For the better part of 12 years, Will Allen was known. As an NFL player and a member of the Steelers no less, Allen attained a level of fame reserved for movie stars and pop musicians. He went from All-American to national champion to Super Bowl victor all before the age of 33, and then, he walked back into everyday life. Mostly.
The Will Allen who attends business meetings or public lectures still commands the room like someone who has been the center of attention his whole life. He is a slightly taller-than-average man, with posture that makes you shamefully straighten your hunched back. He also slides words like “agile” and “drive” into seemingly innocuous descriptions of renewable energy investments, and answers interview questions like he has held thousands of press conferences. But Will Allen 2.0 is as far a cry from the NFL safety as the Will Allen that grew up in a poor neighborhood of Dayton, Ohio. And he’s still figuring himself out.
Will was a focused child of two hardworking parents. His father, a city sanitation employee, worked his way from cleaning sewers to managing teams and strategy for the Dayton Sanitation Authority. His mother earned an associate degree in physical therapy, and still works as an assistant physical therapist.
So it’s not so surprising that Allen began interning with an energy grid company midway through his NFL career, or that he started his own investment company, Nascent Group Holdings, less than a year after his “retirement.” In fact, Allen has spent the past three years learning everything he can about sustainable building practices, creating what he calls a “network of opportunities” to share with others. Sustainability for him is certainly about the environmental benefit. But as he describes it, “Energy is the most fundamental and universal aspect of life. We all use energy. But the energy industry, and all of the opportunities and education that it offers, remains inaccessible to so many communities, particularly communities of people that look like me.” His Will Allen Foundation seeks to fill in the missing connections, providing leadership training, career skills, and ultimately job exposure for children in Dayton, Pittsburgh, and Tampa Bay (where he began his career).
Allen is very much at the beginning of his story, and even he can’t quite believe where life has taken him. For now, he’s happily down the energy rabbit hole, exploring different ventures and possibilities that he has had a large hand in creating. But with Allen, you never quite know where he’ll take his next step. After all, he’s staked his career on drive and agility.
Hear from Will Allen at our upcoming Inspire Speakers Series event on February 8, where he’ll share his own motivational story. We’ll also be treated to thoughts from Rebecca Flora, Tim Smith, Michelle Fanzo, Dr. Gretchen Givens Generett, and many others!