SBJ/November 5 - 11, 2001/Forty Under 40

Michael Rubin

At 29, Michael Rubin is one of the youngest to take "Forty Under 40" honors, but he's nothing short of a business veteran.

Rubin began selling ski equipment out of his basement at the age of 13, and he was running a multimillion-dollar operation by the time he graduated from high school.

His current business, Global Sports, is a direct descendant of that basement venture, at least the fourth incarnation — including KPR Sports International and a merger with RYKÄ — of a desire to sell sporting goods. Arguably the experience he gained in morphing each business into a new one left him best prepared to survive the high-profile sports e-commerce battle.

Rubin and Global Sports did survive, dispatching first-mover Fogdog.com and high-flyer MVP.com by spending almost nothing on marketing and instead partnering with most of the top big-box sports retailers — including Dick's Sporting Goods and The Sports Authority — to handle their online sales and fulfillment.

Global Sports assumes the inventory risk but keeps more than 90 percent of revenue in most deals, a strong margin especially when you consider the low marketing overhead.

The past 12 months have been good ones for Global. It has racked up new partners outside the sports category and now handles e-commerce for Kmart and iQVC. It is in the process of acquiring Ashford.com to branch into the luxury-goods and corporate-gift market. And just over a year ago it received $40.8 million in funding, led by Comcast and QVC. As most Internet companies have learned, it helps to have partners on the TV side.

And Rubin himself has enjoyed the benefits: Earlier this year he cashed in $10 million worth of options on Global Sports. This was possible because Global's stock has been a relatively high performer, currently trading around $16, near its 52-week high of $19.88. Global Sports expects revenue in the $100 million range this year.

"He's a very dynamic individual, he understands how to get things done very quickly, he's extremely astute about market [trends] as well as business trends, and he reacts quickly to opportunities," said Craig Levra, CEO of Sport Chalet, another Global Sports partner. "Now, we're not sure that Michael actually sleeps at night. There has been some rumor to that effect, but no one can confirm it."

Rubin says he works between 80 and 100 hours a week — "although my girlfriend would say it was 168" — but attributes the success of his business to a better insight into e-commerce's potential.

"I think there's been a couple of fundamental changes in the market's perception and understanding of e-commerce," he said. "We always believed it represented a nice long-term niche, and many others overestimated the short-term opportunities. It's important to see that e-commerce is a nice 1 to 2 percent of sporting-goods sales today, and maybe it goes to 5 percent in the long term."

In keeping with this, the company has branched into general consumer goods with Kmart's business, and into luxury goods with the Ashford.com acquisition. To keep sports leagues paying attention, it also handles merchandise sales for four NFL teams.

"From my perspective, this year as a whole has really been about the strong business models coming to light," Rubin said.

In the office, Rubin says he delegates easily but is extremely detail-oriented. "And like most executives, I'm pretty addicted to my BlackBerry [personal digital assistant]."

But, he says, he's a friendly boss — "I walk the halls a lot more than most CEOs, and I think this is a fun place to work."

The King of Prussia, Pa., offices feature a basketball court "dead in the center of the building," Rubin said. Internet companies have been famous for their staff perks, but Rubin takes it only so far. "No one plays during the day, but we have a great league that runs at night."

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