By Adam Mendler, CEO of The Veloz Group
There is no agent in professional basketball more powerful today than Rich Paul, the founder and principal of Klutch Sports Group. Paul started Klutch in 2012 with a signature client: LeBron James. Today, Klutch also represents Anthony Davis, Ben Simmons, Draymond Green and John Wall, who, with LeBron, are set to earn a combined $175 million in the last years of their respective contracts.
Paul was recently featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated, a testament to his unique stature in the game today, which was only cemented further when the NCAA changed its bylaws -- and then changed them again -- in creating the controversial "Rich Paul Rule" to try to regulate sports agents.
I've been watching Paul's trajectory with interest, as both a business leader and basketball fan. So, what can leaders learn from Rich Paul's rapid rise?
Relationships are an integral driver of success.
There may be no better example of the axiom "your network is your net worth" than Rich Paul. Paul's big break was connecting with a young LeBron James in 2002: They met at an airport and quickly became close friends. Paul's relationship with James is central to his success as an agent; without James, there is no Klutch Sport.
Paul deserves credit for being able to cultivate the relationship and for leveraging it into a successful agency, but the lesson for leaders should be crystal clear: Everyone is one relationship away from transformational levels of success. The person you meet at the gym, at a restaurant, at a party or at the airport could become your biggest client, your business partner or, in the case of Paul, both.
With that in mind, not only is it extremely important to always keep yourself open to meeting new people -- I always say that you can never know too many good people -- but to become the kind of person with whom others want to connect. Develop your skillset, make your mark and enhance your prowess as a leader. After all, LeBron James wanted to connect with Paul, not just the other way around.
There is no one path to success.
If you told your college guidance counselor that you wanted to become a sports agent, you would probably receive advice on companies to intern for -- either sports agencies, sports marketing firms or sports teams -- and law schools to attend. Paul didn't graduate from college, and his foray into the world of sports started with a stint selling vintage jerseys.
Regardless of the industry you are in, there is no single pathway to success. Rather than being intimidated by lacking certain markers that your colleagues or competitors may possess, appreciate what you bring to the table that others do not. As Sports Illustrated noted, even though he never spent a day in law school, "No one accuses Paul of writing shoddy contracts: He leaves such detail to attorney Mark Termini, focusing on the modern agent's game -- recruiting, caretaking and strategic planning."
Focus on what you do well and make it central to your business. No one is great at everything, and you will ultimately need a strong team around you to thrive, so take ownership of your areas of excellence and hire good people to fill the gaps.
You need to go against the grain to get to the top.
While LeBron James put Klutch Sports on the map, Anthony Davis landed Paul on the cover of Sports Illustrated. With a year and a half left on his contract, Davis demanded -- and Paul ultimately orchestrated -- a trade out of New Orleans to his preferred destination, the Los Angeles Lakers. Paul and Davis disregarded league norms, as well as Davis's contract, and in doing so they were able to seize a level of power so seismic that they have altered the larger NBA landscape.
The broader lesson holds true well beyond the world of basketball: To disrupt any industry, leaders must act boldly and go against the grain. You can be successful by doing things incrementally better, but if you want to outclass everyone else, you need to do something that everyone else isn't doing. Weigh the risks, and if you are willing to take to them, follow your heart and your convictions.
Adam Mendler is CEO of The Veloz Group and Founder of Beverly Hills Chairs, Custom Tobacco and Veloz Solutions.