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Atlanta Business Training Firm Aids Super Bowl Champs
By David Markiewicz
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
As the New York Giants celebrated their Super Bowl victory over the New England Patriots on the field in Indianapolis last February, they were joined by some business training consultants from an Atlanta company called Afterburner who the coaches and players said helped them get there.
Business consultants, dabbling in a world of cover two defenses and zone blitzes?
Afterburner does not come across as the standard performance improvement firm, although it says it has trained more than 1.5 million businesspeople over 16 years. The firm has worked with more than 30 percent of Fortune 500 companies through keynote speaking, corporate team building events, seminar workshops and leadership development.
Founded by a former U.S. Air Force F-15 pilot and manned by a group of fighter pilots and other elite military professionals, it transfers techniques and strategies employed in battle to the realm of corporate combat.
A perfect fit, in other words, for a National Football League club mired in a slump and looking for a way out of it. Which is what the Giants were early last season when a troubled defense led to a lackluster start.
That’s when Giants head coach Tom Coughlin called in Afterburner founder and CEO Jim Murphy. Coughlin knew of Afterburner through its work with the NFL, which involved counseling rookies on the potential pitfalls of a pro athlete’s life.
Coughlin "had a copy of ‘Flawless Execution’ on his desk," Murphy recalled, referring to Afterburner’s guidebook which describes the company’s methodology. "He had stickies in there, so you could tell he had actually read it."
Murphy said Coughlin explained that the season was slipping away because of execution and communication problems. Afterburner customized a program for the team that focused on its core process, taken from the military: Plan, brief, execute and debrief.
Murphy and his team worked with stars like quarterback Eli Manning and others throughout the organization. After their initial work, they returned regularly, then came back for the playoffs and Super Bowl.
The Giants cited Afterburner’s work as a reason for the turnaround.
Coughlin called Afterburner’s work, "unique, energetic and inspirational." In remarks he made to the company, he added, "The debriefing concept vital to pilots for survival intrigues us as to its potential application in the highly competitive world of professional football."
The Giants are still a client and Afterburner is now working with four other teams: the St. Louis Rams, Washington Redskins, Green Bay Packers and Denver Broncos.
Murphy notes that sports teams have tried other ways to improve their performance. But players aren’t always receptive.
"They’d put their headsets on and tune out and not listen to the message," he said. But "fighter pilots or Navy Seals get their attention."
Privately-held Afterburner showed steady growth until suffering briefly the economic downturn. But Murphy said business has since rebounded. The firm has diversified its product offerings and is focusing on small businesses in addition to large corporations. It also is opening franchised offices in markets around the U.S.
But working with the NFL, and the Giants in particular, has its perks. Among them, Murphy noted, was that Super Bowl trip. After the game, he said, team members even got to touch the Lombardi Trophy.