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

Michael Robichaud



Being in charge of a sponsorship portfolio that includes series sponsorship of NASCAR, official sponsorship of the NHL, its players association and the American Airlines Center, and sponsorship of 11 NHL teams, seven NFL teams and a handful of basketball and baseball teams is no small task. Then again, Michael Robichaud, senior director of sports and entertainment marketing for Nextel, is familiar with large tasks — and even larger deals.

Michael Robichaud
• Age: 36
• Title: Senior director of sports and entertainment marketing
• Company: Nextel Communications
• Education: B.S., civil and environmental engineering, VMI, 1991; MBA, College of William and Mary, 1998
• Family: Wife, Beth
• Career: Five years as an environmental engineer and going on eight years with Nextel
• Last vacation: Naples, Fla.
• Last book read: "What would Machiavelli Do?" by Stanley Bing
• Last movie seen: "The Bourne Supremacy"
• Greatest achievement: Getting to work with the team at Nextel and Octagon responsible for managing the 2004 inaugural NASCAR Nextel Cup Series season
• Greatest disappointment: Not getting to spend as much time as I'd like with family and friends
• Fantasy job: Executive producer of hit movies
• Executive most admired: Michael Dell
• Business advice: Invest in yourself through formal and informal education. You'll be a more valuable asset to your company and better prepared for future opportunities.
Nextel, in fact, is entering year two of a 10-year, $750 million series sponsorship with NASCAR that is the most expensive sports sponsorship ever. And Robichaud receives a lot of credit for first making the deal happen, and then for making the transition into the sport nearly flawless.

“What set him apart was his ability to be tenacious and make this deal happen,” NASCAR Chief Operating Officer George Pyne said.

His compassion and understanding of the sport and its history allowed for the smooth transition.

“We knew we were stepping into some pretty big shoes and that we weren’t going to be able to replace a 33-year sponsor overnight,” Robichaud said of replacing Winston, the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. brand that had been synonymous with NASCAR racing since the early 1970s.

Robichaud was born in Newport News, Va., and grew up outside New York City in northern New Jersey. He went to college at Virginia Military Institute, where he studied engineering before working as an environmental engineer for five years.

After deciding that was not the right career path for him, Robichaud returned to school and received his MBA from William and Mary. During one of his summer breaks, Robichaud did an internship with Nextel, and he received a full-time job at the wireless company when he graduated in 1998.

In his seven-plus years at Nextel, Robichaud has climbed the corporate ladder while the company has gained strength among the wireless giants.

“The company, when I started, had less than 400 people at the headquarters, and now we have over 3,000,” Robichaud said. “We had less than a million customers and we’re at over 15 million today.”

And it might not all be due to the calculated sponsorship buys, but Robichaud likes to think at least a part of the company’s growth can be credited to his group’s work.

“I’d like to think that the stuff we’ve done in this group, and along with the rest of our department, has had a pretty big impact on selling the brand,” Robichaud said.

Selling the brand and growing the company was exactly what Tim Donahue, Nextel president and CEO, had in mind when he signed the richest sponsorship contract in American sports history. Robichaud, taken aback at first by the magnitude of the opportunity, said his boss read his mind regarding interest in the sport.

“He basically came and said, ‘We want in,’” Robichaud said. “He said he wanted us to really look at it. Coincidentally, we [as a marketing group] were going to look at it pretty hard, too, but we were going to look at it from a team level just knowing that it was a sport that had been on our radar. So my team had a pitch ready to go, internally saying, ‘Hey, this is the next place we should be.’”

Where to go now might be the largest task yet for Robichaud, as the $36 billion merger between Sprint and Nextel has muddied the waters a little. But Robichaud said there is nothing to worry about because the wireless company that emerges will have some of the best assets among all wireless companies.

“We can do things sooner. We can do them bigger. We can do them better,” he said. “We are going to have the critical mass to compete against the Verizons and Cingulars of the world.”

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