Good teams are led by strong leaders with a clear vision. Truly great teams and careers not only have great leaders with vision but have a diverse set of viewpoints and skills that help propel everyone to success. Join Lance Tyson as he sits down with Nick Forro, the SVP of the Seattle Kraken. Nick opens up with some enlightening points about his success in sales, including how you can’t manage every member of your team with a one-size-fits-all mentality, recognizing and developing your career life, and keeping in mind that you are always selling. Listening to the episode will give you ideas on developing a strong, diverse foundation as you build your career.
Listen to the podcast here:
Strength In Diversity: One Size Does Not Always Fit All With Nick Forro
I’m excited about this episode. I’m with Nick Forro. We’ve had a lot of journeys together. The best part of our relationship is we have a lifelong commitment to each other along with Kevin Dart who’s with the Yankees. We all got connected at the Yankees that anytime the Shawshank Redemption is on, we are fully committed in a lifelong commitment that we must take a picture of where it’s at on the TV no matter what time of night, weekend, summer, doesn’t matter. We got a text from each other. That’s been going on for a while.
On top of that, one of my most prized possessions, not only Shawshank is one of my favorite movies of all time but one of the best gifts I ever got in my life was if you remember from the movie, maybe you’re a fan or not. The tree that Red goes to at the end where the money was buried to go see Andy in Mexico. The whole film took place at a prison in Mansfield, Ohio. There was a tree out in the field and the tree got struck by lightning.
Nick got me a gift a couple of years ago. This is a real fountain pen from the Shawshank tree before they tore it down. I had an ID number. It is one of my most prized possessions. It sits in front of the quote that I used when I spoke at my father’s funeral. It is meaningful. Nick, I’m so glad you’re here. Nick Forro, tell everybody who you are.
Lance, thanks for having me. First of all, I’ve been listening and watching since COVID since you started putting out this content. Our industry needs it right now to get fresh eyes. Thanks for having me. I appreciate it. I’ve been in the industry now for over fifteen years. I’ve been residing in Seattle, Washington since 2018 helping lead sales for the beautiful arena here. We’re renovating the KeyArena where the NHL franchise, the Seattle Kraken, will play here.
Great new logo. It looks good.
I transitioned to a new position within the Kraken into an SVP role and I’m leading business operations for our to be named American Hockey League club, which will be placed in Palm Springs.
AHL Palm Springs. Nick, in your role, you’re running business operations, setting that team up in Palm Springs and playing hockey in the desert, another desert hockey team. Talk a little bit about your responsibilities on the Seattle Kraken side and the AHL Palm Springs side.
I’ve been in this role for a little while. You and I have talked for quite a while about these future goals in wanting to be a CO of a Major League team at some point. I gained a great relationship with Tim and Tod Leiweke here and bought into the vision of what they’re doing with this arena and team. They approached me back in March 2020 right before COVID hit. They needed a leader on the business side to run this American Hockey League club.
You know hockey well. It’s pivotal to the mother club from a player development standpoint. To be able to do something from scratch and work in a brand-new arena, in a facility that will be second to none from an American Hockey League standpoint, it is a no-brainer to expand the scope and work on the brand. Work on the marketing side communication, legal, HR and be able to run it all. Most importantly, with a great group of folks.
Watching you through your career, the opportunity came with the Kraken when you’re working with Elevate and your role was to move the most premium inventory starting with the suites. That was assembling a team, working within their group and moving the needle. Would you say that’s probably the biggest reason that gave you the opportunity because you were able to execute?
Yeah, certainly. Before the interview, I’ve never even been to Seattle. I’m getting pinged by Elevate. I learned more about this project and the story behind it and understood that there was demand. A lot of men from the city haven’t had a winter sport since the Sonics left. At the same time, that presented more challenges with the pricing.
One of the great things about selling is, every day, you can add value.
I knew what I was coming into but to grow, you’ve got to execute. One of the things I love about selling is every day you can add value, you’re not pushing papers, you can show results in the process. Ultimately, the result is what we’re all here for. Coming in here, Billy’s not sold out quite yet but we got a great start. They’re probably 85% to 90% finished now. I was able to take that momentum and the relationships that I built and pivot into this new role, which has been great so far.
Let’s go backward. I’m an entrepreneur and I’m also in grown businesses. That’s a lot of the work Tyson Group does. You have this great trajectory and you’re at the top of a growing organization when you look at what Oak View is involved with and your owners are involved with. What was your start in sales? A lot of your leadership comes from your start in sales.
Since I was young, I have loved selling. When I was in high school, even middle school, I was an early eBay adopter. I love selling new stuff to make some money. There was something deep inside me. When I went to undergrad and was trying to figure out what I wanted to do, I originally wanted to be a physical therapist since I was a former athlete. I loved that until I took my first chemistry class and I was like, “Let’s figure this out and pivot here.”
