“There are a lot of fine qualities in his background as an athlete to celebrate, of course. In the business world he is not anywhere in the league of any of his Republican predecessors,” said Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, the senior associate dean for leadership studies at Yale, who reviewed the AJC’s findings.
Walker’s campaign declined an interview request to discuss his business career. In a pair of statements, it defended his record but did not address specific questions about his past business problems. His campaign said Walker is “extremely proud” of his accomplishments and his record of success. It accused the AJC of a “witch hunt” because Walker is leading in the polls.
About this coverage
AJC is committed to ensuring that Georgians are fully educated about the candidates for U.S. Senate and others who seek public office. Voters must make informed choices when electing our leaders. It is critical that voters know where each candidate stands on important issues, what moneyed interests might influence them and whether the candidates have behaved ethically in the past. Today’s focus is on candidate Hershel Walker. The newspaper will, over the course of this election cycle, focus on each of the candidates representing all parties.
In our coverage of the race for U.S. Senate, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution newsroom will:
• Conduct deep background investigations on the major candidates with an eye toward past behavior and any potential conflicts that might raise questions on or provide insight into how a candidate might perform.
• Publish profiles of each candidate aimed at understanding each candidate’s personal life, background, influences and qualifications.
• Attend forums and debates throughout the election cycle so you know how the candidates are staking out their positions and answering urgent questions.
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“As any entrepreneur who has enjoyed any sort of success knows, some businesses do better than others,” said campaign spokesperson Mallory Blount.
His political opponents, though, say the questions about his business experience are emblematic of a greater problem in his bid to unseat Democratic U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock.
“If you can’t run your own business,” asked Democratic state Sen. Emanuel Jones, “how can you run the nation’s business?”
‘Mini Tyson Foods’
When Herschel Walker retired from pro football a quarter century ago, he set about to parlay his fame into a successful business career. Since then, he has launched or been affiliated with at least 12 companies and brands, records show. Walker has frequently touted these businesses as evidence of his success as a jobs creator.
His largest holding, H. Walker Enterprises, was founded in 2002. The company, headquartered in Savannah, serves as an umbrella for most of his other business ventures. Walker has valued the company between $25 and $50 million, and he reported that it generated roughly $3 million in income for him in recent years, according to his Senate financial disclosure documents filed in December.
The company’s website lists a range of experience and services offered, including food supply and services, staffing services, janitorial services, textile fabrication, security services and promotional merchandise.
The business’s branding uses his signature 34 jersey number and a whole section of the site lists his athletic accomplishments. The company’s website lists a number of Walker’s businesses and brands, including 34 Promotions, Herschel’s Famous 34, Herschel’s Mama’s Cookin’, Herschel’s Raw Talent and H. Walker Foods.
“Commitment to excellence demonstrated in my athletic achievements is now incorporated into my business endeavors,” he says on the company’s website.
The largest venture within H. Walker Enterprises appears to be Renaissance Man Food Services, a poultry products and distribution company, according to court records and Walker’s own public statements. In his December financial disclosure, Walker reported earning a $100,000 salary from the company.
He has described the company as a “mini Tyson Foods” and touted it as the largest minority-owned business of its kind in the country. He told the Dallas Morning News in 2009 that Renaissance Man Food Services employed more than 100 people and grossed $70 million a year. In a more recent interview, Walker told Fox News that the company employed 600 people.
Walker, however, has told a different story in government documents and in court records.
“There are a lot of fine qualities in his background as an athlete to celebrate, of course. In the business world he is not anywhere in the league of any of his Republican predecessors."
- Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, the Yale School of Management senior associate dean for leadership studies
During the pandemic, Renaissance Man Food Services reported just eight employees on applications for two Paycheck Protection Program loans from the federal Small Business Administration totaling $180,000. The first loan in April 2020 amounted to $111,300 and has since been forgiven.
The large estimates of employees he has made to the press over the years appear to refer to chicken processing jobs, which are not actually part of Walker’s business. In reality, manufacturers supply chicken to Renaissance Man Food Services which the company then sells to retailers and other business under one of Walker’s food brands, court documents show.
In a 2018 lawsuit against his company, Walker backtracked from previous public statements he’d made about the poultry business and his involvement in the chicken processing plants. He acknowledged that the company didn’t own any plants, but that he partnered with the company that actually owns the plants to sell his branded chicken products.
“I don’t mean to speak of ‘own’ in a technical sense,” he said in a declaration to the court.
‘He’s the finest gentleman’
Walker wasn’t far removed from his football career when he faced a tough business truth: No amount of athletic skill or fame would be enough to push a struggling, cash-strapped business across the goal line to success.
