Chasing Greatness

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Margie Goldsmith talked to Michael Yormark, President & Chief of Branding and Strategy at Shawn ‘Jay Z’ Carter’s Roc Nation Sports

Michael Yormark is President & Chief of Branding and Strategy at Roc Nation Sports, a full-service sports agency founded by Shawn ‘Jay Z’ Carter in 2013. Yormark, who markets superstars including Seattle Mariners’ second baseman Robinson Canó and Golden State Warriors basketball forward Kevin Durant, spearheads multiple facets of the rapidly growing sports agency. Prior to joining Roc Nation, he spent a decade as president and CEO of the National Hockey League’s (NHL’s) Florida Panthers.

​Yormark – who prefers 18-hour work days – barely sleeps. He goes to bed around 11:30pm and rises at 3:30am, beginning each day with a workout. He is also extremely conscious of what he eats, choosing food and water like a professional athlete, as fuel to keep him at peak performance. In addition to living between New York during the week and South Florida with his family on the weekends, Yormark travels between 220 to 250 days per year. EVA caught up with him in London, where he’d travelled to further Roc Nation Sports’ expansion in Europe.

What did you want to be as a child?

I always wanted to be in the sports and entertainment business, from when I was 12 or 13 years old. I wasn’t quite sure what position to target within the industry, but I always had a huge passion for sport and loved entertainment. I knew that I wanted to do something in that area. The rest is history – I have been very blessed.

What was your first job after college?

With the New York Yankees, where I was involved in sales and marketing.

How did you get that job as a kid right out of school?

I was coming out of graduate school and was introduced to the Yankees by a dear family friend who was a minority owner of the team, Barry Halper. I was very fortunate to start my career there.

​And your next job?

Following the New York Yankees, I worked for a media company called Katz Communications. I was involved in sports media sales. From there, I moved to South Florida and was vice president of a sports and entertainment company owned by Wayne Huizenga, who also owned the Florida Panthers (NHL), Miami Marlins (Major League Baseball, MLB) and Miami Dolphins (National Football League, NFL).

In 2003, you became CEO of the Florida Panthers and stayed there for 11 years. What did you learn about business there?

I learned how to diversify a company’s portfolio and how to inspire and motivate employees to overcome challenges and achieve greatness for their organisation. I also learned how to create a culture within the company that was conducive to winning.

How did you make the move to Roc Nation?

I developed a relationship with the Roc Nation management while I was running the Florida Panthers and the BB&T Center, the team’s home arena. Not only were we a facility that had a hockey team, we were also focused on creating content and thus hosted many Roc Nation artists. Through that relationship I met Roc Nation’s principals. They were expanding and diversifying their business and they offered me an opportunity to join them.

How would you describe Roc Nation?

It’s a very entrepreneurial organisation that’s 100% focused on achieving greatness for its clients, artists and athletes, and the brands they partner with. It’s a young, aggressive company with tremendous passion, and ultimately it will do whatever it takes to achieve the objectives of its clients.

What is the culture at Roc Nation?

At Roc Nation we do things the right way – not cutting corners, being professional, being sensitive to the needs of our clients. Our culture is one of passion, hard work, commitment and determination.

Wasn’t Roc Nation initially entertainment only? When and why did it get into sport?

The company has diversified through the years and we entered the sports business about four and a half years ago. It was a passion that Jay Z and his partner Juan Perez wanted to explore. When we think about the services that we’ve provided to our artists, the way we build their careers – both on stage and off – there are a lot of synergies that we thought could help athletes build their brands. It just felt like a very natural extension for Jay and Juan, and so Roc Nation entered the sports agency business. Since expanding in 2013, we’ve been very successful.

And what is the European extension?

We’ve recently entered the international football space in Europe. Our first client was Jérôme Boateng, one of the best players in the world, who plays for Bayern Munich and the German national team. We think the football space has tremendous potential for us and so Germany and the UK are two target markets we believe we can make a significant impact in.

What’s your approach to potential new athletes? Why do they choose Roc Nation rather than another management agency?

I think most athletes choose Roc Nation because of the vast amount of resources we offer to help build their careers, not just on the field or court, but also off it; and that’s become so much more important today than ever before.

​Athletes, and especially the clients that join Roc Nation, want to build their own brands. They want to create opportunities for themselves away from the court/field. They see what Jay has done in his career and what we have accomplished for the many artists that have worked with Roc Nation over the years. And now they’re beginning to see how we’re developing brands with the athletes we’re working with, and that’s become really attractive.

​Not everybody is a perfect fit for Roc Nation. But if you are interested in leveraging the success that you have on the court or on the field, to create opportunities, short-term, mid-term and long-term, then Roc Nation could very well be the perfect fit. And that’s our pitch.

Who chooses the athletes?