I started getting into business school and learning about marketing, learning a little bit about sales, which’s an issue in undergrad. A lot of the jobs are going to come from a sales perspective out of school and they don’t teach you anything about it. That could be a whole different story. Also, relationship-wise. A great friend of ours, Bob Sivik, we both went to Youngstown State, one of my coaches. He was four years older than me. When my coaches recommended, “You might want to check with Bob. He’s with the Cavs and learned more about what he’s doing.”
I was talking to another friend about these pivotal moments of, “Do I reach out or do I shy away and try to take the easy route?” I reached out and it was uncomfortable. I didn’t know Bob that well. He was the inside sales manager and was able to give me an inside look at what selling sports were. I was like, “That’s it. I’m in.”
What did you learn in your first shot?
I had a few interviews within the NBA and chose to start with the Phoenix Suns on inside sales.
Far away from Ohio as you can. There are a few of you that are from Youngstown that have succeeded in spite of yourself. Nic Frasco is going to be on this soon too.
I graduated in December of ‘05. I had a lot to lose. I was engaged for six months of employment. I was engaged when I was a senior in college. I still remember calling my parents and saying, “I’m going to go do this.” The salary was $15,000 at the time and there’s no benefits. I’m going to put all my chips in and I’m engaged to be married halfway through inside sales. I packed my bags and couldn’t have landed in a better spot.
I did something on diversity inclusion. Were you there when Jackson was there? Hell of a crew there. Who’s your first boss?
It’s a long list of great folks like John Walker, Drew Cloud, Mike Toman and Jeff Ianello. I probably had the most interaction with Toman and Jeff early on. The people that have grown out of that organization to do great things, you had on your series. That’s the magic of sports. It doesn’t happen elsewhere. Whether you’re in financial services or you’re selling insurance or whatever you’re doing, that’s special about this industry and those ties run deep.
Everybody from Kentucky or West Virginia is all related. What were you like as a salesperson, top of the heap, middle? What did you struggle with? What did you end up getting coached on the most? What did they constantly remind you of?
I came on inside sales and didn’t know 100% what I was getting into from the NBA side. At the time, the Phoenix Suns were one of the best teams ever. Demand was tense. In every situation, there are challenges. With the greatest demand, prices are going up. At that time, we had some interesting inventory packages we put together leveraging some of our other properties. I came in there with a group of five and knew that I had to outwork everybody and be smarter than everybody. One of the things that helped me in those early years and still do is take it more seriously than everybody.
What I mean by that is, for me, I wasn’t the kid out of college living on mom and dad’s dime and given this all a shot because I like sports. I was about to get married 2,000 miles away from my family so I knew I had to put in that more work. I was mature enough to be able to put that work in and be disciplined. That’s what helped me but it wasn’t easy. When I look back, I knew what I wanted to do. When I stepped foot in the door, I wanted to be in management. When I learned more about the inside sales manager role, that was a role that was sought-after at that time. I knew I wanted to do that to impact people, teach people sales and help them with their careers. I immediately knew I had to sell well and do it consistently.
What are you on the board? If I asked a crew that you started with, the alumni, are you 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6? What did that look like? I’ve got answers all over the place.
Top three consistently. Here’s the thing, I had to be patient and trust in, at that time, Jeff and Mike because I didn’t get promoted until the last day of my inside sales term.
You’re essentially running on a list that is ending.
I knew I was in a good place but there weren’t jobs and roles. Opportunity and timing weren’t there. I had to trust leadership. An account executive left and I was the next person up, which also helped me look at, “If you want to take a new role up,” and the next role for me was inside sales manager, “What do you need to do to put yourself in position so that it’s a no-brainer?” This person is the next person because they’ve done A, B and C.
I get twice about you. Let’s switch it up then. If you put yourself in your manager’s shoes then, what did they get most frustrated with you whether you’re in inside sales or AE? What did you get coached on a lot?
There were times where I could mirror customers whether they were high energy, low energy, family or company. There were times where I was gun shy to take my shot and be a little more aggressive in certain areas. That’s a skill that needs to be developed.
It’s a choice. If you want to be confident, act confident. There’s never feeling confident. Sometimes you can be over aggressive and it leaves a bad taste in the mouth. They were constantly pushing you to be a little bit more assertive, go for the throat or something like that.
I wouldn’t say constantly but it was a common thread where when you see a shot, take it. That was something that I’m still developing today. You never stop learning and growing and developing your voice. Within management, that’s key as well. It’s serving well, you’re always conscious of. Top three seller, consistent.
To grow, you’ve got to execute.
