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

Sage advice reaches beyond Class of 2014

As young people get inspired — or not — by commencement speakers on campus during this time of year, I asked a range of executives in sports business whom I respect and who have strong points of view a simple question: “You’re a commencement speaker to the Class of 2014. What advice would you give to new college graduates?”

CEO, Eastman & Beaudine

I’m speaking today to a new generation of dreamers who know they have an assignment, purpose, destiny all their own, and want to play a part in changing the world. But is there a job description for world-changer? Can you find that in an online job posting or drop-down box? Or, does a world-changer already have a job title and description that is innate to who they are, and they carry it with them to every job and situation? As CEO of an executive search firm, I’m confident in telling you they do, and it is available to all! The job description they embrace is to “connect and serve,” and the title they take is “Director of Love.” Why would people choose this in a “me-first” world? The answer is hidden in the question: What do you do with someone who connects, serves, and loves? I can tell you from experience that you’ll hire, promote, recommend, and want to be associated with them! This job description and title is not itself a destination, but rather a mind-set and lifestyle of connecting and serving daily at home, work, and in the community. You’re never too young or too old to become the “Director of Love.” Whether you’ve realized it or not — that is who you are!

CEO, Orender Unlimited

 We have heard that time is of the essence. … The truth is, it’s our most precious asset. Time is a nonrenewable energy source, no plugging in and refilling up the battery. What you have is what you get. Can you block out the tick, tick, tick, of the ever-running clock and the click, click, click of the ever-present digital device and in that welcomed calm, recognize that this is your time? Time to do what you can. Time to do what you love. Time to choose who you will spend your time with. And time to contribute to the greater good, as that will surely stand the test of time. Take the time, to use your time wisely, with passion, with compassion. Contribute, create, laugh, lead, breathe, make it up, work it out, think, inspire, be inspired, learn, teach, work hard, play harder, be generous, open your heart, your ideas, your mind, be kind and love. Make the world a better place by virtue of your time spent on this planet. And most of all, have fun. It’s sobering to think that an average lifespan consists of 27,375 days. Languorously love and respect each and every one of them, by making each minute, each hour and each day count!

Photo by: IMG
President, IMG Sports & Entertainment

 My advice for 2014 graduates is to follow your passion and to work hard. Following your passion will allow you to enjoy your career, and there is no substitute for hard work. I have had the privilege of working for some great business leaders: John Portman, Bill France and Ted Forstmann. Each loved what he did, nobody outworked these executives, and their success is legendary. One other piece of advice is to remember that everybody fails. You learn your best lessons when you aim high and fail. Successful business leaders pick themselves up, and go back out and compete. Everybody gets knocked down; the winners get back up and keep moving forward. As long as human beings are making decisions that influence your future, how you treat people matters. People help those who they like, so work to build strong relationships with your colleagues. In the end, if you have a passion for what you do, work hard, are not afraid of failure, and treat others how you would like to be treated, you will be successful. If you live by these attributes and are faced with a sound option requiring you to bet on yourself, always take the bet.

President, Ganassi Racing

As you graduate and embark on the first steps of your careers, I urge you to remember three things I have learned over the past 20 years. Success is a journey, not a destination: Life is unpredictable and you will find yourself in jobs and places you never imagined. Take advantage of every situation and learn from each moment. This means listening and learning from others about all aspects of business, not just your specific area of interest. Seek failure: Don’t focus on money, titles or how fast you can climb the ladder. Instead, choose positions where you can work for people you respect, learn from and provide the opportunity to make mistakes. You cannot reach your potential without failing, so seek an environment where mistakes, and learning from them, is part of the culture. Relationships matter: No one reaches the pinnacle of his or her career alone. It’s important to develop strong relationships with people you can rely on for support and help. This may or not be people in your field or company. In addition, give this same support to others. Sharing your experience and knowledge can always help someone else. Pay it forward.


Congratulations, for today you take the first step of many, on your road to your career. As with any journey, there will be speed bumps, hazards, changing climate and conditions. Some, if not all, will be unexpected and others you won’t be able to control. What can you control? Have a plan, write it down, seek out a mentor and don’t be discouraged, and be prepared to modify or change your plan. First, you’ll fail more often than you’ll succeed, but the experience will pay dividends for the future. Volunteer for events and functions. That’s where you’ll network and build contacts and relationships. Remember, your first job won’t necessarily be your career. From every job you’ll gain more knowledge, experience and understanding of what you don’t want to do in life. Fear and failure has launched many a career and business opportunity. My advice is to embrace every opportunity with a positive attitude and with the understanding that you’ll learn something from the job as well as the individuals you’ll work with. For every job, get up, clean up, show up early and be prepared to stay late. Sweat the details, and celebrate all your successes, big and small. Chase a dream and DREAM BIG!

Group President, Lagardère Unlimited U.S.

