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SBJ/March 20 - 26, 2006/Forty Under 40
Published March 20, 2006
STRATEGIC SPORTS GROUP
By Scott Warfield
• Age: 39
• Title: President
• Company: Strategic Sports Group
• Education: B.S., political science, Ohio State University
• Family: Wife, Carly
• Career: Began career with One Stop Events in 1990; moved to Katz Media Corp. in 1991; launched Strategic Sports Group in 1996.
• Last vacation: Skiing in Aspen, Colo.
• Last book read: "Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap … and Others Don't" by Jim Collins
• Last movie seen: "Wedding Crashers"
• Pet peeve: People who aren't solution oriented
• Greatest disappointment: The Browns never making it to the Super Bowl
• Fantasy job: Owner of the Cleveland Browns
• Executive most admired: Michael Dell
• Business advice: Don't take "no" for an answer.
Strategic Sports Group, the New York City-based company that Peter Stern founded out of his apartment on 54th Street and Park Avenue in 1996, has the Stern family's fingerprints all over it.
"Before I launched, I borrowed my mother's computer and my sister gave me a coffee table," Stern remembers with a laugh. "And the entrepreneurial spirit in me came from my dad."
His father, who operated a men's shoe business in Ohio, allowed Stern to work in his stores and travel with him to business trade shows and conventions at the early age of 12.
"He gave me the responsibility very early on to open and close stores by myself and sort of handle everything," Stern said. "And that's something I've tried to do at the agency. I'm less concerned about experience than I am about talented people that are smart. You've got to give them an opportunity to have their shot and even allow them to fail."
But "fail" is a word Stern knows little about.
After graduating from Ohio State in 1989 and spending a year backpacking through Europe, Stern landed a job with One Stop Events in New York, where he directed sales efforts and was instrumental in the company's involvement with Minute Maid's Olympic launch and Seagram's Frank Sinatra tour.
"It's there that I learned in this business, if you can generate revenue, you're always going to have a job," Stern said.
After a year and a half with One Stop, Stern moved to Katz Media Corp. in 1991, where he directed programs for blue-chip clients such as Xerox, the U.S. Postal Service and Citibank. Stern excelled in that position, but in 1996 he decided he needed to "go out on my own."
And what began as a modest startup agency has become one of the most highly respected agencies in sports business. With a client list that includes GlaxoSmithKline, Siemens, The History Channel and Western Union, Strategic, which now has 17 employees and an actual office in New York City, has slowly positioned itself as a leading sports and sponsorship marketing consultancy. The company has enjoyed double-digit revenue growth in each of the last three years, Stern said.
Alan McKirby, director of marketing for GlaxoSmithKline, which has been a Strategic client since the company was founded, said Stern's straightforward and honest approach differentiates his agency from most.
"Strategic stands out because of the reputation Peter has," McKirby said. "He doesn't try to be overly slick with things and instead has a no-nonsense approach to the business."
For Stern, the success is extra sweet because of the company's rough beginning.
Probably most representative of Strategic's early days is Stern's story about the company's first fax machine. Because he was unable to afford his own fax machine, Stern had the contracts for his first three clients — OfficeMax, GlaxoSmithKline and Gulf Oil, all of which are still with him today — faxed to the Peninsula Hotel across the street from his apartment.
"I'd sprint over from my apartment and get the fax and sprint back," Stern recalls. "We've come a long way from those days."