Forty Under 40
Dear Mr. Headrick,
I am writing you in regard to the possibility of meeting with you sometime this summer at your convenience. … While I strongly desire an opportunity to work in the management of a professional sports team, I have little idea what steps must be taken to obtain this goal.
Eric Nyquist estimates that during a four-year span he mailed 1,200 to 1,500 copies of letters like that to sports executives across the U.S. He was a student at the University of Chicago and wanted more than anything to break into the sports business. Most of the letters went unanswered. Many elicited form-letter responses. But nothing deterred Nyquist from writing and sending more.
Former Minnesota Vikings owner Roger Headrick was one of the recipients of Nyquist’s letters. He received nearly a dozen letters from Nyquist through the years. Though Headrick didn’t hire Nyquist, he did voice his support for him in 1998 when a position came open working for NFL President Neil Austrian, and that was enough to help Nyquist get his first sports job as the NFL’s manager of business planning.
“I’ll take credit for pestering the heck out of the guy, but if he didn’t go to bat for me, I probably wouldn’t be in sports,” Nyquist said.
Nyquist’s letter-writing campaign was the catalyst for a successful career in sports. He spent two years at the NFL, left to be executive vice president of business operations for the Chicago Bulls and White Sox, and then joined NASCAR in 2005.
At NASCAR, he reports directly to Chairman and CEO Brian France and has been critical to a series of changes at the sanctioning body. He worked closely with NASCAR chief marketer Steve Phelps on reviewing the organization’s communications strategy and developing its new integrated marketing and communications division. He also has been at the forefront of NASCAR’s environmental efforts, helping it develop a green division and championing its partnership with American Ethanol and shift to ethanol-blended fuel.
Title: Vice president, strategic development
Education: B.A., economics, Carleton College, 1994; MBA, finance, University of Chicago, 1998; J.D., University of Chicago, 1998
Family: Wife, Michele; daughter, Charlee (5); son, Hudson (3)
Career: Manager of business planning, NFL, 1998-99; executive vice president, Chicago White Sox Enterprises, 1999-2004; managing director, business development, NASCAR, 2005-08; current position, 2009-present
Last vacation: Hammock Beach, Fla., with my family last summer
What's on your iPod: Everything from alterna-
tive to hip-hop to country
Guilty pleasure: Working on the 30-plus fruit
trees (citrus, avocado, peach, nectarine, olive,
mango, etc.) in our yard
Best stress release: Spending time with my children
Pet peeve: Arrogance
Greatest achievement: My beautiful family
Greatest disappointment: Not joining NAS-
Fantasy job: High school football coach
Business advice: Be smart enough and secure enough to know what you don’t know; getting better information is the easy part.