SBJ/February 28 - March 6, 2005/Forty Under 40

John Tatum

JOHN TATUM, GENESCO SPORTS ENTERPRISES

BY TERRY LEFTON
STAFF WRITER

Genesco Sports Enterprises co-founder John Tatum likes the sports agency business for the same reason he likes politics. The way he sees it, it’s all about protecting people and guiding them to better choices.

John Tatum
• Age: 38
• Titles: Co-founder and partner
• Company: Genesco Sports Enterprises
• Education: B.S., economics, University of Texas, 1988
• Family: Wife, LeeAnn; son, Jack, 18 months
• Career: Advantage International, 1988-1989; Stringer Marketing Group, 1989-1992; Tracy Locke, 1992-1994; co-founded Genesco in 1994
• Last vacation: Seaside, Fla., last July
• Last book read: "Customer Mania!: It's Never Too Late to Build a Customer-Focused Company" by Ken Blanchard
• Last movie seen: "Ray"
• Greatest achievement: My son Jack and the second child we're expecting in July
• Greatest disappointment: Not buying more Sirius stock when it was low
• Fantasy job: Governor of Texas
• Executive most admired: Sam Walton. He was a true entrepreneur who built an empire out of nothing.
• Business advice: Love what you do and then it won't feel like work.
So, no wonder Tatum, who founded Genesco with partner Charlie Turano in 1994, fantasizes about being governor of Texas. (You’ll recall where that job leads.)

There are, he believes, as many people and businesses being misled by government as there are brands being led astray by sports properties only too willing to sell them what they don’t need.

“Looking out for other people’s interest really motivates me,” Tatum said. “We look out for our clients. People paying too much in taxes doesn’t bug me as much as brands paying too much for an athlete or a property, but it might someday.”

Brands hiring Genesco (the likes of Pepsi, RadioShack, MasterCard and, over the past year, Sirius Satellite Radio and Game Stop) could have picked any agencies, including ones much larger than the 50-person shop Tatum runs with Turano.

But Dallas-based Genesco often gets the nod for its industry knowledge, both in sports and in the industries it serves, such as beverages and payment cards. That kind of insider acumen allows it to get things done quickly.

That was handy in signing MasterCard and the overwhelming majority of NFL team sponsorships, and in getting Sirius NFL team deals to complement Sirius’ overall league rights package.

It’s all about being quietly efficient. Consequently, Tatum doesn’t see the need for something as basic as a corporate Web site.

He’d rather sell the old-fashioned way of word-of-mouth and pounding on doors. And, oh yeah, there are a lot of ex-Pepsi marketers strewn around sports, and Genesco was a Pepsi agency almost as soon as it opened its doors.

“We’d always rather that our clients talk about us than vice versa,” Tatum said. “And while a lot of people don’t know who we are, we like being the stealth agency. I really think it helps us get things done more efficiently.”

Sirius Satellite Radio’s senior vice president of marketing, Tola Murphy-Baran, had never heard of Genesco before an agency review last June, during which an NFL marketing vice president happened to recommend Genesco. So, while it entered the review late, Genesco won one of the year’s most high-profile agency shootouts and subsequently delivered 28 team sponsorships by November.

“They move quickly, they know the business cold and the amount of work they take on certainly freed us up at a time we were inundated,” Murphy-Baran said.

Genesco remains one of the few agencies left of any size and clout that’s independent, though Tatum says he’s recently fended off offers from some of the largest communications conglomerates. For now, he still likes being his own boss.

“There will come a time when we have to make those decisions, but it isn’t now,” Tatum said. “We’re kind of the last man standing in the ring; I just don’t know yet if that man is Muhammad Ali or Custer.”

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