Skip navigation
Return to Issue

Spartan Story: Perseverer



  • Author:
    Catherine Ferland
  • Published:
    Fall 2017

Unleashing the Superhero Within

Speaker and author Erik Qualman travels the world on an unstoppable mission to inspire people and businesses to be their best.

Erik Qualman has no need for the word quit. Not when four of his teeth were knocked out during his big chance to play wit hthe Spartan men's basketball team, and not today as he aims to be as inspiring as Walt Disney.

Instead of mouse ears, he sports neon green glasses.

Qualman is the CEO of Equalman, where he is a motivational keynote speaker and author on the topics of digital leadership and reputation. His audiences include such heavies as Starbucks, the FBI, and FedEx--diverse, but with shared desires to be digital leaders.

His green Clark Kent-style glasses hint at his Spartan roots and his Superman-inspired persona. His first initial and last name spell Equalman. He believes everyone is a superhero, and it's his job to help mortals to unleash their powers. He encourages his audiences to choose one word that defines them.

His word? Empower.

"Even if I got just one person, I know it's worth it," he said. "My job is to entertain, educate, and empower people to achieve their best life."

In his line of work, people always come first. He holds "thought leadership" lunches to hear from the digital world's best and brightest in an effort to stay ahead on trends and to brainstorm new ideas for the benefit of his clients.

Since launching in 2009, he has served hundreds of businesses and organizations. His major client criterion? "They have to be positively impacting the world in some form or fashion," he said.

Qualman's business tenacity breaks for just one thing: family--his wife and customer engagement manager, Ana Maria, and their two daughters. He never spends more than 52 nights a year on the road. "Family is the most important thing for me, so I put these guardrails in my place," he said. "I try my best to live by this quote, 'how you spend your days is how you spend your life.'"

When it's time for business, Qualman's eyes are locked on Equalman's future. He has set a "laughable goal" to reach the size and impact of Disney. He's not intimidated. He's used to lofty challenges.

At MSU, he was the manager for the men's basketball team his freshman, sophomore, and junior years. He practiced relentlessly, but was rejected for the team each season. That didn't keep him from the practice gym.

When the Spartans were down a player at practice, Coach Tom Izzo put Qualman in. He took an elbow to the mouth and lost four teeth, but he kept playing. "I knew this was my one shot," he said.

After practice, Izzo said, "I don't know if you're the toughest guy I know or the dumbest guy I know."

He made the team.

The lesson? Entrepreneurship is about staying in the game. You can get your teeth fixed later.

And while it's sometimes exhausting being your own brand, Qualman knows he has to stay on the ball if he's going to inspire the world the way Disney did.

He's passionate about that.

"You're going to work harder than you ever have--but then it never feels like work."