Expert Interview with Harrie Bakst: Overcoming the Odds through Hard Work and Sincerity

Posted: July 6, 2011 in Expert Interviews
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Harrie Bakst

After a glimpse of the legal and international side of sports with last week’s Expert Interview with David Francis: Be Flexible in Your Approach, I turned back to the sports marketing aspect of the business. I reached out to Harrie Bakst of Carnegie Sports & Entertainment, a boutique agency whose focus is cause marketing and corporate social responsibility. Harrie and I spoke on the phone back in January after my mentor Rachel Mech put the two of us in touch. I kept tabs on Harrie throughout the rest of my second semester, and it paid off. Harrie is actually my first in-person interview. I am most excited to share his story and am thankful for his participation.

Michael Riley (MR): What is your official job title?

Harrie Bakst (HB): I am the President of Carnegie Sports & Entertainment.

MR: Where did you go to college as an undergraduate? What was your major(s)/minor(s)?

HB: I attended New York University (NYU) as an undergraduate. My major was Sports and Entertainment Marketing.

MR: Did you pursue an advanced degree(s) to further market yourself to the sports industry? If so, please elaborate.

HB: I have not yet chosen to pursue any advanced degrees to further market myself to the industry. After graduating from NYU, my plans for law school were interrupted when I was unfortunately diagnosed with cancer. Currently, I would not rule out the possibility of going for an MBA in the future.

MR: When did you know that you wanted to “break into sports? Was there one specific moment that you can recall when you knew you had to work in sports? Was it an industry you always saw yourself working in? Or did you just kind of fall into it?

HB: To be honest, there were two distinct moments when I knew I wanted to break into sports. The first occurred back in high school. I had just finished Michael Lewis’s Moneyball, which was about how the Oakland Athletics put together strong teams with one of the lower payrolls in baseball. I loved how innovative A’s General Manager Billy Beane was and how his approach could apply to business.

The second moment happened when I was a senior at NYU in 2006. At that time, sports sponsorship was all over the place. Corporations were spending their marketing dollars like crazy on sports, and taking every last cent. Despite all this money pouring into sports, charities were not at the receiving end of any of it. This really put a bad taste in my mouth and almost turned me away from the sports industry. At the same time, however, it made me realize how I could be a part of fixing this problem.

Overall, I guess I always saw myself working in sports, but I also managed to fall into it. After all, I would never have started my own business had I not been diagnosed with and eventually overcome cancer.

MR: How many internships did you participate in before you landed your first job? Where did you intern?

HB: As a freshman at NYU, my first internship was with the New York City Sports Commission with Andy Gould and Ken Podziba (now at NYC & Co. and Bike NY, respectively). This opportunity really opened my eyes to what the entire sports industry had to offer. Besides this experience, I interned at 4 or 5 other places throughout the business including the agency and consulting aspects.

Although not sports related, the most valuable experience I had was working at an ice cream store in New York City. Scooping ice cream really taught me some unforgettable career lessons including the value of earning a dollar as well as dealing with the public. Meeting a lot of people in sports through my first internship was certainly a perk, but my ice cream store job taught me the most about starting a business and how important it is to focus on the little things like to serve extra sprinkles. I never forget the value of giving someone extra sprinkles and how that resulted in their overall enjoyment, experience and even their tip.

MR: How did you land your first job in sports?

HB: I actually created my first job in sports. Overcoming cancer inspired me to start my own company and fix the lack of attention charities were receiving in the sports industry.

MR: Can you comment on the importance of networking in the sports industry?

HB: The term “networking” gets thrown around a lot and even cheapened in some regards. However, it is very important to know people. After all, sports and entertainment are relationship-driven businesses. Simply exchanging business cards is not enough. If you want to create a genuine relationship with someone, you have to get to know them (where they are from, what they like to do, where they grew up, favorite sports teams, etc.).

For those of you thinking that the only way to get into sports is to know someone, you are not alone. When I was in your shoes, I really did not know many people at all in the business. I built my relationships from scratch through sincerity and hard work. The key to networking is maintaining relationships.

MR: Can you comment on the importance of mentoring?