Graduates: “What do I want to do with my life?” There are no easy answers to that magical question. But here is my secret, and it’s very simple. It is only with your heart that you can see clearly. What is most important you won’t see with your eyes. So follow your heart, your feelings, your instincts. They will be your guide. Then go forward and try everything at first, anything that interests you. Don’t be overly selective, but have an open mind and see where it takes you. Look around, get involved, take some chances, and make some mistakes. Oh, those mistakes. They will teach you the most in life, so don’t be afraid of them. Don’t let fear stop you, but let it guide you. Follow it. Anything that is bold is also scary, but that is where greatness comes from. But be sure to listen and learn from everyone around you as you move through the possibilities. When you find someone or something that interests you, take it and give it your best efforts, but have some fun in the chase. Your “people skills” — working well with others — will be the key to your success and happiness. Building relationships and trust will often lead to finding what you love to do. So make friends along the journey. Not because you have to, but because they will bring you joy in the pursuit of your passion. Remember the best things in life are not “things” at all. They are people and experiences. And remember to be kind. You will never regret choosing kindness over self-interest, even when it’s the most difficult choice. The future belongs to those who believe in their dreams and go for them. As Michelangelo said, “The greater danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it’s too low and we reach it.” Those are words to live by.

Chairman and CEO, Global Options Group
There are a few things certain about your future: Tattoos will fade and wrinkle; the years ahead will be marked by added pounds; and people will never stop asking you what’s next. So what about this journey you are about to begin? Here’s an idea: You’ve read and heard about unemployment, the economy, immigration, environment, and a long list of the challenges facing our country and the rest of the world. The time is right to get out there and feel them! Travel throughout this great country and listen to America. By plane, bus, train, car, or walk. If sports are your passion, do it through arenas, fields, and stadiums, but in the cheap seats. Take a part-time job and volunteer along the way. Listen and learn. If you’re not mentally and physically drained at the end of the day, you haven’t done enough. College expanded your horizons, but you’ve been isolated from that real world you’ve read about. I guarantee you will return with not only great memories, but you’ll be better prepared to meet all that’s ahead. You’ll be better for it, and so will we all.

Partner, Fuse Marketing

I am a commencement address addict. Every year about this time I sift through YouTube watching all the usual suspects from Obama to Oprah, from Bill Gates to Bill Cosby. And here’s “what I know for sure” (as Oprah herself would say!): The best commencement addresses of the last 10 years are these — Conan O’Brien at Dartmouth, Ellen DeGeneres at Tulane, and Will Ferrell at Harvard (though that was technically Class Day and not the official commencement address so I won’t reference it again here.) This is not my opinion, it’s a scientific fact and I can prove it by allowing you a few minutes to go watch them. Go ahead. Right now and I will wait …

So what’s my advice to new graduates? It’s the essence of what these addresses have in common? They are given by highly successful people who have overcome devastating personal and professional adversity. And having overcome that hardship, they became even bigger dreamers, more creative, and more humble than ever. Oh, and they are really funny too, which is also not a coincidence because being able to laugh at their own failings and circumstances kept them from falling to pieces altogether.

President and Worldwide Chief Creative Officer, Grey New York

There is no better time to be a creative person in the business world. It’s the right time, and you are all in the right place. All creative industries, from music to film to tech to marketing, are merging like no other time in history. Hollywood, Silicon Valley and Madison Avenue are collaborating in radical, unbelievable ways. The business world is fast, cheap and out of control. Anyone is capable of doing anything, because the rise of digital has made anything possible. David can topple Goliath, and you could create the next Facebook. If you can think it, you can make it. Stay open, stay nimble and stay curious. Dive in and soak up everything and make sure you have incredible passion for what you’re doing. If it ever feels like a job instead of a passion, quit. If you do it because you love it, the money will come. If you do it for the money, you will never love it.

Great stuff. Thanks to each of them for their passionate comments. As I pored over these again and again, I tried to recall the keynote speaker at my graduation from the University of Vermont in May of 1990, but I couldn’t remember the speaker or much of anything else about the day. I hadn’t fallen victim to the end-of-college partying — wasn’t drunk or high — I was just looking forward to leaving Vermont and getting to Washington, D.C., to work for U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy. Any words of wisdom from a commencement speaker didn’t stick. Maybe because I’m far older, thicker in the middle and wiser, the above remarks do.

But I’ll be honest, I read these wistfully, with a sense of regret at some. Why? Because I haven’t used all my time wisely, I certainly never wrote down a plan, I was frightened like hell of failure, I didn’t travel extensively after college to “listen to America,” and I probably took more baby steps than I dreamt big. But I’ve certainly benefited by all the relationships that I’ve developed over my career, and I knew that I wasn’t the smartest, so I better always be prepared and work my ass off. I tried to follow my heart, feelings and instincts when I was offered a job by Jeffrey Pollack to join a startup called The Sports Business Daily and take a pretty significant pay cut — even compared to the paltry wages of Capitol Hill — at the age of 26. I did want to follow a passion, despite a fear of risk and change.

I admire what the above executives stress about the tenets I believe in: honesty, hard work, humility, empathy, respect and curiosity. I believe those are the foundations of success. I also admire their willingness to dream and fail. These thoughts don’t have to apply only to 21-year-old graduates. There are enough bits and pieces here to motivate and push us all.

Abraham D. Madkour can be reached at