I had the sincere privilege of speaking with Hall of Famer and tennis icon Donald Dell. Mr. Dell’s amazing career includes being captain of the winning U.S. Davis Cup team in 1968 and 1969, founding Pro Serv, one of the leading sports management companies in the world, and helping shape the careers of such legends as Arthur Ashe, Jimmy Connors, Andy Roddick and now Caroline Wozniacki.
Mr. Dell has just recently released a new book called “Never Make the First Offer” on how to handle negotiating anything in life. We spoke about the book and his thoughts on the game today.
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You make a point in the classes you teach that if students learn anything, it’s that relationships and trust are the most important. Why is that?
Well as I say to people I have a lot of mileage which means I’ve been around a long time (laughs) but as you go through your experiences in making deals, both good and bad situations, you realize more and more that it’s all about relationships and how you deal with people and how they deal with you. I’ve learned in the sports industry there’s a lot of money but it’s a small group of people and the old saying what comes around goes around is absolutely true and you deal with the same people over various times and how you deal with relationships will either come back to help you or haunt you.
I always say building a relationship based on trust is the best kind of relationship you can have and that takes time. If I go to represent an athlete or client I always tell them that I’m not a masseur here to stroke your ego but what I want you to do is trust me. But you can’t expect them to trust you right away. It takes time. And it may take you six months or five years depending on the client but the goal in that relationship is that the two people working together trust each other.
In your book, you say never to make the first offer unless you think you will be lowballed. How do you get the person you are negotiating with to give you that first offer?
Ninety percent of the time you don’t want to make the first offer and ten percent of the time you might and the reason you don’t is because what you want to do is to listen to what they’re gonna offer and where they’re coming from and you learn a lot from listening and not talking.
For example with salesmen in my office, I always tell them to not talk so damn much and listen. When you should make the first offer is when you get some information before you meet the person, and I making this up, but say you want X and you think they want Y in his first offer and Y is so far below where you want to be then you don’t want him to make the first offer because you’re working off of his low offer. There’s not a pattern stock answer for every situation but you’re better off listening than rushing in with the first offer.
I liked where you talked about dealing with oddballs or those who do business differently like Richard Williams or Phil Knight of Nike. What is the best thing one can do when dealing with that type during a deal?
Really try to do your preparation ahead of time to learn about that guy. Give you an example. Bob Craft owner of the (New England) Patriots. When you meet Bob Craft in a certain kind of business situation he will ask a lot of questions casually and try and stumble and you think he’s the “absent minded professor” type or at least I did when I first met him. He’s one of the smartest people in sports but when you first meet him you can be lulled into thinking he’s that type and he’s not.
You make reference of the great deals you made for Stan Smith with Adidas and Michael Jordan for Nike. Do you see any of the current or recently retired players being able to have a “brand name” that will last as long?
There’s one guy standing there big as ever called Roger Federer and they, meaning IMG or whoever he’s with or Nike, they’ve gone so far as to whenever you see him (Federer) or his family, they’re wearing caps with a big RF and it looks like the beginning of a logo. I expect more and more if he plays another three or four years and continues to dominate they’ll (Nike) build that into another brand name just as they did with (Michael) Jordan when they started another company called Jordan, Inc. and selling 800 million dollars a year now.
Do you think Nadal has that potential?
You need a superstar in today’s climate I don’t think Nadal is there yet. I think Serena Williams if she was managed a little more carefully and was more controlled, which I’m not sure she is, I think she is a comparable name in women’s tennis.
It takes a certain personality that people like and is likable and Roger Federer does a lot of the extra little things that it takes to build a brand name.
You have seen and been a part of many of the significant events of the game. Where do you see the game headed in terms of participation and viewership?
Tennis is on the rebound much more than the press allows and writes about. The USTA last week just announced that we now have 30 million active players in America. That’s a phenomenal figure. We swallow golf participants yet nobody knows it. Why is that? Because most executives over 55 take up playing golf so they spend money on advertising, television and trade magazines so they have a high end interest in their sport. So in tennis we need to promote much much better than we’re doing.
Do you see the increase in people playing the game due in part to people watching tennis on TV more?
Absolutely. The Tennis Channel is doing a phenomenal job and they are now in 24 million homes. I tell everybody in tennis that we are all on the same side of the table and if the Tennis Channel is successful then we are all successful in the sport.
What’s the one main point you want readers to remember after reading your book?
Just that there is a way to prepare and plan successful negotiations. It’s not just hit or miss or highball or lowball. I’d like people to understand that.
For more information about Donald Dell, visit his website here.