At the end of the day, Juan Perez, one of our owners and president of our sports division, as well as Jay, determine which athletes we pursue and ultimately which athletes we sign. Again, not every athlete is going to be a perfect fit for us. There’s a certain athlete, a certain client that we are attracted to and Jay Z and Juan make those decisions.

What’s it like working with Jay Z? What’s he like?

He’s an incredible entrepreneur. He is highly driven. His desire to be great and to achieve greatness for his companies is unsurpassed by anyone that I’ve ever met. He is motivational, he is inspiring and, quite frankly, he sees things in business that most people don’t see. I’ve had the opportunity to work for some very, very successful entrepreneurs and businessmen throughout my career and I would put Jay at the very top because of his creativity, because of his drive, because of his desire to be great and achieve greatness in everything he does. He’s an inspiration to me, and his partners, all of whom are very, very similar. They’ve also been an inspiration to me and have pushed me harder than I’ve ever been pushed before, to achieve great things for the company and myself.

What’s your management style?

My personal management style really revolves around leading by example. I’m a doer, there’s nothing I won’t do in order to achieve the company goals and objectives. I’m a team player. I don’t have an ego. All I care about is results. I also believe in motivation and inspiration. I push the staff and the people within the company to achieve their full potential, just as I push myself to maximise my potential every day.

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about business?

Probably that it can be challenging and that not every day is going to be a great day, but you’ve got to stay positive and look at the glass half full. You always have to be pushing forward.

What’s the biggest mistake you’ve ever made?

It was early in my career and I wasn’t brave enough to ask for help. I think many people don’t like to ask for help because they believe it’s a sign of weakness. What I’ve realised is that asking for help is actually a sign of strength.

​You wake up early every day to work out. How long do you work out and what’s your routine?

I wake up at 3:30am every day. I work out for about an hour and 20 or 22 minutes, around 42 minutes of cardio and then circuit training with weights.

How long have you been on your 3:30am to 11:30pm work schedule?

It feels like forever. I’ve always been an early riser, a morning guy, but since I joined Roc Nation four years ago, my days have started a little bit earlier. I was typically in the gym around 4:30 in the morning, but over the last four years I moved it up to 3:30am just to give me more time during the day and to get into the office earlier when I’m in New York. I’ve always gone to the gym first to make sure that mentally and physically I was prepared for the day. For me, working out is the most important meeting of the day and when I don’t do it, I don’t feel as productive. I just feel sluggish and not at my best. Even when I’m on the road or travelling abroad, I make sure to find time to work out every day.

Where else do you go besides New York and South Florida? Do you have regular haunts?

I am on the West Coast a lot – San Francisco, Seattle, Los Angeles – and obviously back and forth from Florida to New York; I do a lot of work in the Texas market in Dallas and San Antonio. We have a great relationship with Puma, so I’m in Boston quite a bit. We do business with Adidas, Nike and Brand Jordan, so that brings me to Oregon. More recently, I’m spending time in London and Munich. So, I cover a pretty vast territory on an annual basis.

How do you travel?

I travel commercially and privately. Obviously, flying private is very, very efficient. With my schedule, time is very important to me. Flying private enables you to get from point A to point B a little bit faster. I do whatever I can to get from one market to the next in the most efficient way possible.

Do you charter?

I typically work with a company called JETLUX, a premier jet charter company.

And what kind of jet?

It depends if I’m travelling by myself or with colleagues in a group. JETLUX does a great job of customising my travel needs based on where I’m going and whom I’m travelling with. They are very reliable and their aircraft are first class, always in great condition. I use them 99% of the time when I’m flying private.

​Do you remember the first time you flew privately?

I was in South Florida working for Wayne Huizenga, probably in 1996 or 97.

Did it change you for life?

It was amazing – the convenience, the efficiency, the lack of hassle. I wish I could do it 24/7.

If money were no object and you were going to buy a jet, which one would it be and why?

That’s a tough question. Maybe a Gulfstream? I’ll be honest with you – for me it’s not about the size of the jet or the make of it, it’s about the efficiency and the convenience.

What’s left for you to do?

Just reaching my full potential. I’ve been in the business for quite some time, but I still have lots to learn. I strive to be the best every day, that’s what pushes me every single morning when I get out of bed. So for me, it’s not chasing a new position and there is not another company that I aspire to be a part of. It’s about really challenging myself to be the best I can be every day and to achieve all the goals I’ve set for myself as an individual, as a leader, as a teammate and as an executive. That’s what I’m chasing – greatness for myself and for the company I work with, Roc Nation.

Leadership is what to you?

Leadership is setting the tone, leading by example. It’s being a doer.

And what do you want your legacy to be? How do you want people to remember you?

When people think about me, I want them to think about what I accomplished. I want them to know that I did things the right way, that I inspired the people around me to achieve their goals and objectives, and that I never cut corners and always did whatever was necessary to achieve greatness. n