Interview with Franko Vatterott, Founder of Human Interest Group and Retül

By: Adam White, @FOSAdam

Franko Vatterott, Founder of Human Interest Group

Front Office Sports is proud to have sat down with Franko Vatterott, Founder of Human Interest Group and Retul. He is an alumnus of the University of Colorado at Denver where he received his Bachelor’s degree in marketing and international communications. A true entrepreneur at heart, Franko has used his relationships to create two widely successful businesses in Human Interest Group and Retül . With almost 15 years of experience in the sports industry, Franko was gracious enough to give us his time and insight on how he got to where he is today, how important communication is, how critical it is to know your customer and how a good glass of red wine helps at the end of a long day.

How did your previous positions help you get to where you are today?

His previous positions, while in many different areas of sports, helped him not only get a foothold in the market, but find out what he was truly good at. “The first job I had out of college was in Colorado where I worked for a ski manufacturing company. I was the young marketing guy in the office and I had a vision to expand the company outside of skiing so I started cold calling people and teams in different sports. For every 99 no’s I got, there was usually one yes and that one yes would open the door for me.

This position helped me realize how well I could connect with people, companies and athletes. You learn what not to do from each experience and that helps you truly figure out your own style and what aspect of sports you want to work in. He also stressed the importance of working hard and showing your employers what you can do, because, “Every job I have had in sports has come from some type of contact I had in a previous role.

What about your current position? How did that come about?

In his response, it was evident how passionate he is and how hard work and a stroke of good fortune helped him along the way. “Human Interest Group came about after I had met

a Sheik from the United Arab Emirates who was actually the Crown Prince of Dubai when I was working for a company that was manufacturing altitude simulation equipment. The Sheik took an interest in these products for horses. We crossed paths again, developed a relationship and I ended up working for him. In exchange for me doing what I was doing for his horses, he offered to sponsor a first of its kind triathlon team that we called Tri-Dubai. With Tri-Dubai, came Human Interest Group, which I set up as the management company for the team.

The team fell apart when the Sheik was sworn in to be the King of Dubai, and along with that Human Interest Group became dormant for a while.

Even though he had his success with Human Interest group, his entrepreneurial spirit stayed strong and along came Retul. “We launched in the beginning of the 2008 recession, so we definitely had our struggles. To help balance out the financial struggles, I put my skills of relationship generation back to work with Human Interest Group. I began managing tri-athletes and today we are the largest tri-athlete specific management firm in the world with 17 world titles over the past 10 years.”

What is your favorite part about working in the sports industry?

Like all of us Franko is a competitor at heart and that doesn’t stop when the suit and tie are on. “I like winning and I like the competitive nature. Being an agent, we live somewhat vicariously through our clients. When my guys go out to compete and win, they are happy with themselves; it’s a great feeling.” He also elucidated a common theme for many sports business professionals saying, “I also like working with like-minded people, sports people are “type A” personalities. All the successful people you work with in sports are goal- driven people and I like surrounding myself with those kinds of people.”

How important is networking in your eyes?

Throughout the interview, Franko stressed the importance of “relationships” and how everything in sports comes from the relationships you have. When asked this question, it was obvious that he was adamant in sharing his advice. “It is incredibly important when you are in a front-line position in sports management. I have built the business that I own and the athletes that I represent through establishing relationships. A lot of times that just starts with having a good conversation with someone and then by chance you end up crossing paths a year or two later.” He, like others, stressed the fact that networking has become too commercialized in todays job and career market saying, “There is a difference between approaching people with commercialized offers and taking a personal interest in what they do and them as a human. When you do that, networking becomes so much easier and more rewarding.”

What is the best career advice you’ve been given so far?

Knowing how important relationships are, Franko stressed the idea of making the extra effort to get to know perspective employers or clients saying, “Know your customer. Figure out who you are going after beforehand and know what you are going after. Whether it is for a job or a client, make sure you do your research and determine how you can get inside the head of your customer.” He punctuated his answer with a quote that truly elucidates his point and allows for real world application saying, “You have to look at the business landscape like it is a war and that you’re not going to defeat your enemy unless you know your enemy.”

How do you balance your work and home life?

Laughingly he said, “I balance it with red wine.” But then went on to delve deeper into the subject saying “I’m father of four kids who are all ten and under and I am traveling globally 50% of the time. It is one of those things where you have to love what you do. There are a lot of sacrifices. It is a gift and a curse.” He stressed how important a strong family life and a strong relationship with your spouse is when working in sorts saying “There are times when it is very off balance. You family and spouse really need to understand how you work because you are going to need their support.”

In the industry today, how important are good communication skills?

When it was all said and done, Franko wanted to make sure that everyone knew how important effective communication is. He said, ”There is no substitute for being able to look someone in the eye and communicate well with him or her. It is going to get harder and harder for upcoming students to break into this industry with the way communication works today. It is not like riding a bike. If you don’t have face-to-face conversations, you lose your ability to conduct them well.” He also illustrated the fact that, while small dollar business can get done over the phone, big time deals get done in person. “If you want to get big business done, you do it face-to-face. In this industry, that is when the biggest deals are done and the most money is spent.”

Parting Wisdom?

“Take the extra effort to meet with someone face-to-face. It will set you apart from the rest of the companies bidding for their contract or employers looking to hire students that just graduated. An experience such as working at a bank, or working in a position where you are regularly coming face-to- face with your customers is invaluable.”

“I highly recommend that before you go to work in the real world, you go experience different cultures. If you want to backpack through Europe…do it…you don’t have to rage and party all the time, but you should become immersed in others cultures. It is a great way to learn about how other people think, do, dress and act.”