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 - July 18, 2008
Executive Vice President, Dover Motorsports, Inc.
Recently "Meet the Press" host, Tim Russert, passed away of a heart attack. It was his colleagues at NBC and competitors at other television stations who deeply mourned the loss. People, to this day, caution me that business is business and friendship is something else. Somehow it's been hard for me to separate the two. As a veteran executive recruiter, I have relished the time spent with prospective recruits as I share their journey through life's transitions. Like all reunions thereafter, they are warmly welcomed.
Two years ago, Mike Tatoian called to say he was leaving minor league baseball to move into the newest American pastime - motorsports - with Dover International Speedway. I couldn't believe it. Mike had been in minor league baseball for years and even became an owner of a team. To many he had achieved the pinnacle of success in the sports business. It caused me to reminisce about how we shared another possible transition. It was 1994.
1994 was a year of economic ramp-up. The country would be knee deep into dot-coms and everyone's belief that money was flowing from every blade of grass to leaf on a tree. We were a part of a glorious growing economy. I called Mike about an opportunity to build youth bowling!
Presenting him to a group of middle-aged (my same age!) men and women, I positioned Mike, who could double for Omar Shariff, at a table with his prospective employers. The women with open-toed shoes played nuzzle knees with him under the table and the men coveted his youthful but progressive marketing wisdom. He was talking baseball, the real American pastime. Perhaps not surprisingly, the job went to a fellow who had majored in "youth sports."
But through that transition, Mike and I developed a friendship and continued to keep in touch, annually relaying stories of our children and sharing updates on other friends in the sports business. We sought advice from each other on sales and marketing programs and hiring techniques. Mike continued to develop his minor league baseball business but by 2006, he was approached to help Dover Motorsports transform their facility business into the theme park/fun park atmosphere he had been creating with his minor league sports teams.
Mike has brought a sales culture to Dover Motorsports and built a broader based marketing and entertainment venue for the usual 250,000 visitors per race weekend at Dover. He built a 50 ft. fiberglass monster as part of his main entrance or victory plaza in Dover and doubled the FanZone space for his sponsors and supporters. He's updated the food and beverage selections and increased the "cool merchandise" in his vans. For the 40-year old Dover track where only a few come from the Dover area, business is up! He's repeated these efforts in the three other motorsports tracks he oversees.
16 years ago, Mike and I both had 2 year old children. We mailed baby pictures to each other. And now, we are chagrined to think that our first (and in my case only) borns are going off to college. We still talk about family and friends in the business. And Mike and I smile when we reminisce about the transition that got away.
We often refer to the sports industry as relationship-driven. When I was meeting with a college career counselor a few days ago, I explained, that the sports industry is filled with great people, many of whom will be your friends for years. It's nice we can share these warm feelings and deep respect with each other before we too have our heart beat its last beat.
- Buffy Filippell
"Mike has the ability to elevate the production of those around him and always make those working for him and with him feel like they are important to him and an integral part of the team."
--Jason Hartlund, Vice President of Brewers Enterprises, Milwaukee Brewers
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