Even as an undergraduate student and All-American tennis player at Harvard University in the 1980s, Pacific-10 Conference Commissioner Larry Scott possessed what his former coach calls "emotional intelligence."
"There are so many people out there who have great ideas, but they can't seem to get things done because they tick people off," said Dave Fish, the men's tennis coach at Harvard for the past 35 years. "What I've always respected in Larry is he seems to move things forward without everyone kind of digging in their heels. He gets people on the same page."
But not even Fish could have imagined what the 46-year-old Scott, who lives in Danville with his wife and three children, would get done in less than two decades in sports administration.
In early May, just two years after the Pac-10 lured him away from his job as CEO and chairman of the Women's Tennis Association, Scott orchestrated a media contract with ESPN and Fox worth $2.7 billion over 12 years. It's the biggest TV deal in college sports history and works out to an average of more than $18 million per year for each of the schools in the recently expanded conference.
"Who thinks at that level?" Fish said of the new TV deal.
This wasn't the first time Scott had managed to get record numbers from one of his negotiating sessions. During six years as CEO and chairman of the WTA tour, Scott negotiated a record $88 million sponsorship deal with Sony Ericsson and helped women get equal prize money at Wimbledon and the French Open for the first time.
"He was phenomenal for us," said tennis icon Billie Jean King. "I knew what they got. I was really upset we lost him. I remember thinking, 'Wait until he gets in. They have no idea. This guy is going to make it so much better.' Then, 'ka-boom!' "
Scott had a modest three-year career playing professional tennis, highlighted perhaps by a first-round Wimbledon victory over Danville native Greg Holmes in 1987. Then Scott went to work for the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) men's tour, running its office in Sydney.
Scott credits his Harvard education for his success.
"It prepared me to think and analyze," he said.
But it's his collaborative leadership style that also makes it work. Scott calls himself a good listener and voracious reader. He surrounds himself with smart people and encourages their ideas. He borrows from other industries.
Scott spent his first 100 days with the Pac-10 mostly outside its Walnut Creek office, touring each campus and soliciting the thoughts of more than 100 people.
"I tend to test-drive and bounce ideas off people," he said. "I always think a group can improve an idea."
Cybille, his French-born wife of 13 years, said her husband's method of distilling ideas is different from anything she has seen.
"He's almost an artist in a way," she said. "He comes up with an idea and it kind of branches out like a tree."
After living in Monaco, London and Florida, the family is settling comfortably in the East Bay.
"It's been great," said Scott, who noted the family has found time for skiing in Tahoe and for trips to Yosemite, Carmel and Napa.
Scott said his career is more an accident than part of a long-range plan, but it fulfilled a need when his playing days ended. "My competitive juices got satisfied through trying to grow the enterprise," he said of his work with the ATP.
As top man for the WTA tour, Scott said he was inspired to continue the work King began.
"She invented women's sports," he said. "A lot of what I did at the WTA, I felt like I was a steward for her vision."
Andrew Walker, chief marketing officer for the WTA and a Stanford graduate, said Scott "is one of the few guys I've met who can do everyone's job and do it better than they can."
Even so, Walker said Scott utilizes others, as he did when making a closing pitch to Wimbledon officials on the subject of equal prize money.
"He got Venus Williams to come to one of the critical meetings the day before the (2005) Wimbledon final," Walker said. "She was playing the next day. That's unheard of."
In the Pac-10, university leaders had a sense of the changes that were needed, but they had no tangible vision of how to get there. Scott presented them with aggressive and creative ideas that led to a TV revenue stream more than three times the existing amount.
Before that he led the charge to expand the conference. On July 1, it will officially become the Pacific-12 Conference, with the addition of the University of Colorado and the University of Utah.
Cal athletic director Sandy Barbour, a member of the search committee for the new commissioner, said Scott has a reputation for innovation and marketing. "Those were some things we were looking for as a conference to step up our game," she said. "He's certainly delivered on those."
Scott believes the new TV contract "saved sports" and can help relieve financial pressures across the campuses
The TV package, which will go into effect in August 2012, will feature the yet-to-be created Pac-12 network and digital network, for which the conference is holding talks with the likes of Google and YouTube. Every football and men's basketball game will be available on one of the platforms, and women's basketball and the Olympic sports also will have greater visibility.
Scott doesn't anticipate the chance to exhale anytime soon. He recently "planted seeds" with university leaders about exploring Pac-12 relationships in areas beyond sports. He envisions the conference extending its reach and building its brand overseas, particularly in Asia.
King doesn't doubt for a moment what Scott can achieve.
"Look what he's already done in a short time," she said. "Everything he touches, he makes it better for everyone, provides more opportunities for everyone. He's really good with the vision and he knows how to get it done."
Hometown: Born in Long Island, N.Y.; lives in Danville
Education: Graduated from Harvard University in 1986 with a degree in European history
Professional: Played three years on the men's ATP professional tennis tour. Worked for the ATP for more than a decade. Was CEO and chairman of the WTA women's tennis tour for six years. Hired as Pacific-10 commissioner in 2009, working out of its Walnut Creek office
Family: Wife Cybille and children Alexander, 10, Sebastien, 9, and Alannah, 7
Quote: "The thing I'm most proud of was getting equal prize money for women (beginning in 2007) at Wimbledon and the French Open. It was a big deal with implications beyond the realm of a sport."