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SBJ/November 10 - 16, 2003/Forty Under 40
Published November 10, 2003
Lou Jacobs wouldn't say it was a foregone conclusion that he would follow the footsteps of his brother, father, two uncles and grandfather in the 88-year-old family business, which happens to rank among the largest privately held firms in the United States.
After all, two of his five siblings opted to go another route. But the 39-year-old Jacobs didn't need his two Harvard degrees to map out professional goals. Delaware North Cos., with Lou's father Jeremy as CEO, generates $1.6 billion in annual revenue.
Subsidiaries include Sportservice, among the nation's leading arena and stadium food and retail concessionaires, with accounts that include Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Soldier Field in Chicago and 90,000-seat Wembley Stadium in London, scheduled to open in late 2005 or early 2006.
Lou Jacobs said, "Honestly, this is something I wanted to do. To be candid, there were opportunities in the organization that I would have been foolish to ignore. To be involved at a senior level at such a young age was something I couldn't pass up."
His path to executive vice president started when Jacobs was a teenager taking bets behind the pari-mutuel wagering windows at Buffalo Raceway, a thoroughbred track at the Erie County Fairgrounds in nearby Hamburg, N.Y.
Jacobs developed an affinity for horses at an early age. He grew up on a farm outside Buffalo, and his father was one of the leading amateur equestrian riders in the 1970s and '80s. Lou followed suit, representing the U.S. Equestrian Team in two World Cup finals.
He met his wife Joan through European equestrian travels and passed that passion for horses on to his daughter, Charlotte. "She is interested in it, which I think is great, because there are not many things an 8-year-old and a 40-year-old [as of Jan. 10, 2004] can do together," Jacobs said.
After graduating in 1986 with an economics degree from Harvard, Jacobs went to work for Delaware North, spending 18 months at old Boston Garden. His primary responsibility was to develop a new arena for the NHL Bruins, a separate entity owned by the Jacobs family.
"I worked on the real estate and financing of a new building. The market fell off and it ended up being a futile effort," he said. Eventually, in 1995, the Jacobs family would own and operate a new facility that became known as FleetCenter, also home to the NBA Celtics.
Rich Krezwick, president and CEO of FleetCenter, has worked with Jacobs for nearly 10 years.
"This comes from my heart," he said. "I hesitate in trying to find enough superlative words to describe Lou. He is a class act; smart, compassionate and somebody any executive would want to call a friend. Lou's a great guy and finishes first — he's a leader and motivator with his calming style. People want to work for Lou."
Jacobs moved back to company headquarters in the late 1980s and returned to Cambridge, Mass., to earn an M.B.A. in 1991 from the Harvard School of Business. Two years later, he moved to Sydney, Australia, responsible for building Delaware North's international sports clients, with an emphasis on fine dining.
The reputation the company established a decade ago in Australia has paid enormous dividends. In 2001, Delaware North extended its contract for the Australian Open tennis tournament at the multivenue Melbourne Park.
The biggest catch of all came last year, when officials secured a 25-year deal for the Wembley Stadium, being built for an estimated $1 billion. Jacobs believes that because of the scope of the project, "there won't be anything else like it in the world."
"We raised the standard in Australia and they recognized that in the U.K. with the latest stadium, despite the fact we don't have a foothold in the marketplace. It was more challenging to get that contract, but we distinguished ourselves on quality."