SBJ/March 20 - 26, 2006/Forty Under 40

Alan Zucker


By Terry Lefton      
Staff writer

Alan Zucker
Age: 38
Title: Senior vice president, athlete marketing and business development
Company: IMG
Education: B.S., marketing, Florida State University, 1989
Family: Wife, Tempe; children Zachary, 6; Cole, 4; and Michaela, 2
Career: Began career selling carpet for Shaw Industries; joined IMG in 1996, where he has been involved in negotiations for numerous divisions, including football, baseball, basketball, hockey, golf, broadcasting, licensing and TV.
Last vacation: San Diego
Last book read: "The Winning Spirit: 16 Timeless Principles That Drive Performance Excellence" by Joe Montana (a client)
Last movie seen: "Curious George" with my kids
Pet peeve: Complacency. I can't stand people who stand still.
Greatest disappointment: Missing too many of my kids' soccer, flag football and tee-ball games.
Fantasy job: Umpiring the Little League World Series
Executive most admired: Jack Welch
Business advice: Pressure is greatest when you are unprepared — so always prepare.

What IMG's Alan Zucker likes about his job is the same thing baseball fans love about the national pastime: Every day there are infinite combinations providing countless possibilities. Given IMG's stable of athletes and properties, one day it's a Joe Montana speaking engagement, the next it's a technology endorsement deal for Maria Sharapova or Peyton Manning.

Zucker has been in sales for his entire career, but it wasn't always this glamorous. Fresh out of Florida State in 1989, he sold carpeting to retailers for Shaw Industries. Carpeting may be the ultimate commodity product, but if you think that's a tough sell, consider that as a typically self-conscious 14-year-old, Zucker sold leotards, tights and bras at his mother's dancewear store.

"That's 'get-your-teeth-kicked-in' selling, but I learned sales 101 at an early age because of it," he said.

After seven years of floor-covering sales, Zucker's basic understanding of retailing and marketing helped him land a job with IMG, Chicago, in 1996. An early love of football had sent him to Florida State for an education. As an equipment manager for the football team, he got to know athletes such as Deion Sanders and Brad Johnson, but Zucker was always more inclined to marketing and business than athlete representation.

With a "seven-year itch" urge to get back into the business, Zucker worked under IMG's Gary Swain to sell a WTA tourney that had been moved on the calendar and was being held at the relatively seedy venue of the UIC Pavilion. But after debating the merits of selling pile and plush, selling women's tennis is a luxury — even at a time when the sport of women's tennis was at ebb tide.

After selling a presenting sponsorship to the tournament, and some early success with Chicago Bears quarterback Eric Kramer and wide receiver Curtis Conway, Zucker felt more secure about his future as a sports marketer. Realizing the path to the top at IMG ran through its Cleveland headquarters, Zucker took a job there in 2000 under Peter Johnson, where he began to have success with high-profile clients such as Peyton Manning.

Developing his niche as an endorsement specialist, Zucker has worked his way to where he is one of IMG's top sales producers. Typically self-effacing, Zucker credits the IMG team and the breadth of offerings available to him. Outside of IMG, executives say that like any good salesman, Zucker's greatest talent is hearing what the client is saying.

"He really has this talent for listening and structuring deals that work for both parties," said World TeamTennis Commissioner Ilana Kloss, an early mentor of Zucker. "You always got the feeling from him that whatever he's selling is important."

With all the recent fallout at IMG, Zucker's value to the company should only increase. Asked for a look into the future of IMG, Zucker sees new media and fashion as important growth areas. Like many in the business, he sees entertainers challenging the endorsement market that's been left primarily to athletes.

"We're definitely selling against entertainers, and that's a trend I see continuing," Zucker said, "but when it comes to athletes, we have longevity on our side. Most musicians are famous for a year, unless you're the Rolling Stones. Derek Jeter and Peyton Manning will still be icons in 10 to 15 years."

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