Group Created with Sketch.
Volume 22 No. 7

Colleges

Malcolm Turner brings a varied background from the NBA, golf and agency worlds.
Photo: Getty Images

Vanderbilt University Chancellor Nicholas Zeppos was flipping through a list of résumés for his open athletic director position when he came across Malcolm Turner, president of the NBA’s G League. Zeppos was taken by Turner’s vast background in sports business, even though college athletics were not part of it.

 

“Can I meet him tomorrow?” Zeppos said to Korn Ferry search executive Jed Hughes during an early October conversation. Zeppos ended up hiring Turner to be Vanderbilt’s AD two months later, a move the school finalized last week.

  

Zeppos’ urgency to get in front of Turner was spurred by Turner’s career trek, from the PGA Tour to Wasserman and most recently the NBA. Turner’s academic background — he was a Morehead Scholar at North Carolina and earned a joint law/MBA degree from Harvard — also piqued the chancellor’s interest.

 

“I was in awe of all that he’s accomplished,” Zeppos said. “I feel like he can build something really extraordinary.”

 

While Turner’s background was rich in sports business, it was missing any kind of experience on a college campus. Zeppos wasn’t fazed. The chancellor asked for a broad and diverse list of candidates, so Korn Ferry reached out to Turner to gauge his interest. That led to a series of phone calls, texts and emails between Zeppos and Turner.

 

Zeppos asked about Turner’s penchant for growing businesses. Turner was part of the team that created the Wells Fargo Championship, which has become one of the standout events on the PGA Tour. He launched the golf division at Wasserman, overseeing player representation, consulting and events.

 

Turner’s most extensive body of work came at his most recent job, where he grew the number of G League teams from 18 to 27, brought on Gatorade as a unique title partner and set new standards for attendance and media visibility.

 

Sarah Hirshland, CEO of the U.S. Olympic Committee, worked with Turner at Wasserman and saw firsthand that he’s “always about the outcome, never about the ego. He’s a silent but deadly negotiator because of that. He really established himself as a problem-solver.”

 

“He’ll have a learning curve,” Zeppos said. “Heck, I had a learning curve. But people will see what a quick study he is.”

 

Zeppos’ affinity for Turner grew with each conversation. They met in New York at the Four Seasons Hotel with Hughes and Vanderbilt board member John Ingram. Just 30 minutes into the conversation, Turner had what he described as his “ah-ha moment.” Vanderbilt’s position as the only small, private school in the SEC and its status as an elite academic institution could be an advantage, he thought.

 

Vanderbilt’s emphasis on academics was appealing. Turner’s mother, Henrie Monteith, desegregated the University of South Carolina when she enrolled in 1963, so there was never any uncertainty about the importance of education when Turner was growing up in Atlanta.

 

“She had to fight for her education,” Turner said. “She was a tremendous motivator for me and that instilled in me the power of education, the power of opportunity.”

 

Turner, who will start Feb. 1, doesn’t expect to be in his Nashville office very much. He had a saying at the G League: “We’re not going to manage and grow the league from behind our desks.”

 

Early on, he’ll visit with a variety of Vanderbilt constituents as part of a “listening tour to find out where we are.”

 

“The number of high-level business issues that he helped clients solve is going to serve him well as an AD,” said Wasserman’s Dean Jordan. “I can’t think of many experiences he’ll face as an AD that he hasn’t already faced on behalf of a client.”