Walker and various business partners have defaulted or fell behind in payments on at least eight loans totaling $9 million over the past two decades, according to an AJC review of hundreds of pages of court documents, Securities and Exchange Commission filings and other public records that detail these financial issues.
One of the earliest struggles came with Renaissance Man Inc., a health food company Walker founded in 1997 to sell and promote health-conscious products starting with aloe-based health drink Aloe-Lu-Ya.
Despite Walker’s endorsement, Renaissance Man Inc. stumbled. In 1999, Aloe-Lu-Ya launched on the shelves of Walmart, but the drink didn’t sell.
Renaissance Man Inc. had net sales of $52,679 and $4,676 in 2000 and 2001, respectively filings show. In those same years, the company—which is a separate entity from Renaissance Man Food Services—posted net losses of $900,606 and $1,879,626.
“This product launch was a failure,” the company said in a 2002 SEC filing.
In 2002, the company merged with American Consolidated Mining Co. and was renamed American Consolidated Management Group (ACMG). Walker was appointed as president and CEO, but the company struggled to make a profit and the financial problems continued.
The merged company fell behind in payments or defaulted on at least five loans amounting to a combined $8.2 million dollars, according to SEC records. And lawsuits followed.
One creditor sued in 2005, alleging the company had failed to repay an $800,000 loan, which was later settled for $110,744. A marketing firm claimed in another suit that the company owed them $570,000, which was eventually settled for $65,000. In 2003, the company’s accountants resigned over an unpaid $4,780 bill, according to SEC filings.
It’s unclear from SEC documents when Walker left the company, but a 2008 filing lists his friend and ACMG board secretary, George Mappin, as the interim CEO. That same year the company stopped filing reports to the SEC and the regulatory agency revoked its securities status in 2013. A 2008 SEC filing painted a grim portrait of the company’s operating losses.
“These conditions raise substantial doubt about the ability of the Company to continue,” ACMG said in the filing.
In a separate 2011 lawsuit, First Chatham Bank in Savannah sued Walker and Mappin for defaulting on a $300,000 loan related to an unnamed venture.
The pair were also connected by Renaissance Manufacturing, Mappin’s family textile business based in South Carolina that Walker was involved in until 2017. The bank settled with the pair several months after the suit was filed and the case was dismissed.
In an interview with the AJC, Mappin declined to elaborate on the 2011 lawsuit. He said that he and Walker remain close friends.
“He’s the finest gentleman that you’ll ever meet in your life — honorable,” Mappin told the AJC.
‘Defendant Mr. Walker’
In more recent speeches, Walker has touted his involvement and ownership stake in Zoner’s Pizza, Wings and Waffles. The company, which lists 15 locations across Florida, Alabama, Texas and Georgia, has touted its connection to Walker. Its website lists Herschel’s Famous 34 food brand as a supplier, and a Facebook promotional video from 2020 refers to Walker as a “majority owner.”
The company’s marketing materials say nothing about its financial struggles. A pair of lawsuits filed in Texas over the past two years are linked to the company and allege that it defaulted on $700,000 in loans. A Texas judge granted a default judgment against Walker and his business partner, Brandon Scrushy, in both cases after they ignored the court, records show.
“Defendant Mr. Walker, although having been duly and legally served with Plaintiff’s Original Petition, failed to appear and answer, and wholly made default,” the judge wrote in their ruling.
The creditor, Veritex Community Bank, filed suit in Fulton County last fall looking to enforce the Texas judgement.
Walker’s campaign has downplayed his role in the company and called him a “minor investor,” according to an article in the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer in February. In a statement regarding the lawsuits, Zoner’s said that Walker was an original investor in the business. It added that it is in the “final stages” of refinancing the loans with a new bank.
“Herschel will no longer be a signer on the refinanced debt,” the statement said.
Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
His celebrity and folkloric status as the star that brought UGA a 1980 national football championship has helped Walker take a commanding lead over his Republican rivals in initial polling. His reputation has also made him a popular figure on the speaking circuit. Between July 2020 and December 2021, Walker received $415,000 from 17 speeches according to his December federal campaign disclosure.
He also received more than $420,000 from a pair of sports marketing companies. A Delaware-based mental health care provider is paying him $330,000 this year to serve as a spokesman for its support program for veterans.
Walker has, for the most part, avoided interviews with news outlets and has recently said he would not debate his Republican rivals.
But Yale professor Sonnenfeld said that Walker’s litigious business past and misrepresentations of his success raises questions about his trustworthiness, especially as a candidate that has no political record to run on.
“It shows that he will exploit false information for personal gain. If there’s nothing else you need in public office, you have to have somebody that you can trust,” said Sonnenfeld, who previously taught at Emory University for nearly a decade. “The most important thing there is that he hasn’t established himself as a pillar of trust.”