Since day one, our practice has been based on relationships, and I’ve found no better way of establishing new friendships than through sports.
I moved to Manhattan directly after graduating from college, with few acquaintances and no disposable wealth. Given this lack of friends and funds, the prospect of enjoying a Hamptons summer share was remote. I did, however, have Central Park and a pair of soccer flats. That first summer, and then the next, I spent five or six hours each Saturday and Sunday playing pick-up soccer on the grassless Great Lawn with a rag-tag group of Europeans, Latin Americans and Middle Easterners. Many days I was the only (North) American, learning to appreciate diversity and inclusion from the vantage point of a minority, and earning my way onto the pitch through quality touches and good humor. That my nickname was “Gringo” amuses me still. A few years later I picked up with an organized team sponsored by a small French restaurant. After each game we would decamp to the famed Restaurant Row for country pate, sausages and vin rouge. Our most talented player was a then-recent transplant from Marseille who had played in the First Division and spoke barely a word of English, a perfect match to my lack of French. Yet we got along famously on the field, and when he and a partner decided to open a bistro in SoHo, I became their architect. Designing my first restaurant in Manhattan was exciting, wining and dining with the ex-pats after hours perhaps even more so. On this very French team – many of us smoked cigarettes at halftime – our right wing was the lone other (North) American. He was a few years older than I and unlike most of the waiters, barbacks, and busboys that filled the other positions, he was a Stanford educated partner at a midtown law firm. Off the field, he became a mentor and role model, demonstrating how to balance a career, family and even sports; and he also became an early client of the firm. Although neither of us still play competitively, we stay in touch and have remained friends for thirty years.
I’ll always be an unwavering fan of team sports, even though continued participation has been hampered by age, family time, and weekends in the country. Playing soccer at midnight at Chelsea piers with young bankers or at dawn in Riverside Park with a group called the Geezers – yes, I’ve done both – holds less appeal every year. Fortunately, I found a different outlet by joining a social club near our office that has one of the foremost squash programs in the country. For twenty-five years, I’ve played regularly and have made great friends, probably the closest since college. Not incidentally, our bubble chart of clients boasts many accomplished squash players, and both my social and professional lives are infinitely richer for the friends made on court.
In spring, summer, and fall, I now mostly play golf and tennis. While appalling, the age-old adage that playing “golf is good for business” still rings true. I often play with clients and contractors and walking the links has strengthened relationships with both. Golf’s tradition that rules violations are the player’s responsibility prioritizes sportsmanship. The game can reveal an opponent’s character and at the same time, provide a snapshot of yours. If an opponent were a bad sport (or worse, golfers are known to cheat on occasion), how would he or she be as a client, and if I were similarly charged, how would I be as their architect?
Sports need not be competitive to be effective in building relationships – which brings me to the title of this installment, “Apres Ski = Sports Marketing.” I loved skiing as a kid and occasionally thereafter, all the way through graduate school when I tore my ACL during a winter break. I had the surgery, suffered through the rehab, and full of excuses like hating the cold and skiing’s inconvenience and expense, I racked my skis and took a twenty-five-year hiatus. A few years ago, I again buckled my boots to ski with family, and we now count skiing among our favorite activities, both close to home and afar. Our winter calendars are built around skiing. Most weekends you can find us at a small hill in the neighboring ‘town’ of Cornwall, Connecticut, and each spring break we travel to Lech, Austria, a family vacation that the kids (and parents, too) even prefer over a trip to Disney World.
While I have come back to enjoy skiing as an adult, I fully admit to being a bluebird participant, and if the weather isn’t perfect, I have no hesitation spending my time in the lodge or at the spa. I recall a particular Connecticut weekend when rain failed to turn to snow, and while this didn’t bother the kids, I left my gear at home. Waiting in the lodge as the kids got soaked in ski school, I ran into three other sets of parents, one for whom we had renovated their City apartment and designed their CT home; a second for whom for whom we had just broken ground on a new house near ours; and third, a friend for whom we were just beginning to discuss designing their home. A few weeks later, at an après ski party, (at a home we had designed), I was introduced to yet another potential client. Until then, I had thought nothing could beat soccer and squash for making friends and developing relationships. I now feel skiing may give them both a downhill run for their money. Let it snow; Let it snow; Let it snow.