The following was compiled by grad student Kelly Carroll
Another in as series from the Columbia University Sports Podcast, a 360-degree view of the sports business from the people leading it. Each podcast is approximately 35–45 minutes in length, and features industry insiders from all aspects of the business—from brand executives to startup founders to former MLB players—all talking about their work, the current state of the sports industry, and, more importantly, the future of the field.
Recently we spoke to Dan Mannix, president, CEO, and founder of LeadDog Marketing Group, about what it takes to be an entrepreneur in the sports industry today, as its capacity for startup businesses continues to grow.
Mannix’s own career journey, from administrative assistant at the Astrodome to founder of one of the country’s lead marketing companies, provides many anecdotes on what it takes to be an entrepreneur today:
“You don’t stop at the first door that closes:” Before working in the sports industry, Mannix once told a recruiter he wanted to be general manager of the New York Knicks. In a time before email, he pursued that dream by sending letters to the NBA’s head of events and head of international, as well to Commissioner David Stern. After receiving the standard reply back, he switched his mode of communication to the telephone, cold calling executive vice presidents at the NBA. Later in life, on his way to an interview with NBA Deputy Commissioner Russ Granik, Mannix got stuck in an elevator for 30 minutes. The point is, the universe may seem to be keeping you from your dream job. Don’t let it.
Be Disruptive: In an industry like sports, where competition for jobs is so great, Mannix says being a disruptor is an effective way to get noticed—if you think it’s unlikely your resume will be pulled out of a stack of thousands, you have to do something to stand apart from the crowd. Though Mannix once encouraged someone to send a pizza to a prospective employer to get their attention, he also takes a note from David Stern, who he considers disruptive because of his famously high standards. “You can have a big plan, but if you don’t cover the little details too, the best plan can totally fall apart,” Mannix says.
Use your various experiences to learn: The road to LeadDog wasn’t straight and narrow, and Mannix credits all of his prior experiences for making him someone capable of starting his own business. His roles working as an administrative assistant, heading special events at the NBA, managing basketball competition for the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, and helping start the WNBA all provided Mannix with different opportunities to learn something he didn’t know before. At one point, he also left it all to go backpacking for 10 months. “I was able to make a lot of mistakes to be in a position to start my own company one day,” he says.
Big things are achieved through relationships: Mannix once prophesized that LeadDog was going to be the “next IMG.” He was confident in this assessment because of his belief that anything is possible when great people do great work with great partners. He is also a firm believer in forming strong relationships with the people around you at every level of your career. “When you build relationships, keep your relationships, and be true to your word,” Mannix says. Opportunities, he adds, come from the good impressions you make on people.
Diversity is an asset: In an industry that is predominantly male, Mannix is consciously creating opportunities for diversity within his company. LeadDog is one of few companies that have a majority of female executives. The staff is also 71 percent female. “It’s always about the person,” Mannix says of his hiring process. “I trust my instinct—when you meet someone and you feel like they have that fire, that heart. That’s the pointed difference between the average person who will do their job and punch the clock, versus someone who is going to push the limits.”
Enthusiasm is a skill: Those attempting to move into the sports industry should have the obvious knowledge and education to do the job. But for Mannix, the thing that sets people apart in the sports industry—or really any job—is great enthusiasm, or a roll-up-your-sleeves attitude. “If someone has the base-level smarts, and they have a great attitude and great enthusiasm, they can do anything,” he says. For a marketing company, he adds that the best employee is someone who can bring great strategic analysis to the table, but also be flexible enough to adjust to the industry. “When people can bring matching creativity and strategy, it’s a dangerous combination,” Mannix says.
These were just some of the topics we discussed with Mannix. The entire podcast, number 21 in the series, can be heard here.