New GM? Dave Weighs In

Time will tell.

OK – you’ve heard that one before.

But it’s especially fitting when taking a look at Brodie Van Wagenen being named the New York Mets’ new General Manager.

So we decided to talk with our baseball guy, Dave Pepe, about his thoughts.

Dave is no slouch to baseball. His dad was the lead baseball writer for the Daily News. Dave grew up in ballparks.

His partner is Billy Martin…JR. Yes, son of the former Yankee…and Yankee manager.

Van Wagenen made his name in baseball as an MLB agent and, prior to accepting the role as GM with the Mets, was a co-head of Creative Artist Agency’s Baseball Division. The 44-year old built his career on relationships.

While the MLB has a significant population of young GMs that are analytics driven, the Mets decided to hire someone who the organization has established a strong relationship with over the years: Van Wagenen. Maybe the pendulum is swinging back??

There’s no question that Van Wagenen formed a robust rapport with the Mets, as six of the players on the team’s 2018 25-man roster were represented by him.

Two of the six are 2014 NL Rookie of the Year and two-time All-Star pitcher Jacob DeGrom and 2016 All-Star pitcher Noah Syndergaard. Much of the controversy surrounding Van Wagenen being named GM has to do with these two guys.

As DeGrom enters his third year of arbitration and Syndergaard goes into his second, Van Wagenen and the Mets will be scrutinized about the appearance of impropriety.

They’ll have to build a “Chinese Wall” around Brodie, just as banks and law firms have done for years to guard against conflicts.

This will undoubtedly be tricky territory for all parties involved, as the role of GM encompasses overseeing these hearings. But we’re told the organization is steadfast that it will work.

Whether or not Van Wagenen stays away from the cases dealing with two of the Mets’ best players and his former clients is going to be something to keep an eye on.

Another element to keep in mind is that Van Wagenen has always been known as an agent that gets really good deals for his clients and less-so for the clubs. It will be interesting to see how – forgive us for another cliché, but – the tables will turn.

Kudos to the Mets for going outside of the box. And per Dave Pepe, Brodie’s experience in building relationships will be paramount to his success.

And oh yes…we and Dave have some players we think you might be interested in.

First Impressions Go a Long Way

A guy walked into a room…

No, not a joke.

It’s about first impressions.

We deal with clients every day…and meet potential clients regularly.

How someone enters a room sets the tone for the meeting.

Consider our experience last week.

A major American brand exec is late for a dinner meeting. But he is so apologetic and humble that did we even care? Absolutely not.

A “hulk” of a man is also late for a lunch…but, again, humble…and fun as he explains why.  This is a guy who is already a star, and – we hope with our help – will be an even bigger star. But, again…his humility spoke volumes. Fortunately for us, he’s now a client.

And as for this one, it was one of those moments because of its sincerity I will never forget.  I had read about his accomplishments, and his nickname (The Boa Constrictor) said it all…but when he walked into the room there was a calm and peaceful aura that was inescapable. Somewhat shy…soft spoken…and sincere.

Then he told me about what had happened with his daughter just a few days earlier. We asked him to capture his story in print, and ABC has used it and will be doing a piece for an upcoming television special. It brought me back to 9/11…and the first call I was able to make to my family. They’ve told me how they felt, and I can only imagine what was going through his mind.

There has been a lot going on in our IPZ group, but meeting these three last week was a great reminder — sincerity…humility…and first impressions go a long, long way.

Good News to End the Year

The end of 2017 brought some good news to Zito Partners and IPZ.

At Zito Partners, Deborah Kostroun has been promoted to Managing Director of our firm. Deborah has done outstanding work for our clients, and her work ethic on their behalf has been exemplary. It is well deserved for the Texas native, who spent more than a dozen years in front of the camera at Bloomberg. You can read more about Deborah here: Deborah Kostroun Promoted to Managing Director of Zito Partners.

At IPZ, Patricia Stark has joined to open our Media & Entertainment Group, and Tony Dutt has joined to elevate our basketball group. Patricia also spent years in front of the camera and has become an outstanding coach for senior executives. You can read more about Patricia here: Patricia Stark Joins IPZ to Head Media & Entertainment Practice. Tony’s career is legendary, and the respect General Managers and athletes have for him is off the charts. His bio is here: Tony Dutt.

We’ve also shortened our name to simply IPZ, and updated the website accordingly. Effective immediately, we have ended our “exclusive” agreement with Interperformances, but will still do some work with them on an individual athlete basis. Accordingly, we are now free to work with any overseas agency, and have already had conversations with some, and placed one of our athletes with the support of one. Jeff Curtin, our Managing Director, is spearheading this effort. Some of our male athletes are having phenomenal seasons in their European or Asian leagues, and a number of our women are killing it as well.

