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

Zak Brown


By Scott Warfield
Staff writer
Zak Brown
Age: 34
Titles: President and CEO
Company: Just Marketing International
Education: “Not much” (high school graduate)
Family: Wife, Tracy; sons McGuire, 4, and Maxwell, 2
Career: Founded Just Marketing International in September 1994 while also splitting time as a race car driver in Europe; retired from racing in 2000.
Last vacation: Disney World
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: The phrases “ASAP” and “To be honest with you”
Greatest achievement: Getting spirits into NASCAR
Greatest disappointment: Not having a more successful racing career
Fantasy job: Playing second base for the St. Louis Cardinals
Executive most admired: Roger Penske
Business advice: Work smart and hard. Keep your head down and stay focused.

Zak Brown, president and CEO of Just Marketing International, remembers having dinner with Diageo executives to celebrate Kurt Busch's 2004 championship season.

The "three heavy hitters" from Diageo, which had just captured its first NASCAR Cup title with its Smirnoff Ice brand, quickly switched the conversation from malt beverages to distilled spirits.

"About five minutes into it they said to me, 'That's great, you won a championship for us with Smirnoff Ice,'" Brown recalls. "'But how can you get spirits into NASCAR?'"

"No chance in hell, boys," Brown remembers blurting out.

But less than a year later, and after months of meetings with NASCAR's top executives, Brown, and a contingent of supporters, convinced the sanctioning body to reverse its 56-year hard-line ban on spirit sponsorship of its events and teams.

"Zak, without question, was a key element of us looking at spirit sponsorships for the sport," NASCAR senior vice president Paul Brooks said. "He was really the bridge that helped us and the spirit companies."

As was characteristic of that process, things have always just seemed to work out for Brown.

Brown, 34, grew up in Los Angeles and through a friend was introduced to Mario Andretti and, consequently, the world of racing. After racing go-carts for almost five years in California, Brown moved to Europe when he was 18 to follow his dream of one day winning a Formula One championship.

In addition to finding a permanent ride, Brown was trying to find a sponsor as well. "We weren't poor, but we weren't wealthy, especially by motor racing standards," Brown said. "My parents didn't pay for any racing so I had to, very early on, find every dollar I could."

In some cases, it wasn't even dollars.

Brown landed a one-off sponsorship with Trans World Air in which he was sponsored in the form of airline tickets. Brown used that inventory as bartering chips to land enough deals to put a car on the track.

Brown hung up his helmet in 2000, but along the way he had turned that one-off TWA sponsorship deal into a multimillion-dollar motorsports sponsorship agency.

He has built his company into a 70-employee business that this year he said will generate more than $35 million in revenue and handle between $125 million and $150 million in sponsorship commitments.

Based in Indianapolis, Just Marketing has a client list that includes Subway, Ford Motor Co., Jackson Hewitt Tax Service and Henkel. Brown, who owns 100 percent of the company, said his clients participate in all major motorsports series, including NASCAR, Formula One, IRL and the ALMS.

"Clearly, Zak Brown is not the marketing solution for a lot of companies out there," Brown said, referring to Zak the driver. "And once I got my ego around that, the business started to take off because now I could go from selling myself to, today, I tell people that I've got the most inventory in the world of motorsports. I can take you anywhere."

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