Before graduating from Harvard in 1999 with joint degrees in law and business administration, Malcolm Turner called his former boss and mentor at the PGA Tour, Gary Stevenson, for advice. Turner had just been offered a job with Goldman Sachs as an associate in the investment banking group — a six-figure job with significant bonus potential — and he wondered if he should take it.
"Is that something you want to do?" Stevenson asked.
"Unless there's something else you can think of," Turner said.
There was. Stevenson offered Turner, who desperately wanted to work in sports, the chance to do so by inviting him to Raleigh to become the second employee at OnSport, Stevenson's young sports consulting firm. Turner leapt at the opportunity.
"The chance to build something, that was exciting to me," Turner said.
Stevenson and Turner have built OnSport into a major sports agency. What began with just two employees and two clients has grown into a firm with more than 40 employees and 18 clients, including premiere properties such as the NBA and USTA and global brands such as American Express and Nokia.
Turner has been critical to that expansion. A Morehead Scholar at the University of North Carolina, clients and co-workers say he possesses a rare mix of skills stemming from a background in the marketing, media and legal aspects of sports.
He began to develop those assets during his first job in sports when he was selected for the PGA Tour's inaugural minority internship program as a rising senior at UNC. He was asked to return full time after graduation.
He spent the next two years managing all sponsor, scoring and player programs for tour events, working with sponsors and trying to ensure they got the most out of their relationship with the tour. He also consulted on intellectual property and marketing rights issues with the general counsel's office.
He continues to do both those jobs at OnSport, advising corporate clients such as Nokia on partnerships and activation and working on TV rights negotiations for Conference USA, the Mountain West Conference and the Pac-10. He also applies the legal expertise that he started to develop with the tour and cemented with a degree from Harvard.
He reviews almost every client's contractual agreements, often coming up with scenarios that clients say they overlook. He then restructures the language to improve their protection under those contracts.
"It's always minor," said Rich Lehrfeld with American Express, "but very important."
Turner's greatest skill, however, is his ability to listen to all parties involved in a negotiation and find a solution that works for them. That was critical during the creation of the Wachovia Championship, now entering its fifth year on the PGA Tour. It was Turner who designed the contract that worked for the four major players: Wachovia, the tour, the nonprofit organization that runs the event and Quail Hollow Country Club, where it's held.
"He had that innate ability to recognize the respective needs of Wachovia and the collective benefit for those three parties," said Dan Fleishman, Wachovia's director of sponsorships. "He took us from a piece of paper to fulfilling the vision that we shared over a short period of time."
— Tripp Mickle