Three months into his new role as SVP, Head of Marketing at Madison Square Garden Sports (MSG), Adam Laitsas (MBA 2016) looked out from his office onto a place that is equal parts inspiring and familiar.

For three years, Laitsas regularly walked into this same building and onto the court as a Division I college basketball player at St. John’s University. He then pivoted his career path into investment banking, corporate strategy, and management consulting before circling back to the game he loves. Now at MSG, Laitsas is looking forward to bringing all he has learned in his career to date to this new role and making an impact on the sports industry from the front office.

Posting Up on Wall Street

Sports have been a part of Laitsas’ life for as long as he can remember. Growing up in the inner city of Los Angeles, Laitsas was always into athletics, and he picked up basketball at an early age under the encouragement and coaching of his uncle. When his uncle passed away, basketball served as a way to keep his memory alive and propelled a drive for Laitsas to succeed.

Laitsas’ hard work in the classroom and on the court landed him a place at St. John’s University where he spent three years on the men’s basketball team and earned his Bachelor’s Degree in finance. While at St. John’s, Laitsas loved stepping onto the court at Madison Square Garden in New York City, a place he describes as “the Mecca of sports.” At the same time, he found himself drawn to finance and was active in seeking out Investment Banking internships that paved the way to his first full-time Investment Banking Analyst role at UBS Investment Bank.

After UBS, Laitsas spent five more years in investment banking, culminating in a Vice President, Investment Banking role at Loop Capital Markets. Then there came an inflection point. Laitsas found that he had learned a great deal from investment banking but didn’t see himself in the industry long-term. As a way to hit the reset button on his career path, Laitsas turned his attention towards obtaining his MBA at Harvard Business School.

The Development of a Well-Rounded Player

At HBS, Laitsas translated his love for sports into the business of sports and a world of opportunities he didn’t know existed. “You don’t know what you don’t know,” Laitsas shared. “I didn’t know there were opportunities in the sports industry, so I took the chance to peek under the hood and meet as many people as possible.”

Joining the Business of Sports Club was one piece of the puzzle that connected Laitsas with other students passionate about the industry. He was active in connecting with professors and alumni who were, and still are to this day, important connections, friends, and mentors who have helped him to build his career. Professors Anita Elberse and Joshua Margolis were Laitsas’ professors in the classroom and have become trusted advisors. HBS alum and fellow basketball player, Dan Sunwoo (MBA 2014) also helped connect Laitsas to his first role in the sports industry, a Corporate Strategy internship at Nike.

“I was excited about Corporate Strategy because it was a role that would allow me to come into an organization and see the most across various functions,” Laitsas recalled. “In my internship I reported to the CFO of North America and worked on the strategic plan for the North American market.”

Upon his return to HBS for his second year, Laitsas reflected on his experience at Nike and was strategic with his next moves. “I thought ‘How do I make myself more impactful for Nike or other brands? Let me do something different,’” he said. With that mindset, he pursued an international opportunity as a Management Consultant for Kearney in London. This role allowed him to dive deeply into marketing strategy, brand partnerships, retail, and top-line transformation while obtaining an international perspective he knew would be valuable back in the US in the sports industry.

Bringing His Skills Back to the Court

After a little more than a year in the UK, the sports industry came calling for Laitsas yet again and he returned to the US. The Head of the North America Basketball Business Unit at Adidas was the exact right position for a professional who was gearing his career towards general management and loved the game of basketball.

Overseeing P&L, strategy, finance, merchandising, marketing, and social purpose further developed Laitsas’ general manager skills and he began seeing opportunities to transition to the team or league side of the sports industry. “I was in that world, meeting with various stakeholders” he shared. “I thought maybe I could do this at some point when I found the right opportunity. I get excited about the brands, but it’s a different level of passion with the teams.”

Laitsas’ success at Adidas made him well known in the sports industry and he was named to Portland Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 in 2020 as a next executive to watch. The role at MSG overseeing marketing for the Knicks, Rangers, Counter Logic Gaming, Westchester Knicks, and Knicks Gaming was the ideal fit, and a dream opportunity to work with two of the most storied teams in all of sports.

Looking ahead towards the future of his new role, Laitsas is looking forward to creating innovative ways to engage with fans and build on the incredible brands within the MSG Sports umbrella. At the same time, the unknown surrounding the pandemic continues. In addition to competition for audiences, both in terms of other live events and the increasing popularity of in-home experiences since 2020. Clearly, there will be challenges and opportunities in the year ahead, but Laitsas is ready to face them head on.

Advice for Future Sports Industry Leaders

The business of sports is a business that Laitsas loves, and he knows there are other passionate professionals ready to make their mark on the industry. There are a limited number of roles though and he knows quite well the challenges people face to break in. Therefore, to these students and alumni dedicated to a career in sports, Laitsas shared the following advice in a sports inspired metaphor.

“Run your own race,” he said. “No one path is the same, it’s not linear. Speak with people who are in positions you want to be in so you can understand what it takes to get there. Not necessarily a line of specific jobs, but the skills you’ll need to acquire.” This strategy was highly effective for Laitsas as he continually looked ahead to determine how and where he could develop the skills needed to positively contribute.

His next piece of advice is closely related. “Network, network, network,” Laitsas said. “People in this business remember the grind, I remember the grind. As long as you do it in a respectful way people will be willing to take the time to speak with you about their experience.” Search the alumni directory, connect with likeminded individuals, and put yourself out there to make yourself known within the world of sports.

Breaking into the sports industry is just the beginning though, and Laitsas also shared advice for succeeding in your role. “Be humble and ask a lot of questions,” he recommended. “In this field you’ll find people who have been in their roles for 10, 15, 20 years. There is always something you can learn from them – be a sponge.”

Furthermore, live the principles of servant leadership to understand your team and empower them. “My team will get it to the 10 yard-line,” Laitsas said in true sports professional form, “and I’m there asking, ‘How can I help you punch it into the end zone?’”

This article was originally published on the HBS Career and Professional Development blog.