SBJ/March 4-10, 2013/Champions

Donald Dell: Dell: Up close and personal

What kind of politician would you have been?

“I would love to have been in politics. My wife hates it. She always tells me that we never would have stayed married if I had gotten into politics. Today, I don’t really like the direction it’s taken. Everything is bought and sold for access. And the first question any potential candidate gets now is, Can you raise money?”
 
Regrets …

“When I was young, I was late a lot for meetings. That pissed people off. You can always find a reason you were late, but the guy you are dealing with thinks it’s disrespectful. I don’t think I have overcome it, but I am getting better at it.”
 
A deal you still savor …

“Stan Smith and Adidas from 1972 — it’s ongoing and produced the biggest-selling shoe in the history of tennis. More than 50 million pairs. The biggest deal I ever did was the second Jordan/Nike deal. David Falk goes ballistic when I say that.”

The deal that got away …

“Losing Michael Jordan was kind of a big loss (laughs).”

Favorite coaches …

“Dean Smith and John Thompson; both were really loyal.”

Favorite place to play recreational tennis …

“Columbia Country Club, here in D.C.”

Favorite place to watch tennis …

“Either Wimbledon or Roland Garros. They are so very different, but my favorite tournament is the French Open.”

Favorite sports moment you witnessed live …

“Arthur Ashe winning Wimbledon in 1975 over Jimmy Connors.”

Favorite commissioner …

“David Stern. He has his opinions and can come on strong, but he’s one of the best listeners I’ve ever done business with. Even when he says no, somehow you still feel good. Paul Tagliabue was a close second.”

Favorite team owner …

“Jerry Buss. You could make a deal with him on the phone, and it was like iron. His word was always good. … Jerry was also the best poker player.”
 
Sports property you would invest in if it were publicly traded …

“The NFL is the gold standard. In terms of a growth stock, there’s an upside to the NHL I don’t see in basketball or baseball.”

Does size matter in the sports agency business …

“In the ’70s and ’80s, it didn’t matter; small was good. Today, you have to have access to capital, because the people you are competing with are so strong. And you have to be global.”

Favorite corporate CEO …

“Fred Smith, FedEx. A hard worker who always keeps his word.”
 
What’s changed the most in tennis?

“The athletes in tennis are much more physical. You take the top five players … if it rains at the U.S. Open, they are in the gym — men and women. In my day, we’d go to a movie. McEnroe, Gerulaitis: Those guys, they wouldn’t know a gym if they walked by one.
 
First thing you look for when hiring …

“Intensity and passion, but in a human way, not just bluster.”

Role models …

“Sargent Shriver for life and politics. Jack Kramer for life and tennis. When I was a boy, it was [former world No. 1 player] Tony Trabert.”

— Compiled by Terry Lefton

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