LOU WEISBACH, 51
Present life: Weisbach is the founder and chairman of Ha-Lo Industries Inc., a $650-million promotional-products business based in Niles, Ill.
Former life: For 13 years Weisbach coached basketball at a private high school in Chicago. "We were a small school with very short kids -- no one taller than six feet -- and the only way we could be successful was to be better at little things and outexecute our competition," he says.
Lessons learned: In addition to the standard lessons in team building and discipline, Weisbach believes that coaching the underdogs taught him how to succeed when your team is seemingly outmatched. "When you don't have the horsepower but still expect to win, you need to do the little things," he says.
Because Ha-Lo distributes promotional products, its efforts usually only spread the brands and logos of its customers. So in 1983, when Weisbach felt it was time to publicize the Ha-Lo name (but couldn't spend as much as his competitors could), he was forced once again to devise a creative game plan.
As it happens, an idea hit him when he was talking to an old friend who'd become a marketing guy for the NBA's Chicago Bulls. "We were talking about some different projects, and somewhere in there came the concept of putting logos on the players' chairs at basketball games," says Weisbach. "We did it at the Chicago stadium, knowing that TV cameras show the chairs whenever the team is standing during a time-out. A year later Michael Jordan showed up, and suddenly we had some valuable real estate. But at the time, selling space on chairs was a new marketing opportunity for the team. And when you're buying something that's never been bought before, it's pretty cheap."