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Volume 21 No. 17
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Forty Under 40: AJ Maestas

AJ Maestas

Age: 38
Company: Navigate Research
Title: President/founder
Where born: Fairbanks, Alaska
Education: University of Washington (B.A., finance), Arizona State University (MBA)
Family: Wife, Lacey

Favorite way to unwind: Travel.
Cause supported: Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Chicago.
Most thrilling/adventurous thing I've ever done: It was either when I left Alaska for good or a more recent safari in South Africa. They were both sort of dangerous.
Person in the industry I'd most like to meet: Mark Emmert.
If I could change jobs with anyone for a day, it would be: The athletic director at the University of Washington. Being UW AD is my dream job.
2015 will be a good year if: My family, friends and myself enjoy good health.
My fellow Forty Under 40 class members would be surprised to know that I: Used to work in the Wall Street world.


SANDRA TENUTO PHOTOGRAPHY

The 2007-09 recession was the best thing that ever happened to AJ Maestas’ career. As one of the few research agencies specializing in sports marketing, his Navigate Research’s offerings were suddenly in demand.

“We filled a critical need at exactly the right time,” said Maestas, whose Chicago-based firm

{podcast}

SBJ Podcast:
Forty Under 40 editor Mark Mensheha and Executive Editor Abraham Madkour discuss this year's class, some of the more interesting stories in it and how the selection process works.

has grown since 2006 to around 20 people, with clients including the NBA, MLS, ESPN, NBC, Fox, TNT, Anheuser-Busch/InBev, Farmers Insurance and Southwest Airlines.

Maestas grew up in the Fairbanks suburb of Moose Creek, Alaska, (population: 747) without electricity or a telephone but with sled dogs. A “burning desire” to get out impelled him to the University of Washington. There, he fell in love with collegiate athletics, and a meeting with Gary Barta, then UW’s senior associate athletic director and now AD at the University of Iowa, set him on the path of working in sports.

An MBA at Arizona State and some experience working a NASCAR sponsorship for freight company YRC Worldwide showed Maestas the need for better measurement. Navigate was born shortly thereafter.

An early client was the Sacramento River Cats, who needed an independent valuation of their naming rights. “AJ has this ability to break down the raw data and show how they really demonstrate value,” said former River Cats senior vice president of business development Darrin Gross, now senior director of partnership marketing and business development at the Sacramento Kings.

An assignment from the NFL helped establish credibility for Navigate, and in recent years, the firm’s annual growth rate has exceeded 25 percent. Last year, the agency did 140 studies for 100 entities, and the next move for Navigate (and for Maestas) is to Australia, where the firm already has clients.

— Terry Lefton