Last week, our IPZ Board member, Bob Hurley, was featured in a piece in The New York Times. It’s a great holiday read. The School Closed. The Players Left. But the Coach Can’t Quit.

Finally, please be safe this holiday season. Too often we hear of tragedies caused by carelessness, especially when it comes to candles starting fires. Our work with the FDNY Foundation constantly reminds us of this danger. We can all learn from the great work our firefighters do, and this piece reminds us of that. Please keep those who protect our cities, and our nation, in your prayers during the holidays.

Wishing you health, happiness and success in the year ahead…


Eli Manning and a Lesson in Leadership

(and why 57 years of rooting for this franchise just imploded)

Class Act.

Important description in any commentary.

Eli Manning is a Class Act.

No, he’s not the best quarterback; probably far from it.

Yes, he’s had some great games…and been the quarterback on two Super Bowl winning teams.

But he was the first to admit those wins were a team effort – and while he had some great games in those playoff runs, he realized he was on teams with great defenses, which put him in a position to be that winning quarterback.

Class Act.

As does every NFL team, Giants’ fans know Eli is not mobile. And today’s NFL mandates a quarterback is.

That doesn’t mean a Fran Tarkenton scrambler; it simply means someone who can move in the pocket…avoid pressure…and run for the important first down or touchdown when the offensive line collapses, or the defense simply hands you the yardage. Or to give defenses one more thing to think about.

So the Giants go into this season knowing they have an aging, immobile quarterback who needs some protection to get the ball to a supposedly talented corps of receivers.

And the “brilliant” GM never decides to upgrade the offensive line.

Eli never complains.

Class Act.

It’s a lesson in leadership for every manager. Never blame the troops. Be a team player. And when ownership agrees with the “brilliant” GM (and clueless head coach) to have you walk the plank, say while you don’t like the decision, you’ll do everything you can to help the new guy.

Class Act.

Great lesson.


The Kids Are Alright

Don’t go looking at the lyrics from The Who’s often-covered song, one that always made me wonder if I was actually listening to The Beatles.  This has nothing to do with that song.

Years ago, the firm I was with brought in a college intern from Rutgers.  He was excellent.  So good he was hired by two other companies I worked at. (Yes, I may have made a strong recommendation to hire him.)

I have been fortunate to work with some amazingly talented people on the teams I led at Sony, the NYSE, Bristol-Myers Squibb, and now here at Zito Partners and IPZ.

They not only did great jobs; they always put our companies – and now our clients – first, and made our management teams look pretty good while they were at it.

Some have moved on to amazing senior positions, and the companies they work for are smart for having them.

From one who is at a tech start-up focusing on education…to a pharmacy benefit manager…to a company on the forefront of the battle against cancer…to a financial industry regulator…to a video production company…the people I was fortunate to work with were exemplary…as are those still at Sony, the NYSE and BMS.  I said to a number of them when they were on my staffs, “someday, I’ll be working for you.”  And in fact, that has happened.  We have been fortunate to work for or with a number of those former employees as clients, or partner firms.

Last week, one of those young stars hosted a reception at the new “digs” for her company – an event management firm that started as a one-person shop in Manhattan, and now has 140 people in New York and London.

As I stopped up to the office to see her…saw the great space she’s in…talked with some of her employees and clients…listened to the band she had hired for the night, all I could think about was The Who.

Yep, the kids are alright.

Have a great Thanksgiving.


Saints Perform Miracles

On large screen televisions in living rooms and bars across the United States Wednesday night, sports fans got to learn first-hand about the “Miracle of St. Anthony,” and the Saint who made it all happen – Bob Hurley.

The introduction of Bob (Bob Hurley Wins Best Coach at ESPYS 2017) captured some of the man’s dedication to his players, and his success.  It didn’t capture what he did for the thousands of students who attended St. Anthony High School and didn’t play basketball, which was equally impressive.

We chronicled the plight of the school at the hands of the Newark Archdiocese here (Faith? I Lost Mine Last Week.) a few months ago.  It is widely rumored that the Archdiocese will receive about $15 million for the land St. Anthony’s is built on.  We speculated what might be done with the proceeds.  My bride has a great idea on how a portion should be spent, which I will close with.

Immediately after the Archdiocese decided to shutter the school, Bob Hurley went into a full court press, calling other schools asking them to take his students.  The 140 or so freshmen, sophomores and juniors at St. Anthony will be attending schools like Mater Dei, Roselle Catholic, Ranney, St. Peter’s Prep, Marist, Don Bosco, Immaculate Conception, and Christ the King – all because Bob got on the phone and pitched for his students.  And amazingly, almost all – with a few exceptions – will be charged the same tuition the students paid to attend St. Anthony.