My attitude was always there. There was nothing ever going to bring that down. Day after day, that led me in a position to get promoted to be an AE. I was only an AE for a year before an opportunity. Mike told me to leave to go to Charlotte. Jeff gets promoted and then they’re looking for the next inside sales manager. I made sure I put myself in that place so it was a no-brainer. I’m thinking ahead in that way.
If we put this on replay, you say, “I was probably a little bit more mature and serious because I already put it out there that I’m engaged. I’m committed long term so I’ve got to make this work.” The thing I’ve learned about you over the years is you’re calculated. It doesn’t surprise me you’re where you are now because umpteen times, you and I’ve had conversations about career, movement and things like that.
Going back to the Miami Dolphins, you made a move into sponsorship to become more well-rounded. I only know one other person that did that and that was Nic Frasco. The same thing that you did, where I hadn’t seen it a lot but it panned out for both of you at the end of the day. You become an inside sales manager. That time in between as a salesperson, you tap on the board 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6? Where were you?
Number 1 or 2 at that point.
You had a track record so you aren’t going to leave anything to chance.
I became an inside sales manager. You are a newborn fawn. I was two years into the role. I learned some great management, foundational aspects from recruiting and interviewing. Until you get into the game and you step out of that field so to speak, you don’t know anything. I made every mistake in the book.
The biggest mistake you made as an inside sales manager, if you had one do-over, what would you do?
You can’t manage everybody the same. You can’t manage Lance like you manage Nick.
It’s not one size fits most.
One of the things changes and separates the good from the great in leadership but especially from what I know in our industry is you got to understand why people are there. You got to dig into their psyche and their soul. Why are they there? What do they want to do with that why? How can you help them get there? Everybody’s different? I’ve seen people who are nothing but money-motivated, which is fine. I see people that are nothing but career-motivated, all good. People who just want to be a part of the team. There are all different types of sizes. In those first few years, I tried to manage them all the same and it didn’t work because you just end up losing trust and credibility, which are super important in those early years.
Talk about your trajectory. You go on from inside sales manager, what are your next 2 or 3 leadership positions out there?
I became the Director of Sales in Phoenix and had a great time with great folks there. I learned a ton. My wife and I had twins on Phoenix. I’m sitting there, I’m 27, getting married earlier and having twins at 27. You start to look around and go, “I’ve got a personal life. I’ve got a wife. Now I’ve got kids. What does this mean? What does this look like?”
I’m a big believer, Lance, that everybody needs to develop their career lens. What I mean by that is it’s easy to follow your boss’ lens because you think it’s everything but you’ve got to develop your own geographically like, “Where do I want to live?” We could probably go to certain parts of the country and we’d be miserable. We want to live there. Our wife doesn’t want to live there and my kids wouldn’t.
You look at that component then you look at what’s important from you from leadership, who you’re working for and with and what kind of resources do you have. Especially nowadays with this pandemic, what kind of resources are you coming out with? Can you make decisions? I always look at the impact. Are you operating a company and going with minimal resources? Are you allowed to make a big impact that can be a game-changer for you?
I ended up taking a role with the New York Yankees. I moved a little bit closer to home at that point, which is Ohio. People ask me about all the different moves I’ve been through and it’s important to see how different organizations run. I went from Phoenix, which is more of a PR and sales organization. I went to the Yankees, which is more brand-centric, run by lawyers, a lot of red tape, which was great to see. Go down to Miami, which we were revenue-focused from both a sponsorship and a sales standpoint. That’s super important.
How did you have to adjust your leadership style, management style gone from the Suns who project out a lot of marketing to the Yankees who have a historic brand who want to protect that brand? It’s important because that’s so much legacy. They approach things differently.
You’ve got to study the COO of Yankees, Lonn Trost. He’s a lawyer through and through and he calls the shots. You’ve got to understand who you’re communicating with. When you need to get things done, I’m going to approach that differently. One of my favorite stories from that time was when I came to the Yankees, I’m sitting there with a lot of our friends. We’ve got big dreams to do things and move this massive business as much as we can.
One of the big red tapes of the Yankees is you can’t hire anybody. Headcount was a big deal then. When I came in there, they didn’t have a group sales team at all. They didn’t have a dedicated service staff, which was antiquated. You and I both know that’s a thing many years ago. We tailored a pitch directly to Lonn. I still remember to this day leading that presentation. I started with him and said, “Lonn, we’re going to ask you for more headcount today. I know that’s scary but we’re about to walk you through why this makes sense and how it’s going to make money.” We got his attention. We tailored the message differently and we got it approved. We got 8, 10, 12 headcounts and that was probably, at that point, one of the biggest sales I made because I also believe you never stop selling.
