part of the breathing work,â said van Riemsdyk, who teams up with an app that provides mental and physical exercise.
Konecny ââsaid this has happened several times. He specifically remembers a time when he was trying to have a conversation with van Riemsdyk, but he couldn’t respond because he was “like, breathing or something.” I do not know.”
But Konecny ââdecided to ask him the question and quickly joined van Riemsdyk’s efforts. Thanks to him, he became familiar with vitamin supplements and breathing exercises. And, when van Riemsdyk returned home for the summer, Konecny ââcontinued the exercises.
“So it was funny to hear,” van Riemsdyk said.