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How Andre Agassi Found His True Purpose—Off the Court

The tennis legend talks with head of Merrill Lynch Wealth Management John Thiel about what success—and failure—taught him and why he’s now focused on developing education solutions for underprivileged children.

THROUGHOUT MUCH OF HIS 20-YEAR CAREER, Andre Agassi was one of the most successful and flamboyant tennis stars in the world, earning 60 men's singles titles, including eight Grand Slam singles championships. As they marveled at his victories and antics, though, Agassi's fans couldn't have known how utterly lost he felt inside. After he'd sunk from the No. 1 ranked player in the world to No. 140, he had an epiphany—he realized he "hated" what he'd been doing most of his life. He also realized that he'd never had a chance to choose the life he wanted for himself.

"I believe with education comes knowledge. And with knowledge comes choice—and opportunity." — Andre Agassi, Chairman, Andre Agassi Foundation for Education

That moment led Agassi directly to the path he's on now, giving underprivileged children choices through education, helping them prepare for a life that's meaningful to them. In this recent conversation with John Thiel, head of Merrill Lynch Wealth Management, at a gathering of Merrill Lynch clients in New York City, Agassi describes his turnaround from competition to service. "I believe with education comes knowledge," Agassi tells Thiel. "And with knowledge comes choice—and opportunity."

Agassi's philosophy of education can be seen in action at "Agassi Prep," a public charter school located in one of the poorer neighborhoods of his home town, Las Vegas. The school, funded by the Andre Agassi Foundation for Education, provides the nurture, discipline and focus that Agassi believes will give children their best hope of achieving success in life—however they choose to define it.

A "Grand Slam" for Children

So far his foundation has raised more than $185 million to support innovative education solutions for underprivileged children. But Agassi isn't relying solely on charitable donations to make a difference. Through his for-profit Agassi Ventures, he's formed a partnership with investor Bobby Turner of Turner Impact Capital to launch a social impact investing fund dedicated to building charter schools across the U.S.

"We've found that this kind of partnership has the potential to produce scalable, sustainable results more quickly," says Agassi. Already, schools benefiting from the fund serve more than 22,800 students in such high-need communities as North Philadelphia, Newark, the Bronx, Southwest Detroit, and South Dallas. A second such fund, the Turner-Agassi Charter Schools Facilities Fund II, announced in September of 2015, has plans to invest up to $1 billion in the development of as many as 130 schools in high-need areas nationwide by 2020.

It's clear that in the nine years since Agassi retired from tennis, he has changed his definition of success and is finding great satisfaction in helping children reach their full potential. "I've realized that being No. 1 in the world is really no different from being No. 140," he says. "This is a journey in how you choose to live."

3 Questions to Ask Your Advisor

  1. Would a social impact investing fund make sense for me?
  2. How could charitable giving fit into my estate plan?
  3. What other ways can I use my experience and wealth to make a difference?

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Social impact investing is a relatively new and evolving investment opportunity which is highly speculative and involves a high degree of risk. An investor could lose all or a substantial amount of their investment


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