Attaining true success—in life and in business—is rarely, if ever, easy. Yet, there are certainly factors that can help maximize its odds along the way: money, a great education, dedicated mentors, familial support, and opportunities to prove oneself. For the individuals lucky enough to have all the stars aligned for them, success—if it comes—really isn’t much of a surprise. But for others, like the 11 entrepreneurs profiled on the following pages, it takes determination, perseverance, passion, and, yes, even a bit of luck, to tip the scales in one’s favor, beat the odds, and rise to the very top.
IN A LEAGUE OF HIS OWN
Founder and CEO, Steiner Sports
Growing up in a single-parent home in a $62-per-month apartment perched over a butcher shop in Brooklyn, Brandon Steiner says he developed a fire in his belly to break out of his poor environs and become a “big success.” That fire may very well have been hunger. “I joke that I saw the light at an early age—the light of an empty refrigerator,” he says. “As a young kid, I’d wake up and hear the chickens being killed downstairs. That wasn’t the most pleasant environment to grow up in.”
To make money, Steiner delivered fruits and vegetables, maintained a newspaper route, and even baked bagels. And, shrewdly, he’d cross-sell. “I’d get people I was delivering bagels to to buy the paper as well.” He used the money from those jobs to buy and sell firecrackers at a markup to neighborhood kids—which paid for tickets to see his beloved Yankees. Steiner is passionate about sports.
With financial aid, Steiner attended Syracuse University. His major: accounting. “It was a blessing for me to be able to go to a school like that, being as poor as I was.” When one of his heroes, George Steinbrenner, visited the university, Steiner was profoundly intrigued by what he heard. “He was the first person I heard say that sports is a business.” He graduated college, worked in the hospitality-management field, and then tried to open a sports-themed bar and restaurant but couldn’t get the necessary financing. “I raised about three hundred thousand dollars, but I needed about a million two hundred thousand.” In 1987 “with four thousand dollars,” he launched Steiner Sports Marketing, a company that books professional athletes for personal appearances and product endorsements.
Eight years later, he took all his savings—$10,000—and founded Steiner Collectibles, branching out into merchandising autographed sports memorabilia. He signed Phil Rizzuto and Mark Messier to their first collectibles contracts. “The combination of the two of them, and a hell of a lot of luck, led me to found Steiner Collectibles.” Steiner’s second venture soon dwarfed his marketing business. “At the time, there were lots of problems in the industry—a lot of phony autographs and fraudulent merchandise. I knew how to make it right for the fans.”
Today, the Steiner name is synonymous with officially licensed, autographed sports memorabilia. His company, Steiner Sports, is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, and now comprises Steiner Marketing, Steiner Collectibles, and Steiner Stores. “Most people don’t realize that marketing the players was my original business. We still do that today, but with the collectibles, we stumbled upon something that took on a life all its own. I never imagined doing anything less. Going into business for myself was never an ‘if’ thing, it was always a ‘when’ thing. I’ve been talking about having my own business since I was six-years old! But in my wildest dreams I never thought it would be in sports.”
And to what does he attribute his success? “To the fact that I out-work everyone—which is probably an understatement,” he says. “While most kids were out playing, I was figuring out how to make a buck. I’ve always tried to keep myself a few steps ahead of the curve. That, and I’m a very happy guy, but never satisfied—and I understand the difference.” As for whom he attributes his success to, “That’s an easy one: my mother, my wife, and the Yankees!”