HB: From Day 1 at Carnegie, I made sure I surrounded myself with good people who I could rely on and learn from both inside and outside the office. I had no choice but to reach out to my mentors because I did not have any experience running my own business. The best decision I ever made was creating a Board of Advisers. It is composed of people (such as Andy Gould, Arthur Pincus, Joe Favorito, Eric Guthoff, Jenny Koltnow, Marc Zwerdling, and Ben Sturner, among others) who I not only counted on to help get Carnegie get off the ground but also to make sure that it continues to succeed. The board members stay involved with my company because they want to, not because they have to. Over time, I have leveraged my contacts and continue to keep the board running through the relationships I have built and maintained with different mentors. I cannot imagine running Carnegie without the guidance and support of these people.

MR: Could you take me through a typical day at work? If no day is typical, what did you do yesterday, or what are you doing tomorrow?

HB: No day is typical. Certain days relate to certain clients, while other days focus on outreach or strategy. Whatever the day’s activities are, it is vital to be efficient with your schedule. I will take you through what I did today.

    • 9:00 a.m. – conference call with Runner’s World Magazine
    • 10:00 a.m. – conference call with CEO of Omanhene Cocoa Bean Company about getting involved with Carnegie clients
    • 11:00 a.m. – conference call with ING New York City Marathon about client Meb Keflezighi
    • 11:15 a.m. – conference call with Crowdrise, a charitable giving company founded by actor Edward Norton
    • 12:00 p.m. – lunch with Mom
    • 2:00 p.m. – conference call with Linda Quirk of the Ultra Marathon
    • 2:15 p.m. – conference call with Sports Illustrated for Kids for client Curtis Granderson
    • 3:00 p.m. – conference call with client The Armory Foundation regarding New York City’s Millrose Games

I also spent some time working on a proposal for Runner’s World Magazine on behalf of the National Marathon to Finish Breast Cancer. Now, I am here doing the blog interview with you.

MR: What is the most rewarding aspect about working in sports?

HB: For myself and Carnegie, the most rewarding aspect about working in sports is having found a way to use sports and business to give back to the community and other charitable causes. We paved the way for others to follow in our footsteps. Thirty years ago, philanthropy was limited to the wealthy. Now, things are different. Everyone, rich or poor, can give. Together, we can all experience that special feeling that comes from genuinely and altruistically giving to someone or something you care about. To be a big part of making it possible for everyone to donate time and money to worthy causes has been phenomenal.

MR: If you had to give advice to someone looking to break into the sports industry, what would it be?

HB: Breaking into the sports industry is not easy. People often ask me how I managed to do it. When I started Carnegie, I was only 22 years old and had just $2,000 set aside for my business. My industry contacts were limited, and I still did not have a full head of hair after finishing my last cancer treatment.

While this might appear difficult to you, I managed to break it down to a rather simple formula. It is often the case that you can’t do anything about whether or not you land a certain job. There are just some factors that go into the hiring decision that are out of your control.

I would recommend you to focus on your work ethic and sincerity. Both of these things are in your control, and everyone, no matter what, possesses these two things. The harder you work and the more genuine you are with people, the better chances you have to break into sports. Never let anyone take these two things away from you. They are the most powerful weapons to take advantage of if you want to work in sports. It’s up to you what you do with them. There is no magic here. We focus on our work ethic and sincerity so much to the point that people want to do business with us.

MR: What do you do for fun when you are not at the office?

HB: I enjoy listening to music. My favorite bands include The Beatles and The Strokes. I also like to participate in triathlons. Tomorrow, I will be signing up for the Ironman U.S. Championship in New York City in 2012. To be honest, I get all my business ideas when I run, swim, or bike. Most importantly, I enjoy spending time with my girlfriend.

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Comments
  1. […] Expert Interview with Harrie Bakst: Overcoming the Odds through Hard Work and Sincerity in-person was a unique experience. As you know, my first three interviews were done over the […]

  2. […] is no better way to follow up my latest sports industry Expert Interview with Harrie Bakst: Overcoming the Odds through Hard work and Sincerity than with the person responsible for introducing me to Harrie. That would be my mentor and friend, […]

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