Arts, Entertainment & Sports
Entertainment through arts, athletics, motorsports and many other cultural activities has a big collective financial impact in North Carolina. Leaders in the sector include perhaps the greatest basketball player of all time and the only person inducted in both the NASCAR and Pro Football halls of fame.
CEO | North Carolina FC Youth
An All-American soccer player at Lander University in Greenwood, S.C., before getting his master’s degree in sports management from East Tennessee State University, Buete joined NCFC Youth in 2014. With more than 13,000 players, it’s the country’s largest youth-to-professional club.
tournament director | Wyndham Championship
In his 20 years working on the men’s professional golf tournament, Brazil’s toughest challenge came last year, when COVID-19 kept spectators away. But he persevered, preserving its spot on the PGA Tour’s abbreviated schedule and retaining its biggest sponsors, Wyndham and Truist. Born and raised in Asheville, he is a graduate of Baylor University and received the J.R. “Digger” Smith Award in 2019, junior golf’s highest honor.
owner | Richard Childress Racing
Childress, 75, founded his stock-car racing team in 1969. The Winston-Salem native did it all, including driving, the first 12 years. While Ricky Rudd gave the team its first NASCAR win in 1983, it was Dale Earnhardt, upon returning to the team in 1984 after driving for Childress in a few races in 1981, who brought the most success, including six championships. The team has 400 members and fields three cars, two in NASCAR’s Cup series and one in its XFINITY series. He was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2017. In 2004, he started Childress Vineyards near Lexington. It has become one of the state’s biggest wineries.
athletic director | N.C. State University
Corrigan was hired in 2009 after holding the same title at the U.S. Military Academy. The Notre Dame and Virginia Commonwealth University graduate leads a 23-team program that has about $90 million in annual revenue and more than 200 full-time employees.
athletic director | UNC Chapel Hill
Since the Notre Dame graduate arrived in 2011, UNC Chapel Hill Tar Heels have won 13 national titles. Cunningham joined the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Committee last year, and the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics named him its 2019-20 AD of the Year. Before the pandemic, UNC athletics had annual revenue of more than $107 million.
CEO | Blumenthal Performing Arts
Named CEO in 2003, Gabbard manages 110 employees and six Queen City theaters, which host more than 1,000 performances most years. Closed since May 2020 because of the pandemic, the organization is promoting its 2021-22 PNC Broadway Lights Series. He earned an MBA in arts management from Golden Gate University and was invited to join the COVID-19 Theatre Think Tank last year, helping the industry meet the challenges spawned by the pandemic.
owner | Joe Gibbs Racing
Gibbs, 80, is the only person to be inducted into both the Pro Football Hall of Fame and NASCAR Hall of Fame. He coached the NFL’s Washington Redskins from 1981 to 1992 and 2004 to 2007 and won three Super Bowls. He started his racing team in 1992. It currently fields four Cup Series teams and four XFINITY Series teams. Gibbs’ drivers have won five Cup Series championships.
president | Carolina Panthers
Since being hired in 2018, Glick has been busy, updating Bank of America Stadium, starting a team headquarters in Rock Hill, S.C., and organizing Charlotte’s new Major League soccer team. The Cornell University graduate was an executive for top U.S. and English soccer teams from 2008-18.
chairman, CEO | Hendrick Automotive Group
owner | Hendrick Motorsports
His company is the country’s largest privately held automotive retail organization with 93 dealerships and 21 collision centers in 13 states. He’s also a legendary racing leader with more than 260 NASCAR Cup Series wins and 13 championships to his teams’ credit since 1984. Hendrick, 71, was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2017 and Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 2020. The Warrenton native also co-owns JR Motorsports with Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kelly Earnhardt Miller.
First job: Working on my family’s tobacco farm in Palmer Springs, Va.
Employer’s distinction: I’ve never seen a business with unhappy employees and happy customers. We believe people are our No. 1 asset, and the company’s commitment to our teammates has an overwhelmingly positive impact on customers. Communication, recognition, teamwork, giving back to our communities — they all contribute to a strong culture.
North Carolina’s challenge: Controlling the pandemic
Favorite passions: Spending time with family, deep-sea fishing, and collecting cars and music memorabilia
Person you admire: My dad. Nearly all of the lessons that I’ve applied to our business were learned from him on the farm.
Favorite music: Country
Something surprising: I trained to be a tool-and-die maker.
director | North Carolina Museum of Art
Hillings, 49, joined the museum in 2018 after 14 years with the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Foundation in New York City. She is a graduate of Duke University and earned a Ph.D. from New York University.
Employer’s distinction: The museum is a public-private partnership between state government and a nonprofit foundation.
North Carolina’s challenge: Supporting the health of residents
Best advice: My mother, citing my grandfather, said to never give up. I have thought about this regularly during the past year.
Something surprising: As a teenager, I aspired to work at MTV because its music videos combined visual, musical and performative aspects to tell a story.
chairman | Charlotte Hornets
Jupiter, Fla., and Charlotte
The basketball star and team owner won a national championship at UNC Chapel Hill and six as a Chicago Bull in the NBA. Jordan, 58, this year donated $10 million to Novant Health to help open two clinics in Wilmington, where he grew up. In 2010, he became the first former NBA player to own a majority stake in a team.
