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A Conversation with Justin Gimelstob On Adapting Through Major Lifestyle Changes

Justin Gimelstob was born and raised in New Jersey where he grew up and excelled athletically and academically. Justin began playing tennis at the age of eight and immediately showed tremendous talent. He went on to have one of the most successful junior careers in American tennis history. Justin was a national champion in every […]

Justin Gimbelstob
Justin Gimbelstob

Justin Gimelstob was born and raised in New Jersey where he grew up and excelled athletically and academically. Justin began playing tennis at the age of eight and immediately showed tremendous talent. He went on to have one of the most successful junior careers in American tennis history. Justin was a national champion in every age group from 12 to 18. He won both the USTA National Boys’ 16 and 18 Championships. During his high school career at Newark Academy, he led the school’s tennis team to a 26–0 record and won the State’s Tournament of Champions. Years later, he was entered into the Newark Academy’s Hall of Fame.

In 1995, Gimelstob enrolled at UCLA with a focus on business and communications. After achieving the #1 ranking in singles and doubles, he also led UCLA to the #1 ranking and captured the 1996 NCAA Doubles Championships.  Gimelstob then turned professional. In 1998, Gimelstob won the Australian Open and French Open Mixed Doubles Championships with Venus Williams. He represented the USA in the Davis Cup in 1998 and 2001. Gimelstob competed on the ATP Tour for thirteen years, winning 17 Doubles titles and achieving career high rankings of #63 in singles and #18 in doubles. Justin had wins against many of the best players in the sport, including Andre Agassi, Pat Rafter, Lleyton Hewitt, Gustavo Kuerten, and Michael Chang.

Gimelstob retired in 2007 after losing his final match under the night lights of Arthur Ashe Stadium at the US OPEN against his good friend Andy Roddick. Justin immediately transitioned to every facet of sports business, including broadcasting, production, talent representation and brand management. Since 2014, he has coached and mentored the number one ranked American tennis player, John Isner, helping him achieve a career-high world ranking of #8 and reaching the 2018 Wimbledon semifinal and 2018 USOPEN quarterfinal.

Justin is passionate about philanthropy and is dedicated to the Justin Gimelstob Children’s Fund which has raised over $1 million for children’s focused causes. Gimelstob was recently honored for his charitable contributions by the Hope for Children Research Foundation as their 2020 Humanitarian of the Year.

Gimelstob has recently taken over his parents’ company after his father’s sudden passing. He is now the President of the Financial Benefits Research Group (FBR Group), a full-service insurance and financial management business.

Gimelstob is a proud father of his 6-year-old son, Brandon. They live in Brentwood, California.

What similarities do you find between sports and business?

I strongly believe there are so many skills and attributes that cross over from being a top athlete to a successful businessperson. Sports teaches you how to deal with success and failure. More specifically, team sports teach you how to work with others, lead and appreciate different roles. You learn to deal with stress, frustration, pain, and adversity… how to manage and maximize your time. The ability to set goals, work hard, and have discipline — physical, mental and emotional — are all essential to an athlete’s achievements. All of these skills are key ingredients to success in any field of business.

What do you love most about the industry you are in?

I just turned 43 and have been fortunate enough to have had many careers in all sectors of sports — both on and off the athletic field. I have enjoyed and learned from them all. I’ve grown and loved each incredible opportunity, experience and challenge. They all have certain commonalities and connectivity. I am a big believer that people of the utmost success are all outliers in their own way and that is something that has always resonated with me. From playing tennis to broadcasting to the financial industry, it is all about hard work, connecting with people and bringing value to those around you.

What keeps you motivated?

I have always been ambitious. I enjoy work. I love the result, but I crave the process.  When you find things, you are passionate about and surround yourself with good people, positive things generally happen. I enjoy learning, building, and growing. I also love people. I find the sociology and psychology of people fascinating. That’s one of the things about running a company I love most; the sense of responsibility to and for other people, and their families. It’s wanting to show my son what it takes to be successful — and that doesn’t mean just materialistically. It’s wanting to give him every opportunity to be better than me. I want to teach him and show him what hard work does so he becomes a good role model for himself and others. With the passing of my father, a huge source of motivation is wanting to honor what he built from the ground up more than 40 years ago. I want to innovate and further grow what he created, honor his legacy, and make him proud.

Where do you get your inspiration from?

With the passing of my father, a huge source of motivation and inspiration is wanting to honor what he built. FBR Group is a family company started more than 40 years ago. I want to innovate and grow what he built. To me, that is the best way to honor his legacy and make him proud.

Who has been a role model to you, and why?

My dad is everything to me — and I can’t use the past tense here because I do feel he is still here with me every day. He was a special person, very old school. His passing was beyond devastating. I lost my conscience, idol and best friend. My father was a complex person, but he led a simple life. He put all of his time and resources into the things he loved most: his family, his company and sports.

How do you maintain a solid work-life balance?

I don’t really like the word balance because inevitably certain aspects of your life will need more attention at different times. I direct my energy where it is needed most. After my divorce, I became a single dad. My professional responsibilities were still the same, but as a parent I was on my own. I didn’t have a nanny to help or a huge support system and my family was on the opposite coast. In hindsight, the initial struggles of this major life transition turned out to be one of my greatest blessings. It enabled me to develop an incredible and unbreakable bond with my son, Brandon. We went everywhere together — to the tennis court, the coach’s box and in the broadcast booth. In order to maximize my time with my son I had to change the way I lived my life both personally and professionally. This meant less travel for work, shortened trips and turning down opportunities. In 2016 I stopped coaching John Isner and passed on broadcasting the Olympics. Time is one thing we cannot buy, earn or get back. I had to choose between maintaining my same lifestyle or missing watching my son grow up. The choice was easy, and change was imminent. I used to spend more than 60% of the year on the road. Now I travel significantly less and only when I don’t have custodial time with Brandon. If I have to decide between coaching Brandon’s youth basketball game or attending a conference or event, I can guarantee you I will be at Brandon’s game. To me that’s priceless.

What traits do you possess that make a successful leader?

I believe my energy, passion and work ethic make me a successful leader. I genuinely enjoy and am fascinated with people. I also think in general people misconstrue confidence. Just because you’re confident doesn’t mean you are always going to win or be successful. It just means you fear losing less. I am not afraid of failure. For me, fear is fuel. I am committed to success and doing whatever necessary to achieve it. I’m also very inquisitive and I crave knowledge. I believe strongly that a good leader should never micromanage people. A good leader trusts their team and empowers them. A good leader gives people the freedom and confidence they need to do their job, while being there for support and guidance.

What is one piece of advice that you have never forgotten?

I have been very lucky that I have had incredible mentors throughout my career. A few things that have stuck with me and shaped my mentality are that most things in life have small margins. You need to fight for every inch to give yourself the best chance to be successful. Everything matters. It might not reveal itself right away, but always be conscious of ways to improve, build, and grow. Do everything possible to move the margin in your favor.

A lot of people like the glory, the success, the things success gives you. But you don’t get the glory without the work and sweat. Commit to the work and the process and good things will happen. The most important work is often done when nobody is looking.

Nothing is more important than being an excellent communicator. You have to be able to connect with people and be fluid and flexible with how you communicate and connect with people, because everyone is different.

I also just had a meeting with one of the most successful people in Sports Business. I asked him what he looks for when hiring someone. He said the two most important things he looks for in someone is their ability to get things done and bring value.

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