And his coaches are moving on as well…to Perth Amboy, Marist and one out to Sacramento.

What’s next for Bob?  He can’t leave Jersey City.  He’s forming a non-profit organization, cut a deal with the City to rent a gym in downtown Jersey City and start an after school program for kids who need someplace to go to stay off the streets.

“It’s going to be a grass roots thing,” he said.  “I want them to learn how to play, but also have exposure to other sports.  We’ll run some clinics for them, bring in some speakers, provide education about the dangers of drugs…things these kids down here need.”

That’s the real “Miracle of St. Anthony.”  It’s “The Guy” who for almost his entire life – along with his wife Chris – dedicated himself to helping a community…and students…who needed help.

And what was the thanks the Archdiocese gave him?  The day after the last day of school Bob went back to St. Anthony to walk through the halls one more time…and found that the locks had already been changed.

Now to that to that great idea from my bride to the Archdiocese:  take a portion of the $15 million and pay for the high school education of those 140 students who just lost their school…and their Saint.  It’s a small consolation, but for all those students, it will help.

Faith? I Lost Mine Last Week.

I was speaking with a good friend Thursday about the Catholic Church. He’s left it. I’m right behind him.

He and his wife gave up when his local parish kept asking for money, and they saw no improvements in their church…the school…or their programs.

Turns out the money was going to settlements the Church had made with victims of abuse by priests.

Then last week the Archdiocese of Newark decided to shut St. Anthony High School in Jersey City.

All St. Anthony’s has done since the 1950’s is provide a great education for students who otherwise can’t afford one…sent all of its students to college for the past 20 years…and been built on the backs of my good friends, Bob and Chris Hurley. Yes, the school and Bob have become legendary in high school basketball circles. But this school is about much, much more than basketball.

Those kids in that accompanying picture are students of St. Anthony High School. Great students. Students who came to a scholarship dinner last week…worked the crowd as well as any high school student I’ve met…and made the people in attendance ask how they can help.

The Archdiocese wanted St. Anthony to have $500,000 in the bank before next school year, and then said it needed the school to increase its enrollment. With stories circulating for a year that the school might be forced to close, how many parents were willing to take the chance to enroll their children in a school that might not be there? That was a clever political ploy by the powers that be in the Archdiocese – powers that wanted St. Anthony shut…but knew the Bob Hurley legend made it a public relations nightmare.

The $500,000 is an interesting number. It matches the cost of the addition on the home of the diocese’s recently retired Archbishop.And by the way. That’s a home with a market value of close to $2 million. He lives there alone.

So what’s more important? An addition with an indoor swimming pool for the retired leader of the Newark Archdiocese? Or a great school for kids who truly need an opportunity in life?

It would appear Newark never got the directive from Pope Francis about taking care of the flock first.

On Bloomberg this week, Joe Nocera wrote the best piece about the issue I had the chance to read.

It’s a view reiterated to me by the Athletic Director at another Catholic High School. Schools need to realize they have to be run as if they are businesses.

But as Nocera points out, the Archdiocese should have been helping Bob Hurley and St. Anthony’s do that. They – when you look at corporate America – are the “corporate entity.”

I wish – for all those great students at St. Anthony High School – that the Pope would take this one personally. The Newark Catholic braintrust has put money…and politics…ahead of the well-being of hundreds of students.

I can’t agree with their decision. And that has me disgusted with the Newark Archdiocese leadership…and therefore, the Catholic church.

Forgive me, Lord, but this one is the straw that broke this camel’s back.

How To Make It Overseas

Randy Reed Shares His Story on Becoming a Professional Basketball Player

Prior to signing with IPZ, Randy Reed was persistent in his pursuit of making his dream come true – to become a professional basketball player.

Reed finished out his collegiate career at the University of Omaha in March 2016, but knew he wasn’t ready for his time on the hardwood to come to a close.

One year later, his dream is a reality.

Reed signed a professional contract with Jeunesse Sportive d’El Menzah in September 2016. Since arriving in Tunisia in early October, Reed has put together an impressive rookie season, averaging more than 20 points per game. In February, he was selected to the all-star game in which the best foreign players squared off against the Tunisian National Team.

He shared his formula on “How to Make it Overseas.”

  1. Immediately after finishing college career, get a highlight tape and full game film.
  1. Get in contact with agents, owners, consultants, and players, gathering as much information as possible.
  1. Go to an exposure camp. If you perform well at your first, only play in that one and be sure to get film from it. It’s not recommended to participate in more than two.
  1. After finding an agent, wait patiently and grind. Grind every single day. Do a ton of research on the different styles and rules of FIBA basketball.

As a rookie without the biggest college or the greatest stats, it can be very frustrating, but you have to trust God and trust the process. Stay humble and stay hungry. Remember the dream and learn from the people before you that seeing another country for an extended period of time is incredible. A lot of people never leave their state – let alone the country – and even less people are able to play the sport they love professionally.