You got to learn how to sell internally. If you’re selling in a B2B organization, you’ve got to figure out how to move the needle whether it’s spider webbing through. When you’re selling internally, you’ve got to know where the head of the dragon is and sell the dragon what it eats. That’s good. Organizationally, not to defend either some environments are entrepreneurial and some are a little bit more conservative in their approach and you got to work that. You go from there to the Miami Dolphins. It’s interesting, every situation you’re in, you’re in with some great leaders competitively from a leadership standpoint. You get on the Dolphins and when you get there, they decide to do a complete redo of Hard Rock. It wasn’t even Hard Rock, it was Joe Robbie.
One of the best chapters of my career, when I say best, working with fantastic people. The story that we told with that business, I’m super proud of. We come in there and we’ve got an A-team consistently. When you look at sports and results, you always look at what came before. Did the team make the playoffs or win a Super Bowl and then the results got good?
In our case, we didn’t have that. Our team won 50% of the games that we played over 5 or 6 years there but we truly put the people, the process and the resources behind it. What an incredible run. We took ticket sales from $56 million to $100 million. We didn’t win many games. We had a beautiful new stadium. Stephen Ross put $500 million of his own money into it. It was a lot of fun. I learned a ton from that great group so I stayed in touch with most of them.
Inside this, to give everybody perspective, you’re running all tickets. You decided to make a change and say, “I got to become more rounded,” because you saw that seriousness about your career. You decide to make a jump over and learn sponsorship. Talk about that.
Never stop learning and growing and developing your voice.
That chapter made two changes, pivoting and getting the opportunity to run activation but also want to get my MBA.
Up to Michigan, once a month almost?
Yeah, for two years. Those two align. You probably had a lot of people on here that have talked about chess, not checkers. It’s looking at, “If I want to be a CEO or president at some point, what are the gaps I need to fill?” You could certainly become a CEO or president coming through the ticket sales track. If you can get wider, that’s only going to help you. Tons of revenue I thought were key. Tom Garfinkel, a great friend and mentor, said, “Why don’t you come learn this? It’s going to make you well-rounded.” Ticket sales at that point were in great shape. I dumped in headfirst there to learn that side of the business.
It was a good two years of learning how deals were put through. I got to see the Hard Rock naming rights, a few of the bigger deals come through on the sales side. We had a good team put in place there. That was smart and tough at the same time getting my MBA but pivotal to where I am now. Being able to be in those conversations and do deals at all levels.
From there, you land with Elevate, land with Oak View Group and the Leiweke’s in Seattle. What is your leadership philosophy? How’s that formed without being too cliché? What is it for you? It’s a hell of a career path.
I’ve had to learn a lot about myself. I’m never going to be comfortable no matter what position I am. There’s always going to be an internal fire to do more.
Another how you’ve got to get up. You’ve done five moves since I’ve known you.
It’s a lot.
It is interesting because you went into this only thing about your family. You probably married well.
My wife’s a saint. I’ve had to learn a lot about myself. It takes all stars to align. If you want to do big things, if Lisa or my case, Aaron, if they’re not in it, good luck.
I couldn’t agree more. As an entrepreneur and all the crazy ideas I’ve had with business, I don’t do this without Lisa’s support. It never happens or her encouragement or her saying, “This is stupid. Don’t do this.”
It’s tough conversations. Frankly, that’s the foundation there. Why I do what I currently do and why I’ve had success to date is I love impacting people and getting in there. I’m a believer that if you go that level deeper and you truly get to know people, not the BS like, “How are you doing? Let’s talk about your results.” Truly get to know them. I know Lisa’s name and I’ve known you for a long time. If you’re a sales rep, I know your wife’s name and your kid’s names, it’s not BS. You truly go that level deeper. Combining that with the love of sales and understanding this business, it’s been a career so far. That’s been a huge blessing. It’s providing for my family. I’m making an impact and working for cool people. I’ve got a lot of buddies who hate their jobs, Lance. This is real. I’m not in that category so I feel fortunate.
Usually, the difference there is am I building a career? Do I have a job? Am I laying bricks building a wall or building a cathedral?
It’s one of my favorite quotes.
It’s a great quote. Let’s put this bird down for a landing. You and I share a love for music. The last time we were together, we were listening to soundtracks from Invictus. I have Hans Zimmer’s playlist. If you had to pick a song that defined your career, what would it be?
I would say Jay-Z, On to the Next One. It’s a great sale song. Defining career, I’m going to put some more thought into that and maybe come back with another version.
If you had to gift a book, what book would you gift the most? Besides mine.
I’m a big Simon Sinek fan, Understand the Why. If you have a salesperson who doesn’t understand why the hell they’re there and why they want to be there, I don’t think you’re hitting on all cylinders. I enjoy his philosophy around that. It’s paramount to be successful. Why are you doing what you’re doing? Why are we sitting here? I enjoy his books. That’s one that’s helped me a lot.
Nick, a great interview. I appreciate our relationship. Thanks for being on.
Thanks, Lance. I appreciate you.
About Nick Forro