SBJ/February 28 - March 6, 2005/Opinion

Filtering the files to find our 40

Every year, as we prepare for the banquet that fetes the newest members of our Forty Under 40, those of us on the selection committee are asked the same question: Are the winners’ names drawn out of a hat, or what?

The truth is, none of us wears a hat. Besides, why would we leave a matter of such importance to the vagaries of chance when we could meet about it. And meet. And meet.

I’d like to tell you a fascinating tale of how we came up with our list, but that may be impossible. The sheer volume of meetings seems to have numbed some crucial part of my brain. As best I can remember, the process went like this:

On a fateful day long, long ago (at least five or six months), seven of us gathered around a table, much in the manner of King Arthur and his noble knights, and, drawing our swords with one hand and pounding our manly chests with the other, pledged to wade through swamps of hyperbole, face down monstrously inflated résumés and, if necessary, crawl through hell itself in order to scale the mountain and throw the cursed ring into the fiery depths from which it was born.

Or was that the mission before this one?

Wait, I remember now. There was no ring involved.

Plenty of hell, though.

Here’s how it happened: Seven of us, yes. And a table. But no swords, and no manly chests.

Files, too. Lots of files.

Filled with information.

Filled with it.

And we had to go through it all because, well, that’s what one does.

We began our fellowship by divvying up the alphabet, each taking one-seventh of the files. Our job was to get to know the people whose souls were bared therein and come to the next meeting prepared to argue for those we believed should be moved to the next round.

It would have been nice to toss out half of our hundreds of nominees at the first meeting. Unfortunately, hyperbole and inflated résumés were in short supply. We were faced, instead, with file after file of impressive accomplishments. Our goal with Forty Under 40 is to recognize the top young executives in the industry. Narrowing the list isn’t easy.

We kept at it, though. Week after week. Name after name. The discussions were lengthy and wide-ranging. We debated the merits of full careers and recent accomplishments. We argued passionately, sometimes heatedly. And after each meeting the list was a little shorter than when we started.

This went on for some time. I can’t say exactly how long.

I tried for a while to keep up with the number of hours of my life spent in Forty Under 40 meetings, but after a while it became a little like worrying about calories when you’re eating at McDonald’s. First you Super Size that double-quarter-pounder-with-cheese combo, then you add an apple pie and a chocolate shake, and pretty soon it’s better to just stop counting.

I’d like to pause for a personal moment with those nominees whose last name begins with C through G. I feel very close to you now, though I admit our relationship is a bit one-sided. I want you to know that I did my best for you, and I’m proud that 12 of you made the list. Many of the rest of you were thisclose, and I’m sure you’ll have your day, but to a few of you I have to say, in all honesty, you need to kick it up a notch.

If you’ve spent time around journalists, you would have been pleasantly surprised at the diligence with which we stuck to our task. I, for one, was extremely proud of our little group. I tell you in all seriousness, I haven’t seen journalists work that hard since the last press conference I attended that had a free buffet.

In the end, we had a list to be proud of. If your name is on it, I salute you. Your honor is well-deserved.

If it’s not, I encourage you to try again. All you’ve got to do is work harder, do more, and hope that next year I get your section of the alphabet.

Ross Nethery ( is managing editor of SportsBusiness Journal.

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