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A good sport

A good sport

In business, like sport, the path to success requires perseverance – and often a good chase.

[photo of Elliott Kerr]

When sports agent Elliott Kerr, MBA'75, first started out, he was told "You can never get in, you need to know somebody" in the competitive sports management industry, the 60-year-old recalls in an interview at his Mississauga, Ont. office.

But when global management firm IMG opened up a Toronto office in 1980, a young Kerr knew what he wanted and pursued the head of the branch. "He said there are no openings now, but stay in touch," he says. "I'd call once a month – I chased him for two years."

Three decades later, the president and founder of Landmark Sport Group Inc. has organized and marketed hundreds of sporting events such as Mississauga Marathon and built up a hefty roster of athletes, broadcasters and motivational speakers that includes the likes of Olympians Patrick Chan, Ian Miller and Catriona Le May Doan, Rogers Sportsnet reporters Daren Millard and Martine Gaillard, TSN SportsCentre co-anchor Jennifer Hedger and longtime Hockey Night In Canada announcer Bob Cole.

"At the time, my first taste of contract negotiation was the labour management course at Queen's," Kerr recalls. "Up until the first year of my MBA, I had never worked harder at anything in my life."

Kerr describes his Queen's years as formative for his business prowess. Though he studied economics and sociology during undergrad at the great rival Western, "When people say, ‘Where did you go to school?' My first answer is always ‘Queen's,'" he says.

After graduation, Kerr worked at industrial gasses supplier Air Liquide Canada and Ford Canada before his auspicious start with IMG in 1983. Just one year later, Kerr was running the agency's Toronto office. He left IMG to start Landmark in 1987, a rocky beginning that involved out of his living room and often, surreptitiously, the lobby of the swanky Four Seasons Hotel.

"There was a bank of pay phones, and I'd have a whack of quarters to make calls and I'd spend half a day just sitting on the couches," he recalls with a laugh. "I'm surprised no one ever asked me to leave."

Landmark opened its first office in downtown Toronto two years later, landing clients like one-time Toronto Blue Jays players Jesse Barfield and Kelly Gruber.

Kerr, a longtime Mississauga resident, moved Landmark's office to the city seven years ago to cut out the commute and juggle life as a single father with his 8-year-old twins, Jamie and Kerrin – named after Canadian Olympic gold medal downhill skier Kerrin Lee-Gartner, one of Kerr's early clients.

His latest effort is trying to revive the fortunes of the Mississauga Steelheads OHL hockey franchise, a team he bought in 2012 with the goal of boosting attendance from an average of 2,000 to 5,000 fans per game: "I want to fill the building; I want to have scalpers out front," he says.

Nearly 40 years after leaving Queen's, Kerr credits the MBA program with teaching him to embrace the team effort mentality – a "blend of talents," he calls it – that makes a successful business tick.

There's a motto Kerr uses at Landmark to describe how he nurtures his employees: "Empower, trust and build," he says. "You empower them, you trust them to do it, and your business will build itself."