By: Adam White, @FOSAdam
Front Office Sports is proud to have sat down with Mike Nichols, CBO of the LPGA Symetra Tour-The Road to the LPGA. A St. Thomas University alumnus and seasoned golf professional, Mike has over 20 years of experience stretching across four of golf’s largest tours. Never expecting to be where he is today after graduating from Middlebury College with his undergraduate degree in Economics, he couldn’t be more happy with the way his career has transpired. In what is truly an enthralling interview, he was gracious enough to offer up his time and insight into what it takes to succeed in golf, why even when you least expect it someone is watching, and why showing initiative as a student is so important.
You have been in the golf industry for approximately 20 years. What has that journey been like for you?
After graduating with a degree in economics and being from outside New York City, I was on track to work on Wall Street. About that time, my dad was taking an early retirement and told me that whatever I was going to chose to do in life I should be passionate about it because I was going to spend the next 40 years of my life doing it. From there I got my masters degree in Sports Administration from St. Thomas University in Miami, and was lucky enough to get an internship with a Champions Tour event on Key Biscayne. I was able to take my internship and turn it into a full time position. From there, I found myself making incremental moves up the career ladder. I love the game, both playing it and the business side. It has been a fun journey and, trust me, there are worse things to be doing than going to work on a golf course.
For people who don’t know much about the Symetra Tour, could you give us a little background into what it is, and the importance of it to the overall success of the LPGA?
For those people who are familiar with golf, the Symetra Tour is similar to Web.com Tour, which is what you could consider the AAA version of the PGA Tour. We are the Official Qualifying Tour of the LPGA and we have a 23-event schedule that culminates with the top ten players on our tour graduating to the LPGA. It provides us the opportunity to identify the next generation of LPGA stars as well as helping us develop our future LPGA players into true professionals who have now learned to travel on their own, do their own finances, hire and fire their own caddy and everything else that goes on outside the course. It allows the ladies to develop and acquaint themselves with not only skills on the course but off the course as well. We also offer an opportunity for the next generation of LPGA professionals to play while they wait for their shot on the actual LPGA Tour.
As Chief Business Officer, what are your day-to-day responsibilities?
I oversee a staff of five people who report directly to me and make up our tournament business team. This team oversees our title sponsorships, our relationships with golf courses, cities and all other relationships that make the tournament a success. For someone who is looking to get into this industry, no matter where it is, it is ultimately a sales job. What I think about on a day-to-day basis and what I’m focused on is how do we get to that 24th and 25th event. Even though we aren’t even a third of the way through the 2015 season, we are already focused on how and what we can do to fill out the schedule for 2016. A lot of it is building and maintaining positive relationships and honoring all the business dealings.
For someone who has worked in sports their entire career, what would you tell a student just starting out in the sports industry to prepare for?
The number one thing is to make sure you are always doing things to the best of your ability and go out of your way to do things 110%. When you are working somewhere and you are one of ten interns, the easiest way to stand out is to outwork everybody else. We are not hiring at the LPGA, but we have interns at every event. I guarantee you there are always people looking for the next up and coming person they can add to their team when needed. Even if you are doing something as mundane as copies, do it with a smile and do it without being asked twice. The more you can be the person that gets stuff done, gets it done quickly and is looking for more to do, that attitude and work ethic will get you the opportunity.
You never know who you are going to meet. When I was interning for what was then the Doral-Ryder Open, I was plugging in phones and a higher up for Ryder happened to walk in. We started talking and he took a liking to me. We developed a relationship and when a job at the Florida Panthers came available, I knew that Ryder was a big sponsor so I called him and asked if he could make a call for me. I don’t know if that’s what got me the job, but I know he made the call and that it definitely didn’t hurt my chances.
I’m sure many people don’t get to the position you are in without great relationships and a great network. In your mind, how should people go about building and cultivating these relationships?
First of all is students now have LinkedIn and it is such a powerful tool. Another suggestion is to request informational interviews. They are such a great way to learn about the industry and field you want to enter, while creating a new relationship and possibly leaving a positive impression on the person. When they see you show initiative as a student, they will want to help you. Everyone remembers when they used to be in your position.
When hiring, what do you look for in a candidate?
The biggest thing for me is if they have relevant experience. I strongly suggest that you look for internships at smaller firms and teams as they allow you to get much more practical and hands on experience. They may have a smaller staff and less of a budget, thus requiring you to do more. For us, people who have worked at smaller organizations understand that it is long hours, not a lot of glamour and that sports is not always just about hanging with the athletes. These people generally understand what the job is and will come in less starry eyed.
Never forget who might be watching you. Having a mentality of doing your hardest work, when no one is watching will pay dividends. Chances are even though you may not know it, people are watching.
Build your network from scratch. Start with your student peers and work outwards from there.
For openings at the LPGA/Symetra Tours, you can visit: https://golfjobs.lpga.com/teamwork/jobs/default.cfm.