SBJ/November 4 - 10, 2002/Forty Under 40

George Postolos

George Postolos is a native Texan, but it's the Chinese culture that's of main concern these days for the chief executive of the Houston Rockets.

Postolos spent the last year involved with delicate contract negotiations with Chinese officials for the NBA's top draft pick, Yao Ming. Now Postolos is spearheading a new marketing effort for the Chinese superstar, while at the same time overseeing construction of the team's new 18,200-seat, $202 million arena that opens next year.

Those efforts have paid off for the 38-year-old Postolos, who last month was promoted by Rockets owner Leslie Alexander from COO to team president and chief executive.

But Postolos, who graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law School, is smart enough to know that being promoted doesn't remove him from some of the major challenges facing the franchise.

The Rockets must still secure a naming-rights deal and sell 95 luxury suites and a bevy of new sponsorships in an oversaturated market that includes the NFL's new Houston Texans, who started play this year with huge corporate support.

In addition, the Houston Astros' naming-rights deal with Minute Maid struck earlier this year means one fewer corporation willing to look at putting its name atop the Rockets' new arena.

"There is very strong competition in the market with two new buildings coming on line right in front of us," Postolos said. "There has been quite a bit of money taken out of the market. But at the same time, we have a great product. And while we are eager to see the success from drafting Yao Ming, it will take some time."

If history serves as a guide, it shouldn't take long for Postolos to revamp the Rockets.

Just two years after joining the NBA in 1996 as a special assistant to Commissioner David Stern, Postolos was hired by Alexander to manage the Rockets' business operations as chief operating officer.

Working in New York as Stern's right-hand man proved to be great training for Postolos, who came to the NBA from the New York law firm of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, where he specialized in mergers and acquisitions.

"I had done some work for the NBA and met [NBA Entertainment chief executive officer] Adam Silver, was introduced to David Stern and then took the job," Postolos said. "It was a job that had the same type of intensity as mergers and acquisitions work and it was terrific preparation to work for an owner because of the demands."

Postolos was a jack-of-all-trades as Stern's special assistant, learning both the business and basketball sides of the NBA.

"I hired George, and he is one of the smartest and most analytical people I've seen come into the league," Silver said. "He has been an innovator at the team level and he has the Rockets moving in the right direction."

Alexander called in 1998 to bring the San Antonio native to Houston.

"George had terrific experience and I wanted someone who could see both sides of the picture so that when he represented me, he would understand how decisions should be made," Alexander said. "George is very aggressive and he's doing a great job of putting together a group of bright young people to take the Rockets to the next level."

It wasn't as if working in a front office was a strange place for Postolos. His father was good friends with former San Antonio Spurs owner Angelo Drossos, and Postolos spent school vacations working in the Spurs' front office.

Postolos' tenure as COO got off to a rocky start when the organization's initial arena effort failed to win public support, forcing Postolos and Alexander to renegotiate with city officials. The project won voter approval the second time, clearing the decks for the construction of the new facility.

"Negotiating in the public sector is a completely different animal and I don't think anyone would confuse me with a politician," Postolos said. "Maybe if I had better political sense I would have done better, but the second time around we won by a 30-point margin, one of the widest victories in sports facilities referenda. That was a nice turnaround."

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