IMG founder Mark McCormack’s book – What they don’t teach you at Harvard Business School – was first published in June 1986. To our surprise, the book is still extremely relevant, three decades after it was first published.
The 1996 smash-hit, Tom Cruise-starrer, Jerry Maguire introduced most of us to the profession of sports management. In the movie, we get to see the different situations Cruise’s character goes through; the typical ups and downs and even feel for the strains and demands of this profession. Mark McCormack was, perhaps, the first ever sports agent and founded the concept of sports management. I was looking forward to this book spouting business advice from such a man. Through the book he stakes the claim of ‘filling in the gap between business school education and the street knowledge that comes from the day-to-day experience of running a business and managing people’ – and in my opinion, he delivers on his word.
McCormack and his entrepreneurial journey is a great story by itself. McCormack, a Yale law school graduate and amateur golfer, while practicing at a Cleveland law firm founded the International Management Group (IMG) and gave birth to the industry of sports marketing and management. He mentions that all the education he imparts through the book is drawn from the observations and experiences of dealing with myriad personalities; complex egos and corporate styles.
The book opens with a lesson on people skills, a pre-requisite to be successful in any profession. It talks about reading people; listening to people; creating the right impressions and getting ahead. The author goes on to point out that the whole point of reading people, gauging egos and discovering soft spots is to take advantage of that information and ‘expose it to the right stimuli’. He illustrates this point with the story of how IMG got Rolex to sponsor the electronic scoreboard and timing systems’ at Wimbledon.
Further, he explains the art of selling and negotiating in great detail, from how to open a deal to negotiate a price and achieve a close. McCormack gives his readers an insight into the various strategies used by IMG to win and close some of their famous deals. He talks about how important it is to know the business you are in and how people perceive your product and its appeal. He urges salesmen to know a product well; believe in it; sell it with enthusiasm and ask themselves two reasons why they would not buy from themselves and address those head on. Drawing a parallel, he narrates the story of how he finalises licensing deals for athletes by changing the perception of the buyer rather than try to convince them about their objections.
In the details
McCormack, through the course of the book, touches upon the importance of exhibiting certain traits that people might tend to neglect. Punctuality; phone manners; inter and intra-office communication; time management; organising and conducting yourself during meetings are some of the areas he focuses on. More importantly, by supplementing his advice with real-life examples, he has his readers believing that this can be replicated in their own lives. Of course, these are simple aspects that need no mention. But, when McCormack drives home the point with anecdotes, it makes not only for good advice but also a fun reading experience.
The book is also loaded with advice to entrepreneurs, right from the questions to be addressed before starting up, estimating initial costs, framing organisational policies, dealing with employees and building the business. When it comes to setting up a hiring policy, his advice is interesting – ‘hire the best to teach you what you don’t know’ and ‘hire people smarter than you are’. As is the norm of the book, he illustrates this by writing about how he got the then chairman of Music Corporation of America, Jay Michaels, a legend in the television business to run IMG’s television division Trans World International (TWI). Today, TWI is one of the world’s leading producer of sports programming and the largest representative of TV rights to international sporting events.
What impressed me most was McCormack’s acknowledgement of the role luck played in his success. In explaining how he was lucky, he mentions that his first three clients – the legendary golfers Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus dominated the sport for almost two decades and swept every other Major. Further, most of his other clients were champions of their respective sport and thereby earned millions through prize money and endorsements. The point he makes is that though one has to be smart enough to know when luck strikes, what is important is to make use of that luck in an intelligent manner. As a word of caution to his readers, McCormack stresses on how readers already following any of the advice and techniques outlined in the book must guard against getting complacent lest it hamper their growth; instead, they should use it as a motivation like champions do and keep bettering themselves.
I leave you with a glimpse of my most favourite piece in the book – here; McCormack says that boredom sets in when the learning curve flattens and successful people always keep looking for more challenging and exciting opportunities. In his long career, he always kept learning new things and never felt bored.
McCormack mentions that all the education he imparts through the book is drawn from the observations and experiences of dealing with myriad personalities; complex egos and corporate styles.
McCormack urges salesmen to know a product well; believe in it; sell it with enthusiasm and ask themselves two reasons why they would not buy from themselves and address those head on.