Sometimes when entertainment and activism meet, it can come across as some kind of a publicity stunt – doing good for all the wrong reasons. In the case of entrepreneur David Sugarman, a mix of business, sports and humanitarian efforts have come together as second nature in the best way possible. The Marlboro, New Jersey native has taken his talents from Wall Street to Miami Beach as a successful sports agent, but he has also had his hand in some pretty impressive global politics and major real estate moves.
In 2014, Sugarman celebrated the release of youth activist Kenneth Bae from a North Korean prison, which he played a major role in facilitating. Sugarman also made headlines as one of the investors trying to purchase iconic New York hotel The Plaza from the Sultan of Brunei.
Despite some professional setbacks along the way, Sugarman’s tenacious attitude and positive outlook on life reign supreme. As a sports agent, he prides himself on educating his clients about finance as he builds their careers. He also administers a lot of brutal honesty in his efforts, and of course we had to tap into that!
Read on as David Sugarman gives us some of his best tough love tips, and find out how this multi-faceted entrepreneur keeps going, no matter what…
You have been involved in numerous lines of work. What would you say is your greatest passion that ties the paths of your career together?
David Sugarman: My greatest passion is being in a position to help others either through my knowledge, my connections or whatever I have available at any given time. When I was on Wall Street, the joy I had when I was able to help someone who seemingly had everything – like a professional athlete, [who]didn’t plan for a future get to a place where he was secure – is the same joy I got from working with the Bae family to help keep Kenneth Bae’s name in the hearts and on the minds of Americans throughout the world.
That passion led to many appearances on CNN and around the world, enabling me to share his story and ultimately be part of a group championing for his release from the DPRK (North Korea).
When you were coming up, what was the best piece of raw, honest “tough love” advice that anyone ever gave you, that you were able to apply effectively to your personal and/or professional growth?
DS: When I was coming up, all I got was advice. Some good, should have listened, and some bad. See, life is all about choices and decisions. Once you make a decision it paves the way for your ultimate destiny. I would say the best advice I got was the advice I have given myself on mistakes I have made and learned from. I live my life by a quote from Gandhi: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”
I try every day to live that way. I try every day to make any one whose path I cross smile. In my opinion, the measurement of life is not that of who has the most money, toys, women etc. The measurement of life is how many people have you affected in a good way, and changed for the better. Bringing a smile to one’s face is the most rewarding feeling on earth.
You’ve worked with private investors, ball players and even music artists like Pras. What have some of your favorite business relationships been thus far? What qualities do you look for most in a business partnership?
DS: My favorite business relationships are ones where I have the opportunity to make a mark or change how the industry works. Again, working with a basketball player as he begins his career and setting him up with education and advice on how to manage his money and plan ahead for a future for himself and his family. My goal was to alter how these athletes view their wealth and more importantly, their life.
Not every business opportunity presented to me is a good fit. I have to feel like I am able to successfully meet the goals myself and my partners have outlined, and I prefer working with people and organizations that have a true passion for their business. Unfortunately not all business relationships work – but that is part of my personal growth.
How important was it for you to get involved in bringing political prisoner Kenneth Bae home from North Korea? Were you able to meet with him when he came home?
DS: Again, I’ve always leaned toward wanting to be in a position to help people when possible. When I first spoke with the Bae family and realized that I could help them keep Kenneth’s name in press and in daily conversation, it became very important to me to utilize all of my resources. I met with Kenneth’s sister, Terri, and his Mother several times. Since his return, I’ve talked with him and the family, but have respected his wishes to remain out of the spotlight.
It’s amazing to me how I got involved in this, but it became the most import mission to me not only in 2014, but in my life. I knew going into this I was going to play a role in his return, and I am blessed to say he is now home with his beautiful family. There is so much I would like to share in regards to that story, but I am not sure there is enough room in this interview for it all. Maybe it will all be in my book one day.
Now that you consult other business owners, what would you say are some of the most common challenges they come to you with? What kind of methods do you use to help them accomplish their goals in overcoming those challenges?
DS: Most of the organizations that approach me ask to help them with two main issues. One is raising capital, as that is how I got started, in finance, and I am happy to offer my services and my advice. The second request I get is to help an organization gain prominence, publicity or in general to connect with their public through social media or media coverage.
As an NBA agent, what do you feel is the most important advice you could give any parent pushing their kids to the NBA? What do you think they should be teaching their kids about the balance of life and sports?
DS: I found that many times the athlete’s desire and the parent’s wishes for their child is about even. Both the athletes and the parents I have found are often a bit disillusioned about the realities of being a professional athlete. Many athletes and their families just see the dollar signs, but don’t understand the costs associated with the lifestyle and the high percentages of athletes that are injured ending their careers, and how planning for the future is necessary in an unpredictable industry.
Honestly, many of these athletes come from modest families that don’t really know how to manage future finances as they live paycheck-to-paycheck. I think most parents and athletes just need to thinking about living within a set of means that allows him to save, not spend. I always wanted to be the one to assist in changing the face of sports. I have a clear understanding of what it takes.
If someone wanted to follow in your career footsteps, what is the best tough love advice that you would give them?
DS: I give advice to young men and women all the time. What I typically tell them is to focus on learning what you can in school, and take every possible opportunity to advance your knowledge of the world through practical experience. I always followed my passion, did what I was talented at and worked hard to be successful at every endeavor I accepted. My advice, like i said earlier, is to be the change you wish to see in the world.
How do you find a balance between your personal life and work, as far as time, energy and emotion?
DS: Family and finding balance is very important in life. I make sure my wife, daughter and parents know how important they are to me. One of the ways I find balance is through surrounding myself with talented people who understand how I work.
What is coming up for you as far as career moves? Where can we find you in your work? What is the one thing you want people to know most about you at this stage of your life?
DS: I think these two questions are tied together. I can’t say for sure what 2015 holds for me, but I know that I would like to continue my work as a political activist, and perhaps parlay that into a career in public service. This stage in my life is about making a difference. It’s not enough anymore for me to just “work” without a greater purpose.