March Insanity…But What About The Students?

One of the most fun – but most scrutinized – jobs in sports has to be picking the 68 teams in the NCAA basketball tournament.

The pundits suggest the group got the 68 right this year…although with the usual complaints from those who didn’t make it and are instead relegated to the NIT.

But in a perfect world, I’d have a wish…that it was easier for the students who supported their teams all year to do the same in the Tournament.

My dad always told me common sense was the most important thing you could bring into any decision process. So how could the NCAA make the tournament more student friendly?

I guess that would require being more true to “regions” than “seedings.”

The basketball talent on the court is amazing. But so are those students who support the players. I love the enthusiasm, the emotion, the “Fat Heads” in the stands, and the chants to support their teams…and irritate opponents. The students make college basketball. My oldest daughter went to Wake Forest and she always hoped she had saved enough money to go watch her school play.

This year, Seton Hall was seeded 9th (in my book, not fair) in the South region.  OK – Seton Hall is in South Orange, New Jersey. But that’s not exactly the southern part of the United States. 

Wisconsin wound up in the East…and some of that region’s games are in that great Eastern shore town of Tulsa, Oklahoma.

There are 10 teams from the East and South in the West region of the tournament…a region that is playing games in Buffalo and Orlando.

The Midwest? UC Davis, Miami, Rhode Island, Oregon, Iona and Jacksonville State have all been relocated.

The South? In addition to Seton Hall, Minnesota, Cincinnati, UCLA, Kent State, Dayton and Wichita State have all had their zip codes questioned. Oh…and some of the South games are being played in Sacramento and Milwaukee.

I know it’s a tough job. And you can’t pick neutral sites three days before the tournament starts, and thus some of the sites are cast in stone years in advance.

But I would love if the NCAA could come up with a solution to have early round games more geographically sensitive…especially for the students who want to go see their teams play.

What West Virginia student can afford the $456 for a flight (Monday’s price) to Buffalo?

Could a Rhode Island student afford the current $644 tab for a flight (Sunday’s price) to their team’s game in Sacramento?

I wish there was a way for the NCAA to help those college students who make college basketball great; it would make the tournament affordable and even better.

I hate seeing those early round games with thousands of empty seats in full view of the cameras…seats that could be filled with the students who help make the game so exciting.

P.S.: Loved seeing the CBS cameras Sunday focus on our Board Member Bob Hurley, and his wonderful wife Chris, hugging as URI – coached by their son Danny Hurley – won the A10 Tournament title.

Lies My Father Told Me

No, my dad never lied to me. In fact, he’s the person I’ve most respected for my entire life.

Back in 1975 or ’76, I was back in New Jersey for a day courting my future bride. I had the day off from my sports writing job, and we decided to take in the above titled movie at the Loew’s Journal Square Theatre in Jersey City.

It’s a huge “old school” style theater…and we were the only people there. That gives you an idea of how successful the movie was.

But the story was sincere…about a boy and his grandfather, and his difficult relationship with his father, and it stuck with me. Lucky me, I always felt, that I never experienced that.

Over the past three months, I’ve met numerous parents…and some grandparents…of young men and women currently playing college sports and who hope one day to have the opportunity to play professionally.

It’s been heartening…and crushing.

For the most part, the parents are wonderful. A dad in North Carolina asked all the right questions, with his only concern being the future for his son. A couple on the West Coast was adamant that the individuals and firm who they would retain to help their sons needed to focus purely on the boys…not the parents. How’s that for refreshing?

But every now and then I’ve hit a roadblock – never from a player (or grandparent)…but occasionally from a parent. They undoubtedly know their child better than I do. But they also suddenly – regardless of their profession – know how to provide the best professional counsel for their children better than we can. And my concern for them is simple: what is nothing but love and a great relationship right now…could sour once business decisions start being made.

My dad – that guy who never lied to me – once saw me wasting considerable time trying to fix something on my car. “Robbie,” he said, “sometimes the most important thing you can know is what you don’t know. And that’s when you should ask someone you trust what you should do.”

Last week, I was sharing some of my recent experiences with a friend who’s the editor of a business magazine. He mentioned that a rerun of the great ESPN piece, Broke, had aired that weekend. It’s an eye-opening piece that every young athlete…and their parents…should watch. (And I love seeing some of my old friends from the media in the film.)

Unfortunately, dad (“Gramps”) is no longer around or I would ask him to come with me on some of these recruiting visits, and tell some of his stories. He was always a lot more convincing than I was. For now, I’ll just keep accentuating the realities about what young athletes might face, and how we might be able to help…and let ESPN remind folks of the dangers.