Person of the year: Jon Muir
It’s amid the turmoil and commotion of an event like the US Open — with all the meetings, presentations and overbooked schedules that surround it — that Jon Muir appears to be at his most confident and collected. While those around him make last-minute tweaks to slide presentations for the TIA Tennis Forum, which he will soon emcee, or worry about special guests arriving on time, Muir calmly looks over his notes, adjusts his tie and exhales slowly, like a tennis player stepping up to the line to power in a serve.
Muir, the Tennis Industry Association president, once again hosted the 2010 Forum, introducing industry dignitaries, talking about retail and participation research, and relating the TIA’s goals and priorities. He ends his second year as TIA president at the end of 2010, but following recommendations from the TIA board of directors and its executive committee, the 40-year-old Muir will remain as president for another two-year term, through Dec. 31, 2012.
The confidence the TIA board has in Muir’s leadership — particularly while the overall economy has manufacturers, retailers and others in the industry scrambling — is inspiring. In reality, though, it shouldn’t be unexpected. Throughout his career (Muir is the global general manager for Wilson Racquet Sports), he has shown leadership, a quiet confidence, respect for everyone, and a clear dedication to the sport and to making it grow.
In his first term as TIA president he’s helped to crystallize the direction the organization and the industry needs to take to increase tennis participation and business. His savvy and understanding have helped lead to unprecedented cooperation among the various entities in tennis. As USTA President and Chairman of the Board Lucy Garvin says, “He’s in this for all the right reasons.”
It’s not just those “reasons,” but also his vision and talent in helping this sport to grow and in bringing all industry groups together, particularly over the last 12 months, that has made Jon Muir Racquet Sports Industry’s 2010 Person of the Year.
“Jon is intelligent, articulate and has good strategic vision,” says Dave Haggerty, former CEO of Head/Penn and the TIA president immediately before Muir. “He works hard for his company and on behalf of the tennis industry, and it’s great that the companies had the confidence in him to appoint him to a second term as TIA president. He builds consensus and he’s well-respected.”
Within the tennis industry, it seems you can’t find anyone who can say anything even slightly negative about Muir. From top executives to teaching pros to retailers, Muir seems to touch everyone in a positive way. And the word “vision” comes up over and over.
“Jon has a genuine interest in promoting tennis; he has a lot of vision for the industry,” says Garvin, whose term as USTA president ends Jan. 1. She asked Muir to serve as a presidential appointee to the USTA board of directors when she took office in 2009, and her successor, Jon Vegosen, has indicated he will continue to keep Muir involved with the board during his two-year term heading the USTA.
“Jon is very bright, passionate and has vision,” says Vegosen. “He has excellent follow-up and follow-through, and he’s collaborative and inclusive in his approach to working with others.”
As president of the TIA, adds Vegosen, “Jon looks out for the industry first and doesn’t put Wilson first. That exhibits good leadership and instills trust. I’m thrilled about his reappointment as TIA president and I’m really looking forward to working with him.”
“I was extremely pleased when the board agreed to have Jon stay on for a second term,” says TIA Executive Director Jolyn de Boer. “He’s a great asset to the TIA, a unified leader who is very zoned-in and has the core values of the TIA at heart. He knows that helping the industry grow and strengthen helps everyone in our sport.”
Through the TIA, Muir has developed a vision for the industry that includes three central platforms:
- Increasing the number of frequent players in the U.S.
- Better defining the economic impact of the tennis industry, so as to identify ways to increase growth.
- Developing communication channels for clear, consistent messaging about tennis and the reasons to play.
“Frequent players are the core economic drivers of tennis,” accounting for more than 80 percent of all consumer goods and services sold, says Muir. His goal is to increase frequent players (those who play at least 21 times a year) from the current 5.4 million to 7.5 million in 2015 and 10 million in 2020.
Better defining the economic impact of tennis — in essence, defining the “worth” of the tennis industry from all sectors — will help the industry determine “where we’ve been, and how we can positively affect the future for all stakeholders,” he says.
“We know we have to communicate clearly what we’re doing and stay focused on those things so we’re consistent,” Muir notes. “We’re going to drive more the key stories of the industry to a broader audience, so we can bring more attention to tennis in general.”
Critical to communicating better is “doing a better job merchandising the sport at all levels of the industry,” he adds. “We have to get retailers helping tell the story about the importance of tennis, as a lifetime sport and a healthy sport.”
Also a key for communicating the benefits of tennis is a common website for getting people involved, Muir says. That site is playtennis.com, something that Muir and de Boer presented to the USTA board in 2009. “I’m really excited about this because the USTA is taking it seriously and has committed resources,” he says.
Muir also is advocating “a major youth initiative that can further support 10-and-under programs, but take this to retail on a broader level.” He says it’s too early to give specifics, but the initiative’s goal is to “bridge between retailers promoting our sport and new players/parents purchasing equipment.”
Muir started playing tennis at age 9 on the public courts of Hermosa Beach, Calif. “My uncle Robb put the first racquet in my hand,” he says, “and my mother was so supportive, working hard as a teacher to pay for my tennis growing up.”
Muir attended USC and was a tennis team walk-on. “The team was so good, I was just happy I was able to be a part of it.” In his senior year at USC, while studying economics, he had a chance to work at a summer camp at the public Lakewood Country Club in Long Beach and soon after leaving school was asked to teach there full-time.
