Group Created with Sketch.
Volume 21 No. 2
  • Created with Sketch.
  • Created with Sketch.
  • Created with Sketch.

Words to live by, as a new graduate, or a seasoned professional

As we near graduation, I want to provide some advice to the Class of 2012 as its members prepare to enter the job market and, more importantly, life after college. In this column are suggestions that I have shared with my students over the past 30 years or so, augmented with quotes from people whose wisdom and approach to life I greatly admire.

I would like to start out by clarifying advice that is passed along in good faith by professors to students interested in entering the sports world:

The jobs most available are in sales, and that is where you should enter the job market. You can always move to another area after you have sold for a while.

To put that advice in perspective, while most jobs are in sales, you should try to secure a sales position only if you are interested in sales and where advancement in the organization will relate to having been successful in generating revenue. Sales managers want to hire people interested in selling, not those who want to be in community relations and basketball operations.

Now that I have that off my chest (as well as having earned the love of most of the sales managers I know), let me provide some insight from some people who have greatly influenced me throughout my career.

“Take your work very seriously. Go for broke and give it your all.”

Bill Veeck

This is one of Veeck’s 12 Commandments of Marketing. He echoes numerous others who believe you must be present every day in your work and give it everything you can. I saw an anonymous quote that said you should approach everything as if there was no chance of failure — with confidence and all out commitment. Don’t be afraid to fail. Failure is part of learning and refining and helps you achieve whatever you are destined to accomplish.

“There are 86,400 seconds in a day — however you choose to spend them. They are gone at midnight, and you never get them back.”

Pat Williams

Williams is referring to the adage “Spend your time wisely.” On your résumé, when you list your education or what job you have held, there is a dash. For example, I worked at the NBA from 1999-2006. The dash should reflect what you accomplished during that time: internships, volunteer activities, leadership positions and so forth. Or, did you spend your time becoming proficient at playing “Madden” and beer pong? Williams always advocates the importance of reading, and I couldn’t agree more. The more you read, the more you learn about other things — as well as yourself.

“Some men see things as they are and say ‘Why?’ I dream things that never were and say, ‘Why not?’”
Robert F. Kennedy, 1968

This quote has served as one of the guiding principles in my life and how I have established my career. The quote to me has two meanings: Question the status quo to see if there are alternatives and better ways of doing things, and use your imagination and think outside of your past and current experiences to see what the possibilities might be.
Remember all of the wise men and scientists who told Columbus the world was flat? He simply thought differently and had the courage and conviction to follow his beliefs. Don’t be afraid to think differently, but be able to make a case for your position. Think in aspirational terms.

“To thine ownself be true.”
Spoken by Polonius in “Hamlet,” by William Shakespeare

I define this as knowing who you are and what you want, and being honest with yourself in all things. This also means knowing what you are good at and what you are not good at, and knowing what you like and what you don’t like. While it sounds simple enough, in that quest for the first job, we often forget this and are willing to say and do anything to secure employment. This usually leads to unhappiness and not lasting 12 months in that particular endeavor.

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
Spoken by Atticus Finch in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” by Harper Lee

My favorite character speaking in my favorite book and movie. When we are young and fresh out of school, we have opinions, and much of the time those opinions are based upon perceptions created by someone else — in many cases, the media. What Finch is saying is to give people a chance; try to understand them and what they are trying to articulate. Listen and think; don’t be waiting to talk. This is also essential information for the aspiring salesperson. You impress someone by really listening and understanding their position and responding intelligently, not emotionally.

“You’re either a Purple Cow or you’re not. You’re either remarkable or invisible. Make your choice.”

Seth Godin, author of “Purple Cow”

This is all about differentiation. What makes you who you are? Why should I hire you over someone else? Those are commonly used interview questions, especially for revenue-producing positions.

How do you stand out? And if hired, how can you make my business stand out? Scott O’Neil, president of MSG Sports, has made this his mantra, and purple cows serve as a visible icon in his organization as he believes a staff of purple cows strengthens an organization because they are all remarkable in one way or another.

Congratulations on your graduation, and good luck in your career search. Be a voracious reader and lifelong learner. Remember who you are and listen and respect the thoughts of others while dreaming big.

Bill Sutton ( is the founding director of the sport and entertainment business management MBA at the University of South Florida, and principal of Bill Sutton & Associates. Follow him on Twitter @Sutton_Impact.