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SBJ/Nov. 8-14, 2010/This Week's Issue
McCormack’s legacy finds a home at UMass
Published November 8, 2010
The yellow and red packets arrived each month, crammed to the bursting point with letters, contracts, memos and proposals, a compilation deemed so sensitive that the recipients were told to shred their copies before tossing them out.
In London, in Paris, in Hong Kong — wherever the three grown children of IMG founder Mark McCormack might reside, no matter how temporarily, they knew the “chrons” would find them.
“Chrons” was short for chronological, which was the way McCormack had his longtime assistant, Laurie Roggenburk, arrange his papers. He also had her copy and sort them by client or prospect or company, and again under the name of the person he had written or spoken to. The “chrons” put a bow on what he’d been working on each month.
As the first three of his four children grew to adulthood in the 1980s, McCormack had Roggenburk send them chrons. By the time they joined the firm, as all three eventually did, they understood how he worked and thought. When he married tennis client Betsy Nagelsen in 1986, he started sending her chrons, too.
“My father didn’t teach by sitting you down and saying here’s how we’re going to do it,” said first-born son Breck McCormack, 52, who joined IMG after law school in 1984 and worked there until shortly after the family sold the firm in 2004. “He let things speak for themselves. … (The writings) gave us a chance to learn how he was thinking, what his goals were, what his priorities were, how he thought about the world and this business. It was quite an education for us reading those.”
Soon, students and scholars across the world will have access to that same education.
The Mark McCormack collection, a vast accumulation of documents, letters, photographs and memorabilia occupying 35,000 to 45,000 boxes in a warehouse in Cleveland, found a new home last week, as the family transferred ownership of the historic papers to the sports management program at the University of Massachusetts.
Renamed the Mark H. McCormack Department of Sport Management at Isenberg, the program will house the collection on the 24th floor of the main campus library. The documents, expected to fill about 10,000 boxes after the elimination of duplicates, will be digitized to allow for broader and easier access, but also preserved and stored. The McCormack family also made a $1.5 million gift to endow an executive-in-residence program and an international travel and exchange program.
UMass plans to make many of the papers available for study online, as well as to use them as an integral part of the curriculum, building case studies that will dig deep into McCormack and IMG.
The full transfer is expected to take three years, said program head Lisa Pike Masteralexis, but the school expects to be ready to unveil the first parts of it in about three months.
During an emotional Wednesday afternoon that at different points brought tears to the eyes of each of the attending family members — McCormack’s wife, Betsy Nagelsen McCormack, sons Breck and Todd and daughter Leslie McCormack Gathy — Todd McCormack shared a photograph of an item that now will hang outside the offices of the sports management department: The famed display board of hotel room keys that his father collected over the years.
“His life’s work is now here for you and future generations,” McCormack told students and faculty during the ceremony, his voice cracking. “Enjoy finding the right key that unlocks how this collection can be part of your ongoing research, education and career.”
Though the collection includes revealing personal possessions dating back to childhood — including letters to his mother and first wife Nancy Breckenridge McCormack, as well as an oddly specific charter for a game he created with his friends — the core comes from his fabled files, which were at the center of a personal touch that was the trademark of McCormack’s IMG.
Before a meeting or a call, he could review boxes of files on an issue, a company or a person at a company, culling details that he then could use in his conversations and negotiations.
When the family sold the company to private equity firm Forstmann Little in 2004, 18 months after their father’s death, the agreement granted the family rights to all McCormack’s papers and related items, as well as any documents deemed essential in chronicling the history of IMG. Forstmann Little agreed to store the items for 10 years, but the family knew that, at some point, they would have to find a permanent home.
Three years ago, they began the search. Early in 2008, they invited six of the nation’s top sports education programs to a meeting in New York to discuss what they had. The mass of the collection was simply too much for most schools to handle. Several told the McCormacks that, because they already housed the papers of former presidents and Supreme Court justices and founding fathers, they couldn’t find room for something of its size. Several wanted it, but only if they could digitize it and then destroy it.
UMass offered to take and preserve much of it, to build it into curriculum that already included the study of McCormack and IMG, and to welcome the family’s input on programs that might be built around it.
“Your father is our founding father and Supreme Court justice,” Masteralexis told them.
In June, Todd McCormack, the only one of the three offspring still working at IMG, phoned to tell Masteralexis they had selected UMass and to finalize the complex details.
“I’m certainly honored to have the collection,” Masteralexis said after the ceremony last week. “But I was even more interested in the legacy that we can create. I want to find all that we can learn from their father’s legacy and then teach things from it. We have these files. Now what can we learn from them?”
That McCormack insisted that his affairs be dutifully chronicled offers a window into his persona. He often crafted thoughtful, detailed letters to clients and prospects. And he insisted on keeping them all. When a wealthy friend suggested that he should keep documents only for the seven years required by law, McCormack dismissed the advice.
“That’s not how my father looked at the world,” Breck McCormack said. “He knew there was historical importance for this stuff, but he also just collected things. He’d have 15 different shades of green pants hanging in his closet for golf. They’re not coming back into fashion, but he’d save them.”
McCormack Gathy worked for IMG in Europe from 1988 to 2004. Her earliest memories of her father’s frequent and lengthy business trips center on his returns. He’d say his hellos and then ask if she would like to help him unpack. She would follow him into a bedroom closet that was the longest room in the house, stretching the length of a hallway. In it hung his army uniform, letter sweaters from his alma mater, William & Mary, gear from Yale, where he studied law. Atop a chest of drawers he displayed statues and other trinkets that his grandparents gave him as a boy.
“I’d make my way from where his suitcase was at the end of the closet, with all his dirty laundry in my arms, walking past these shoes and trousers and jackets and shirts,” McCormack Gathy said. “And I’m going, ‘He has a lot of stuff.’”
Until the late ’80s, McCormack relied almost entirely on the written word to chronicle his life and business. The photographs included in his files were taken by professionals or colleagues. He didn’t own a camera. But then, in 1986, he and Nagelsen married. A self-described “picture freak,” she convinced McCormack that a camera could help them preserve memories. He became hooked.
“From ’87 on we pretty much have at least one picture for every day in our life,” Nagelsen McCormack said. “Nobody takes a picture every day. But Mark did, every single day. He made a chronicle. He’d say, ‘Remember that dinner?’ And then he’d find a picture, and there it was.”
Todd McCormack said the collection is filled with examples of ways his father made the volumes of IMG history pay off.
For a long stretch, McCormack was working to structure a deal with Augusta National golf club, which showed little interest in sponsorship or licensing opportunities. Because he kept a file with every letter he had sent to the club and notes from every meeting or conversation, he was able to tap into the groundwork he had laid. Most of his letters to the club begin similarly: “As you remember when I wrote to you in 1974 …”
The message was clear. He had pursued Augusta National for a long time and merited its attention.
In that letter and others like it, the McCormacks believe UMass students and researchers will find lessons.
“Certainly the fullness of a man can never be put in a box,” Nagelsen McCormack told UMass students and faculty. “But with Mark, you have in these boxes the details of a life well lived. And of a man that loved every single minute of it.”