Executives Spotlight stories appeared on this website starting in 2001. Some of the executive's professional experience may have changed since they were published.
Spotlight - April 12, 2006
Vice President, Strategic Growth and Development, ISC
Cats are thought to have nine lives. This is because they often ascend to high places, jump off and land on their feet. Soon, they are up for a new test.
We become true believers in individual athletes and teams who make remarkable comebacks, almost creating their own mountain to climb and win. And I'm always inspired by executives who say, "I'm ready for another challenge." Paul Phipps is surely a cat with nine lives. He loves a challenge - nine times?
Close to 60 years old now, the never-say-die, Paul Phipps is our John Wooden sports executive coach of all coaches, a leader of leaders. Employees under his tutelage and training are the all-stars of all-stars rising to some of the highest ranks in sport -- a managing partner/owner of an NHL team (Greg Jamison), a former (Jon Spoelstra) and current (Paul Mott), President of an NBA team, an executive vice president of a World Champion NBA team (Russ Bookbinder), a former head of communications for NBC Sports (Kevin Sullivan), and a leading revenue generator for soccer (Randy Bernstein). One of his most recent "graduates" (Rob Butcher) has just been named a Chief Marketing Officer of a racing league.
"Put in a day's work for a day's pay. And when you've done enough move on."
Life #1: Everyone starts in the mail room. Paul, who had to leave college early because his wife was giving birth to their first child, wasn't afraid to start in the mailroom at Coca-Cola's bottling plant in Los Angeles. Strongly influenced by his grandfather's words of wisdom, "Put in a day's work for a day's pay," Paul wanted to be the best mailroom clerk the company had had. If the previous mail clerk delivered 1 round of mail by noon, Paul would do 2. He was hungry for information. Showing an early knack for numbers, the company had him take finance classes and Paul's four promotions in 2 years showed numbers had a knack on him. Within seven years, Paul went from mail clerk to Controller of a division of Coca-Cola.
Life #2: Why not Move from Finance to Marketing? Paul jumped at the chance to change the numbers of Athletes in Action's revenue from basketball events and radio and television sales in Southern California. He also managed a staff to sell tickets to this see this fledging group of guys play ball. It was here he molded Greg Jamison and even directed Jon Spoelstra.
Life #3: Join and become the bigger-time. A fellow Athlete in Action comrade, Norm Sonju, became General Manager of an expansion NBA team, the Dallas Mavericks, and Paul joined him in 1980 as head of business operations. He brought along Greg Jamison, hired Russ Bookbinder and a new college graduate, Kevin Sullivan. The Mavericks, under Paul, were the first sports team to bring their radio and television rights in-house, and were the first expansion team that made money right away. Why stop at that? They were also the team who developed the NBA's first licensed merchandise business. Can you imagine anyone teaching Commissioner David Stern marketing?
Life #4: Why not try running everything? Paul ascended to President and General Manager of the NBA's San Diego Clippers, this time managing both players, coaches and the business operations. When the owner decided to move the team to Los Angeles, Paul switched seats with another NBA team President, Carl Scheer and became President and General Manager of the Denver Nuggets while Carl moved to the Clippers. Two years later, the Nuggets were sold.
Life #5: Sell cars. Paul sold cars as part owner of several dealerships.
Life #6: The Revival tour. A cat of nine lives must have a revival tour. Paul jumped back into the sports business, but this time he remained on just the business side with the San Diego Padres and then the IHL's San Diego Gulls. His focus was on broadcasting and sponsorships.
Life #7: Launch a New League. Paul was asked by a former lawyer for the Clippers and former head of the 1994 World Cup Soccer, Alan Rothenberg, to support Billy Hicks as Major League Soccer rolled out its Dallas team, then he moved to the MLS league office to take over all Corporate Marketing, Sponsor Servicing, Events and Broadcasting and eventually all of corporate sales and club services. In Dallas and New York, he molded Paul Mott.
Life #8: Grow a publicly traded motorsports business. With the backdrop that a number of publicly traded companies fell during the dot-com era, and so, too, publicly traded motorsports companies, Paul was recruited to International Speedway Corporation when they became a public entity. The company moved from owning 3 racetracks to owning 12 speedways throughout the United States. Paul grew his staff and too his revenues from $45 million to over $100 million in 5 years. Rob Butcher grew, too, into a Chief Marketing Officer for World of Outlaws.
So, will he have a ninth life? Who knows. As Yogi Berra says, "It's never over until it's over."
Not launching a league, developing a new business, bringing rights in-house are tops on Paul's list of accomplishments. Paul's fondest achievements are the people he's coached: Jamison, Bookbinder, Sullivan, Mott, Spoelstra, Bernstein, Butcher and more. In his starting line up, Paul scouts for winning traits in his employees that remind him of himself: 1) a hunger for information; 2) obsessive initiative; 3) a good listener; 3) commitment to undersell and over-deliver; and 4) tenacity and aggressiveness.
To cushion the pain of losing a race, getting a poor grade on a test, or being hurt by a classmate's comments, I have often told my son that "life is a marathon, not a sprint." Fortunately, Paul sees it that way, too, and for our coach of all coaches, our leader of all leaders, our all star of all stars, we're thankful he has. Thankfully, this cat is really blessed...with nine lives.
- Buffy Filippell
"All of us in the sports industry have learned from Paul Phipps. He's a leader, a mentor and a great friend. God bless him."
--Brett Yormark, President & Chief Executive Officer; Nets Sports and Entertainment, LLC
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