September 29, 2023

The Boss: He’s Back to Baseball Cards

When I was graduating from sixth grade in 1981, he sent me a letter — which I still have — offering me a junior partnership in a new company.

He offered to invest $1,000 in baseball cards and give me a 25 percent stake in our venture with the possibility of an equal partnership if I earned an additional $1,000 selling collectible cards.

Baseball cards, he wrote, seemed to be a “sound investment” and would be a place “where your brains and know-how, and my capital, could be profitably employed.” I was already collecting and trading baseball cards with friends. With my father’s investment, I started traveling to card shows and began making money from our little business — over $5,000, I recall.

After playing on a state champion Palisades High School men’s indoor volleyball team, I went to Stanford University on a volleyball scholarship. I was active in student government and majored in economics because I wanted to go into business.

After graduation in 1991, I was hired for Nestlé’s management training program in Chicago. Then I was assigned to a Franklin, Ill., plant that made Butterfinger and Baby Ruth candy. After four years at Nestlé, I enrolled at Harvard Business School and earned an M.B.A. in 1997.

I proposed to my wife, Victoria, while we were visiting the Taj Mahal in India. We married in 1999. After business school I worked as a management consultant for Price Waterhouse before moving to News Corporation-affiliated companies for the next 11 years. My first stop was as director of business development at Fox Sports in 1999.

After two years, I transferred to BSkyB in London, working as director of interactive television strategy. I moved to Gemstar TV Guide in 2003, and was named president of the cable network and broadband business in August 2005.

Four years later, in March 2009, we sold TV Guide Network and for $255 million to Lions Gate. After agreeing to stay for the transition year, I was looking for something to do next.

A friend mentioned that there might be an opportunity as chief executive of Topps. I was immediately interested because the company, founded in 1938, is well known for its sports cards and other candy brands like Ring Pop, Baby Bottle Pop and Bazooka. Topps wanted to focus on finding ways to turn its brands into television, film or digital properties. The company is owned by Michael D. Eisner, Disney’s former chief executive, who bought it along with Madison Dearborn Partners in 2007 and took it private.

It seemed like a good fit because of my passion for baseball cards, my background with Nestlé candy and an interest in media. And the idea of working with Michael was very appealing. So I accepted the job.

While we lived in Los Angeles, raising our now 5-year-old twins, I was often able to play beach volleyball. We’ve been living in New York since March, and there is only one beach court in Central Park, so I have taken up running.

Topps is the official card company of Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the Ultimate Fighting Championship and World Wrestling Entertainment. The real fun of this job is making products that are thrilling to kids.

Given where I ended up, I think it’s about time that I paid back my Dad — with interest.

As told to Elizabeth Olson.

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