First job: Maintenance at the El-Berta Motor Inn in Wilmington while I was in high school. I made minimum wage of $3.10 an hour.
Favorite passions: Golf and fishing. I’ve played golf for almost 40 years, and I still love it. Fishing is still new to me.
People you admire: It’s hard to put into words how much I admire my parents, James and Deloris Jordan. Their hard work and commitment to family made them tremendous examples for my brothers, sisters and me.
executive vice president | NASCAR
O’Donnell, 52, worked his way up from the marketing department, where he started almost 25 years ago. He learned about NASCAR while studying at Rollins College, not far from the racing organization’s Daytona, Fla., headquarters. NASCAR’s 2021 Cup schedule features the most new tracks since the 1960s.
commissioner | Atlantic Coast Conference
In February the former Northwestern athletic director succeeded John Swofford, who led the league for 24 years as it expanded to 15 teams from nine. The University of Illinois graduate has a doctorate in educational administration from the University of Tennessee. The conference had revenue of $455 million in 2019, including TV contracts of $288 million.
chairman | Teall Capital
Sutton, 63, founded ISP Sports in 1993, then he sold the company to IMG College in 2010. Seven years later, he started Teall Investments, a private-equity firm that works with various businesses including Dyehard Fan Supply, an events merchandising company, and Sunshine Beverage, an energy drink maker.
First job: Selling Christmas cards door-to-door at age 8
Employer distinction: Our partners at Teall are all veteran, experienced entrepreneurs in the sports and entertainment space, not just investors. That experience and subject matter expertise in building companies to last in a segment we know well just adds so much value to our portfolio companies. To “see around corners” is an acquired discipline that only gets better with practice and repetition.
North Carolina’s challenge: Our public education system was already way behind and has not kept up. The gap with other Sunbelt states was exacerbated during the pandemic by politics and keeping our students out of in-person learning for most of a year. We have much work to do there.
Best advice: Dad told us that “there is no such thing as status quo. You’re either getting ahead or falling behind.” Hard work is paramount to success.
Favorite passion: Playing golf — rather poorly
Person you admire: John Wooden, who I consider to be the greatest coach in American sports history. I was privileged to know him and have learned so much in terms of leadership development from our conversations and his writings through the years. Every single principle he taught is applicable in building great cultures, teams and enterprises in business.
Decision you would change: I’m writing a book right now and would say that some, maybe most, of the best lessons I ever learned in life and as an entrepreneur were rooted in mistakes and/or failures. That’s how you get better.
Favorite recent book: Wine and the White House — an unapologetic plug for the author and my friend, Washington Post Publisher Fred Ryan
Favorite music: ‘70s and yacht rock
People don’t know: I travel to at least a dozen college campuses each year to lead conversations with students who are bombarded by messaging promoting collectivism on the morality of capitalism, the benefits of free enterprise and the American ideals of liberty and rugged independence.
owner | Carolina Panthers
Tepper, 63, expanded into sports ownership after earning billions at his Appaloosa Management hedge fund based in Miami Beach, Fla. He bought the NFL team in 2018 and paid $325 million for a pro soccer team. With an MBA from Carnegie Mellon University, he has a net worth of $14.5 billion, Forbes says.
executive vice president | EUE/Screen Gems Studios
After decades in television and radio, Vassar joined EUE/Screen Gems Studios about 15 years ago. Its 23 stages help make it among the East Coast’s largest full-service television and film production companies. Shooting has resumed after a pandemic-induced stoppage last year.
president, general manager | Carolina Hurricanes
Waddell is a Northern Michigan University graduate who played one game in the NHL. He started with the Hurricanes as president of team operator Gale Force Sports & Entertainment in 2014. He added general manager to his title in 2018.
president, vice chairman | Hornets Sports & Entertainment
Since joining the NBA team in 2006, Whitfield, 62, has led major changes, including rebranding as the Charlotte Hornets and hosting major tournaments and concerts at Spectrum Center. He is a Greensboro native and Campbell University graduate.
First job: Internal auditor for Burlington Industries
North Carolina’s challenge: Returning fans and patrons to live indoor sports and entertainment in a safe manner
Best advice: Coach Press Maravich encouraged me to attend law school.
Proud family accomplishment: My mom and dad earned master’s degrees from North Carolina A&T State University on the same day in 1960. That was a rarity for an African American couple.
Favorite passion: Nonprofits that I founded: Achievements Unlimited Basketball School and HoopTee Charities
People you admire: Nike founder Phil Knight for his leadership, innovation and creating a strong inclusive culture; NBA Commissioner Adam Silver for his calm, steady leadership through innumerable tough challenges
Favorite recent book: You Can’t Go Wrong Doing Right by Robert (Bob) J. Brown
president, CEO | U.S. National Whitewater Center
Wise, 57, has been a key force in building one of the state’s top tourist attractions since 2001. The Emory University School of Law graduate has worked as an attorney and for various startup companies.
First job: Cutting grass
North Carolina’s challenge: Managing growth in a balanced manner
Favorite passion: Riding bikes
Decision you would change: Countless times I did not hold my opinion to myself.
Favorite recent book: Churchill: A Study in Greatness by Geoffrey Best
Favorite music: Americana
Something surprising: I sing very loudly — and poorly — while in my car.