A former high school debater turned D.C. lawyer, Jim Tanner has now found his calling as sports agent and president of his agency. He left former law firm Williams & Connolly LLP with a few staffers and launched Tandem a few days after his birthday last October. Now he’s quickly learning the ups and downs of starting a new business — and working with such pro athletes as Jeremy Lin and Tim Duncan.
Biggest current challenge? Honestly, I would say everything has gone the way we planned and hoped it would in terms of the launch, the support we have gotten from our clients and in terms of leaving William & Connolly. We have maintained a great relationship with the law firm that we all feel very indebted to. The one thing we took for granted is the millions of details it takes to starting a company. It’s like the things you took for granted, like HR, supplies, that’s the one thing that has been the biggest surprise.
Next big goal? Our core has been basketball representation. We want to continue in that and grow that area. I think we want to expand to do much more in the way of communications and public relations, as well as broadcasting.
Biggest misconception about being a sports agent: People think it’s all fun and games. That it’s all about riding around in limos and going to games and hanging out. That’s a very small part of what we do. There is a lot of substantive work that goes into it in terms of ensuring that your clients are in the best position to maximize their opportunities. It’s definitely a difficult job. You have to be able to multitask. You have to be able to inspire your clients. You have to be able to support them when things aren’t going well and give them a path to success.
What are athletes looking for when they decide to hire an agent? The most important thing is a comfort level with the agent. You essentially become in many ways a part of the family. So you are their adviser, helping them through this process. Trying to make sure that the opportunity that is such a rare, unique opportunity — that they really maximize it. It’s really about the comfort levels.
What are you like to work for? I think people would call me super-organized. I value everyone’s opinion. I don’t want ego to ever play a role in what we do at Tandem. Collectively we have over 100 years of experience in sports.
Best lesson from your mentor: Sports and entertainment is obviously a field that people find very sexy, and there are a lot of young people that want to be involved in it. It’s always been very important to help them along the way. We can’t hire everyone, but we as a company can try to be accessible and answer all their questions and give them advice.
Best business decision: I kind of woke up one day about a year ago and had an epiphany that this was the right thing to do and at the right time. That we would be better, we would be happier and that we would be more effective.
Most memorable deal: We just did a really exciting deal for Jeremy Lin, who just signed with Adidas. He had been with Nike for his entire career. It’s going to be a tremendous opportunity for him and for Adidas to work together. It’s also a great opportunity for them to try to capture more of the Asian market.
What would you change about your job? That we would be more mature. We would have been around longer, celebrating our 10-year anniversary.
Guilty pleasure: Bourbon. I’m really partial to Pappy Van Winkle, which is a very, very hard-to-find bourbon.
Favorite movie star: George Clooney
Favorite movie: “Ocean’s Eleven,” hands down
What one word would you use to describe yourself: Positive. I generally have a positive outlook on life. I’m generally a pretty happy person. It takes a lot to bring me down.
Businessperson you most admire: Howard Schultz. Just the vision that he had. Taking something that was so common and ordinary and making it into something that people really want and can’t live without. I really think it is just an amazing story.
Which sports player do you most admire? Grant Hill. He is such a humble and nice person. The thing that most amazes me about Grant is what he was willing to persevere and go through to continue his career. There are so many people that would have hung it up after having the multiple injuries and surgeries that he has had. He just always kept going. I think it is because he just loved playing the game, and he didn’t want to leave under those terms — he wanted to leave on his terms. Just the fact that he was willing to put himself and his body through that and play for 19 years is just amazing.
Personality in high school: I would say that I was studious. I was somewhat reserved.
What did you want to be when you grew up? I always wanted to be either a doctor or a lawyer. I didn’t like blood, so I didn’t become a doctor. I did well in debate in high school so I decided that might be a good profession for me.
What would you do if not this? I would be a movie executive in Hollywood.
Favorite hobby: Spending time with the family, movies and television. I’m really a couch potato when I’m not working. But I’m working on that. This is the year I’m going to fulfill my get-in-shape New Year’s resolution.
Favorite restaurant: Mike’s “American” in Springfield
What’s one thing you cannot do without each day? Television. I don’t know if I could live without “Law & Order” or “Monk.”
Pet peeve: Clutter. I hate when people don’t do what they say they are going to do. And I hate negativity.
What’s on your iPod? I’m pretty old school. I like Michael Jackson, Prince and Luther Vandross.
President, Tandem Sports & Entertainment LLC
Education: Bachelor’s in English, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; law degree, University of Chicago
Family: Wife Alison; son Evan, 15; daughter Lauren, 12; cat TC; dog Chloe
First job: Sales clerk in the mens department at Thalhimers department store in High Point, N.C.