For many people, change is uncomfortable. Some are even terrified of it. Drew Sheinman embraces change; he relishes it and the opportunities it provides. In fact, Sheinman has built a career around being an agent of change, a disruptor, a differentiator. He began his career in Major League Baseball, leveraging a degree in sports management and capitalizing on a national recruitment program that offered him an opportunity to further the business of professional baseball by thinking outside the box and expanding the sport’s reach and its capital potential. He earned two World Series rings along the way.
As an entrepreneur who was often recruited into new companies to bring an outsider’s perspective (i.e. New York Mets, Madison Square Garden, Coca-Cola, Simon Property Group, Breeders Cup, WME-IMG), Sheinman, along with his partners, is now spearheading a revolutionary movement within private equity with his firm Brand Velocity Partners. The company is built upon the valuing of what Sheinman calls “relationship capital.” Bottom-line valuations and profit margins are not the sole factors that dictate how Sheinman and team shake up the companies that Brand Velocity Partners acquires.
“Bringing a level of value-add in terms of the branding and marketing and also, importantly, in terms of the kindness and caring for employees and changing the perception of private equity is something that I’m very much committed to,” he says. “That’s how I’m aligned with my business partners. It is truly about vision.”
Sheinman continues, “A lot of people have vision, but many people don’t know how to make it work. That’s something that I’ve been committed to in my career, and thus far we’re doing so with Brand Velocity Partners.”
You consider Richard Branson one of your mentors, but you’ve never worked directly with him. In what ways has he served as a mentor with at least one degree of separation between you?
He’s a very authentic person, and I know that from following him but also from people who have worked for him. He’s a guy who never hesitated to think big and to surround himself with amazing people to execute on his great vision. He has a zest for life and he seems to have that right balance between having fun, doing great things, being wildly successful, but never losing sight of what’s important in life. Some of the things he does people think are crazy or wacky, but they’re true to who he is. He really understands how to get the most out of life. And that’s my essential philosophy in life and what I try to bring to my kids and try to bring to people who have worked for me and people who I work with. It’s just a great way to live—to enjoy every day.
As someone who works in such a competitive business world like private equity, how do you keep your focus on those important things in life?
I grew up as a fat kid. I wasn’t obese—it used to be called husky—but I was bullied before bullying was a thing. That has always stayed with me and at some level it grounds me from all the cool and exciting things that I’ve been able to do. It grounds me in terms of how to treat people the right way and how to respect people for who they are. It’s given me a great level of sensitivity, which I think oftentimes in business gets lost. It taught me a lot about perseverance and commitment and never giving up and all of those things that in business help to make you successful, and in life, in a holistic way, help to make you more successful and satisfied.
Looking back on your years in school, were you a good student?
It probably depends on who you ask. To me, I was a good student because I was always very curious. I asked a lot of questions and was always interested in learning things—maybe not in a traditional way—but that curiosity is still very much with me today. And when you have that level of curiosity it allows you to think very differently and think about opportunity. If you get blessed with the right people who support that and embrace that thinking and the ability to make things happen, it’s a wonderful thing. Early in my career I was very fortunate to work for great baseball team owners owners and great leadership, who saw me as that nontraditional baseball guy that had a different approach to building the business, which at the end of the day drove enterprise value.
When you were growing up, did you have a dream job?
Probably like a lot of other kids, I wanted to be a baseball player, even though I likely didn’t have the physical makeup to be one. I knew that was not a reality, so the next best thing was to get into the sport of baseball on the business side. I was very fortunate that my first-ever job out of college at the UMass Department of Sport Management was being one of two executive trainees chosen in a national recruitment process to be part of the first-ever management training program for Major League Baseball. It was a dream-come-true situation when I got the letter in the mail with the Major League Baseball logo on it.
What was that management training program like?
Back in those days, baseball was a very family-driven business. To their credit, Major League Baseball saw a need to recruit young, new management talent that could help offset the familial side of the business and make it more marketing- and business-focused with greater success long term. The whole program was designed to get you exposed to all facets of the baseball business, and ultimately, if you were enabled, to be accepted by a team to go work for the team and go up through the management ranks. That’s what I did.
What pivotal business lessons did you learn during those early years when you worked for the Baltimore Orioles and then the New York Mets?
Ideas are great, but execution is more important. That supports disruption and change and innovation, and when it all comes together, it’s really an exciting thing not just for me, but for the team around me and the organization and the industry, too.
How do you define success, and what pivotal successes can you point to in your career thus far?
I’ve always viewed success as a relative term. You continue to evolve, and if you’re grounded in a certain way, then success is measured in very holistic ways. I can tell you that I’ve been successful because I have three amazing kids. They’re my tribe, and that to me defines success in a very important and meaningful way. On a business level, success can come in a lot of different ways. It’s not necessarily monetary. It’s the people who work for me, who are doing really cool things, and they remember that I gave them a chance. They’re my business kids, and that—to me—is successful. When you can leave a mark and have a legacy in real time and impact people to be successful. When you feel like you’re doing good things in society and you’re able to wake up every day and be excited, to me that’s really success. It’s about doing the right things. I hate the expression “Good guys finish last.” If I can leave the world and people say “Wow, good guys can win and actually be successful,” that to me is success and my kids are a manifestation of that.
What lessons have you learned throughout your career, especially ones that are attached to failure?
It’s the whole Theodore Roosevelt thing about getting into the ring and getting into the match. If you’re in it, you’re going to fail. That’s just the way the world works. But what you can take away from that can be very beneficial to continue to evolve. Inherent in all of that is one simple concept: Never give up. Never. Give. Up. There’s always opportunity to keep persevering and doing your thing. If people see what you’re doing, see the value that you’re bringing to the table, and you never give up, then they’re going to be there for you when the right opportunity presents itself.
Are there specific lessons that someone in a role similar to yours—a disruptor or agent of change—will undoubtedly learn along the way?
Sometimes the process requires patience. A lot of it is the courage of your conviction … and perseverance. If you believe in yourself—I say myself, but it’s really a team effort—then you can eventually convince people, but it doesn’t have to happen immediately. It evolves. You can’t just expect people to get it right away just because you believe it and it’s your vision. It takes time for people to come along.
How have the early chapters of your career in professional sports overlapped with the world of private equity that you’re in now?
There are a lot of parallels between sports and change and disruption and all the things that we’re bringing to the world of private equity. You take calculated risk, you have to have vision, it’s a lot about team work, it’s a lot about execution, and it’s about bringing it all together in one very thoughtful, focused effort. Most important, sports is all about competition and winning and private equity is very competitive. With the company we just bought (www.bbqguys.com), there were many private-equity firms out there that are much bigger than we are that would’ve loved to have acquired that company, but we won that deal because we’re entrepreneurs, we’re competitive, and we have a vision.
In what ways is Brand Velocity Partners disrupting the general notion of private equity, and what makes you most proud about the company and what it’s been able to achieve thus far?
In nine months we have acquired three companies by putting $250M in capital to work while providing a differentiated approach. Yes we want to make money, but we want to do good at the same time. I refer to it as private equity with a venture mentality. It’s bringing the innovation and the level of vision to private equity, so that’s very different. Caring about employees is very different, because typical private equity does not. And creating that enterprise value through creativity is also very different. That is something that we’re hyper-focused on and that conquest is happening in real time. In a very short amount of time we’ve made great impact, so we want to continue to ride that momentum for future acquisitions that fit our threshold. [In doing so] we can continue to make a difference.