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Personnel File - March 2008: Sports

Ben Sutton Jr., CEO
ISP Sports, Winston-Salem

Sports is a conservative industry run by cartels that call themselves leagues. That conservatism crimps innovation. So give a double shot of credit to Ben Sutton Jr., founder of International Sports Porperties Inc. in Winston-Salem, for coming up with one. The company, which does business as ISP Sports, lets college teams sand leagues outsource marketing, handling everything from negotiating TV contracts to selling space on stadium signs. It has 250 employees in 31 states. Sutton, 50 this month, talks about how he dreamed up the company and his unorthodox management ideas.

“After law school at Wake Forest, I worked in the [Wake Forest] athletic director’s office. We had a company that sold our TV rights, one that sold our radio rights and another that sold our stadium scoreboard. One of them didn’t pay us, and another just stopped producing the coaches’ shows that it was supposed to produce. So I got the idea that we should bring all the rights in house and sell them ourselves.”

“It’s challenging to be in a business in a not-for-profit environment, so I went to the university in 1992 and said, ‘Why don’t you outsource this all to one company, and I’d like to be that company.’ We started with just Wake Forest and today have 58 projects — schools, conferences and bowl games.”

“Every Wednesday morning, from 8:30 to 9, we ask our people to turn off their computers and phones and read. We want them to drink deeply of good books. We want to stimulate thought. We have a list, but they can read what they want. On Friday mornings, we take 30 minutes and ask them to write seven or 10 thank-you notes to people who touched their lives, personally or professionally, that week.”