Sports entrepreneur advises BYUH students

John Korrf[Story and photo by Mike Foley, originally published online in the BYU-Hawaii Newsroom, October 1, 2002]

A prominent sports marketing and event management businessman took time on October 1st from a nearby professional golf tournament to advise BYU-Hawaii School of Business students on practical aspects of entrepreneurship.

John Korff [pictured at right], President of Korff Enterprises, Inc., based in New York City, told the students, “Entrepreneurship is the art of taking a risk. A truly successful entrepreneur is somebody who can identify the risk in a situation, and then minimize it.  You do not get scared of risk, you just figure out a way around it.”

Korff, who was in the Laie region working on the Senior Professional Golf Association tournament at the Turtle Bay Resort, earned a Harvard M.B.A. in 1978and soon after started his own sports marketing company. Today Korff Enterprises manages over 300 sports and entertainment events, and he is known as one of the 50 most influential people in professional tennis.

“When you’re in a corporate environment, you generally have a boss you can go to for advice. If you’re an entrepreneur, you have very few people you can go to, so you have to pick your resources wisely,” Korff continued, explaining those resources include “the people you know and the money that’s available to you.”

“A key aspect of entrepreneurship is finding people resources who will tell you what you really need to hear,” said the lean, heavily tanned Korff. But he warned the students, “Most people won’t tell you that you have a stupid idea. That’s the ‘ugly baby’ school of business. Nobody will tell you that you have an ugly baby.”

Korff also warned the students about two potentially “critical errors you never want to make: Never fall in love with your own idea,” he said. “You lose your critical eye; and you never want to think you’re smart, because by definition then, you must have a good idea.”

“People ask me all the time, how do you run a faster marathon. You’ve got to move your feet faster,” said Korff, who has recently managed several world-caliber triathlons in New York City, which is trying to attract the 2012 Olympics. “If you’re not very entrepreneurial, then find someone who is and get closer to that person. You don’t have to have money, because if you come up with a good enough business play, you can always find the money. The idea’s the whole thing.”

Asked how he started out, Korff said he was about 23 years old right out of graduate school, when he started his first professional tennis tournament. “I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I didn’t have any money, but I was fearless, and I hired some good people.” He later said he also had worked for professional tennis star, Billie Jean King, who gave him excellent advice.

From there, Korff segued into hot air balloon events, which he still stages around the country. Most recently, he’s interested in continuing a triathlon in New York, whether the Olympics commits to the Big Apple or not. Explaining the entrepreneur’s challenge, he said, “A big event can cost over $1 million, but to run a triathlon costs about $400,000.” The one he ran for the pre-Olympics campaign cost about $200,000 to stage, plus lots of cooperation.

“We have had to ask, how do we minimize the risks by reducing expenses, and increase the income. What are our business models?” Korff said, pointing out he’s still working on the idea.

To be an entrepreneur, he stressed, “You’ve got to constantly have your eyes open. You’ve got to think out of the box, and you’ve got to be willing to assume risk.”

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