He moved to the Lindborg Racquet Club in Huntington Beach, Calif., running the junior tennis program. “I also started getting involved in some of the retail aspects of the club,” Muir says. “I got to know the Dunlop sales rep, Jeffrey Adams, and eventually went to lunch with him and the president of Dunlop at the time, Dave Haggerty. Dave hired me as a rep for Hawaii. Jeffery and I had become great friends and he was very supportive of me getting into the industry. I have a lot of respect for Jeffrey.” In fact, Adams and Muir still work together; Adams is Wilson’s national sales manager.
Muir was with Dunlop for about two years, then a job with K-Swiss opened in Southern California. Shortly after that, in the fall of 1997, he joined Wilson as territory manager in Southern California. Bob Shafer, who currently works for Active.com, was the Wilson sales manager who hired Muir. “I don’t know if I’ve ever met anyone brighter than Jon,” Shafer says. “Right off the bat, I was impressed with him.”
Shafer says Muir understood what Wilson had to do to build market share, including looking into the growing internet retail market. “Jon was one of the pioneers of trying to keep the peace between brick-and-mortar and internet retailers,” Shafer notes.
“In 2002, I had the opportunity to move to Wilson’s headquarters in Chicago as the national manager of e-commerce,” Muir says. “I also was the liaison between sales and marketing. It allowed me to get exposure to all different categories that Wilson was involved in.”
He quickly rose through the company. After about eight months, Muir took over promotions for the U.S. in 2003. Then in 2004 he was named director of U.S. marketing, and in 2005 took over as director of U.S. sales and marketing. Then in 2006, he was named worldwide general manager for Wilson Racquet Sports. Now Muir, who is a lifetime USTA member and certified by both the PTR and USPTA (and an active member of both teaching pro groups), spends a lot of time traveling for Wilson.
“Our worldwide revenue, profitability and most importantly our focus on building our platforms for future growth are stronger today then ever,” he says. “We’ve always been strong in the Americas markets but have had good growth in Europe and Asia the past few years. I’m deeply entrenched in our go-to-market planning, and extremely proud of the people and team we are building internally.
“I expect our core tennis racquets, strings, and ball categories to grow and gain further momentum in 2011, but it’s also an exciting time at Wilson with our fast growth and focus on softgoods: tennis apparel and footwear. Over the next few years, we expect to continue to accelerate our apparel business and are working now on some exciting innovations and design direction in tennis footwear. One of our primary goals is to position Wilson as a much stronger apparel and footwear brand — to compete with Nike and Adidas globally in tennis.”
“It’s been rewarding for me working with Jon,” says Cory Springer, Wilson’s global business director for tennis racquets. “His approach is direct and honest; he’ll tell you exactly the way he sees the situation, and that’s reassuring for people. You don’t have to be concerned with behind-the-scenes agendas.”
Cathy Jacobson, who oversees two tennis centers for the city of Long Beach and one for Seal Beach in California, has known Muir since his days as her K-Swiss rep and keeps in touch with him regularly. “He has the same qualities now as he did then,” she says. “He’s so articulate, humorous and bright. And his business sense is impeccable. He’s the greatest guy I know in this industry, and he will make things happen.”
“Jon was very close with the people he worked with, more so than most reps,” says Al Wilmot of Racquet Swingers in Lomita, Calif., another of Muir’s Wilson accounts. “You could tell when he was a rep that he was going to be big and become president of that company. You’ll never find a better person.”
“I’ve watched him go from the bottom to the top,” says Steve Bellamy, founder of the Tennis Channel and owner of the Palisades Tennis Center near Los Angeles. “He was always just a cut above everyone we have in this industry.
“I guarantee there are a lot of pro shops that are either still around or lasted a lot longer because Jon was their sales rep,” Bellamy adds. “He’s talented, smart, charismatic, prudent, pragmatic, leaves nothing to chance — we’re really lucky to have him.”
Many in tennis agree with Bellamy’s assessment of Muir and his impact — and potential future influence — on this industry.
“Jon has the ability to pinpoint the real issues, to cut to the chase,” says Jeff Williams, group publisher of Tennis.com and Tennis magazine (and co-publisher of RSI). “He really has at heart how to make it better for everybody.”
“He gets the bigger picture,” adds de Boer. “He knows we need to make this a stronger industry by increasing our frequent player base. And he also is tuned in to making use of technology to help tennis businesses and the sport grow.”
“One of my big hopes for the TIA is to make sure the industry, facilities, retailers teaching pros — everyone — sees that we’re focused and that we ‘get it,’” Muir says, “that we understand what’s really happening. I think a lot of people don’t really get the impact that we can have.
“We need to be aggressive pushing the USTA even more on focusing on frequent player growth,” he adds. “We also want to continue building the tools the TIA can offer to retailers and facilities, and to build more awareness for certified pros. We want to tell the industry, here’s where we are and where we’re going.”
“If Jon weren’t doing what he’s doing now,” says Wilson’s Springer, “he’d be a movie director. He’s a huge fan and student of films, and a film director needs to have vision, and needs to use what’s at his disposal to shape things. That’s Jon.”
“If you had to pick one person to run the entire tennis industry,” adds Bellamy, “I would pick Jon Muir.”
Tips for success
- When it comes to finding solutions, there’s nothing wrong in maintaining some flexibility. There are many different ways to find the end result.
- “One of the biggest things I’ve learned in the industry is the importance of teamwork,” Muir says. “No one can do everything alone.”
- “We may not always agree, but in this industry the goals we have far outweigh some of the nuanced ways we approach things,” Muir notes.
- Grow the whole pie, not just your slice. “If the pie is bigger, it helps everyone.