Briefings Magazine

Björn Borg: A Series of Unforced Errors

An ex-tennis star stumbles in the business world before finding his own niche. 

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By: Glenn Rifkin

When Björn Borg, the legendary tennis star, retired in 1983, he shocked the world. Borg was just 26 years old, and one of the greatest to ever play his sport. The winner of 11 Grand Slam titles, the golden-haired star was famous for his implacable demeanor and a fierce game that earned him the nickname “the Iceman.” But he had grown weary of the relentless spotlight, and with more than $3.6 million in winnings, plus lucrative endorsement deals, he seemed set up for a comfortable life.

As it turned out, his business acumen, at least early in his life, wasn’t up to his famed two-fisted backhand. About a year out of the game, he teamed up with a businessman friend named Lars Skarke and started the Björn Borg Design Group, selling high-fashion wares. Burdened by liquidity problems, the company collapsed in 1989. His Björn Borg clothing line did not do well either, and he began a long, painful bout with financial ruin. In 1990, his company declared bankruptcy. Skarke later penned a book detailing Borg’s alleged partying and drug use, claiming that the behavior helped lead to the business venture’s demise. For his part, the tennis star denied in interviews that he took drugs.

According to a 2008 Forbes article, Borg had also refused to accept outside financing “for fear of losing control of the company.” He went to court three times in the 1990s to argue that he was not personally liable for his debts, but the court rejected his plea each time. By 1996, a group of 11 creditors, who were collectively owed more than $1 million, sought to have Borg declared personally bankrupt before settling with him.

Björn Borg introduces a new aftershave in Amsterdam in 1987.

For his part, Borg would say in a BBC interview decades later that he tried many things, “some good, some bad.” He blamed people he said he thought were his friends, “but they were all out to take advantage of me.” (His current agent didn’t respond to requests for comment on the star player’s past.)

Now in his 60s, the ex-tennis star has apparently gone on to be more of a success off the court. In 2007, he licensed his still dynamic name to a fashion underwear company that rebranded itself as Björn Borg AB. The undies are big sellers in Europe, and Borg received royalties for the use of his name for 10 years. His net worth, though unconfirmed, is said to be in the millions of dollars.

To a degree, Borg’s early struggles follow a pattern that’s been seen in other top pro athletes who have stumbled into financial disarray. Youth, inexperience, and boundless self-confidence can, and often do, lead to poor financial decisions. Luxury lifestyles, big mansions, fancy cars, and voracious entourages can drain a rich athlete’s coffers. Bad business investments are not exclusive to bygone eras.

“The number-one reason athletes lose money is they invest in areas they don’t really understand and are not related to their expertise,” Alan Lancz, a Toledo, Ohio-based wealth manager who worked with professional athletes, told Forbes.

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