Forum: The evolution of Dan Mannix
Dan Mannix was an earnest 24-year-old and scribbling potential names of his future business on the back of a napkin. “I knew I didn’t want my name in the company,” he said, and remembered a workout shirt he had with the phrase, “If you’re not the lead dog, the scenery never changes.” It stuck with him. “I started doodling ‘Lead Dog Marketing’ on the napkin, and sure enough, I opened the agency more than eight years later, after working at the NBA, at the age of 32.”
LeadDog Marketing Group became one of the top experiential agencies in the business, and in 2016, Mannix sold it to CSM, and he became CEO of CSM North America two years later. Now, 21 years after opening the doors to his agency, Mannix is stepping down from day-to-day responsibilities at CSM but will remain an adviser through the end of 2021. He’d been thinking about it for some time but didn’t want to leave in the heart of the pandemic.
“I felt like it was time,” he told me last week. “Twenty-one years is a long time, and after a recession and being on planes, trains and automobiles, and working weekends, I’m ready. I’m sure there are people thinking, ‘Here’s another guy who is being asked to leave or get pushed out,’ and I care about that, and I care about my reputation. But I’ve been thinking about this for a while, and I will still be connected to the company that I love.”
Mannix embodies empathy, which is evident in the large amount of cause marketing work done by his agency through the years, and at 53, his decision is about family and living out his quest to use sports to improve society.
“I want to be able to control my time more in a way that will allow me to keep leaning into my son, Jackson, who is 11, and my amazing wife, Michelle,” he said. “It’s also a window for me to have an impact.” He will remain a senior adviser at CSM, but stressed, “The company is in a good position.”
But his passion is with his True Colors Leadership Foundation, which he conceived five years ago and incorporated as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit two years ago. Its goal is to change the face of sports to get more minorities opportunities within the sports business. “I really want to create opportunities throughout the business side of sports so that it reflects what we see on the playing field,” he said.
After investing his own capital, he will be seeking matching funds from individuals, a brand and a foundation to hopefully get funding to mid-seven figures.
“There is no infrastructure, no staff, no website. It’s still just my vision, but now’s the time for me to go after it,” he said. “I truly believe there hasn’t been enough emphasis on increasing opportunities for minorities in sports, and I, unfortunately, think that will continue to be the case. I attend SBJ conferences and people love to talk about sponsorship and new revenue streams, but they seemingly are less interested when it comes to diversity and inclusion. But if I can mobilize the right group of people who are passionate about it, I know we can make a difference.”
Mannix is a builder, his mind is always racing, always on the move, and he doesn’t think small. When he starts to riff on his ideas behind True Colors, he bounces around and touches everything — education, training, content, conferences, search-firm components, creating job opportunities for minorities and identifying candidates. His next step is to put together a board and think through the proper partnerships.
“There is so much more that needs to be done in our industry, and my goal is to have as big as an impact as possible in sports,” he said.
As long as I’ve known him, Mannix has lived carpe diem; it’s constant in his spirit and energy. But he knows that after more than two decades in the corporate framework of an agency, he’s venturing into new terrain.
“You read about trying to reinvent yourself, and maybe I’ll fail miserably. But to me, that’s not failure. That’s pushing your limits and trying to grow. I’m fortunate financially where I can take these risks, and I will be with my family, which I’m excited about.
“To me, life is beautiful, and I want to learn and grow. It will be around sports and social impact coming together, which is an exciting space. It’s going to be something super fun, and I hope to create a bunch of new opportunities and jobs in the future. If I can have a positive impact on people, I’ll be good.”
First Look podcast, with what Abe's watching this week, at the 20:00 mark:
Abraham Madkour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.