…My father telling me to “be humble” all my life. When I was an overconfident eight-year-old boy, I came home bragging about something I did better than a friend, and he quickly shut me down, told me to be humble and to never brag again. He said being overconfident is a sign of weakness and you never know — you could have nothing tomorrow. That was an early life lesson that has stuck with me since then.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Donald Sun, managing partner of the Association of Volleyball Professionals (AVP), which runs the premier and longest running domestic pro beach volleyball tour in the world. Now going into its 36th year, Sun took over the household brand in 2012 after previous mismanagement of the brand, which drove the company into bankruptcy and abruptly left the best players in the world without a home. Now in its seventh year under Donald’s watch, the AVP has again found its way back to the top, once again providing a platform for one of the most popular Olympic sports in the United States on both the pro tour side as well as investing in the future stars of the sport through its grassroots programs. With strategic partnerships with the likes of NBC, Amazon Prime Video, increasing events and sponsors each year and more, the AVP continues to fulfilling their promise for the sustainability of beach volleyball for generations to come.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you share an interesting story about how you ended up where you are in your career?
I started my career at Kingston Technologies after watching my father grow the company from humble beginnings to what it is today. After 15 years there, it was time for me to gain other experiences and the opportunity to take over the AVP presented itself while I was at a school function for my kids. I have followed the AVP all my life as a volleyball player myself and I’ve been so lucky to work in a sport that I am personally so passionate about.
Can you share a story about funniest mistake you made when you first started? What lesson do you take out of that?
Well, I’m not sure how funny this is but when I first decided to take over the AVP, I went into it not knowing much more than the fact that I loved volleyball, that it sounded like a fun business to be in, and that I had idealistic hopes and goals. However, my team and I were so nervous for our first event in Cincinnati in 2012 that I almost didn’t get on the plane because I was so freaked out. I couldn’t eat, sleep or anything. The pressure of succeeding and all of the attention that was on me to bring back this household name was a huge responsibility. Well of course, it ended up being a good event and here we are seven years later.
The lesson there is that you just take the punches and roll with it. Since then, I’ve learned what really is a big deal and what is not. Things out of my control such as weather issues, I’ve had to learn to roll with it. It’ll never be perfect and things won’t go our way 100 percent of the time, but all you can do is do best you can. I’m proud to say that we have continued to grow as a company and the events continue to grow bigger and better every single year.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
Between four kids, the AVP and aside from playing volleyball, I don’t have much time for anything else extra. But I’m really excited about the direction of the volleyball eco system in general — from our grassroots level all the way to the pro tour. The well-being of the sport and the AVP brand are in a healthier place than it was seven years ago when I took it over and we continue to head in the right direction.
What would you advise to a young person who aspires to follow your footsteps and emulate your career? What advice would you give?
Do your due diligence and research, and have passion for what you’re doing. Most of the time, it is not going to go 100 percent your way. Persevere to make that path for yourself and roll with the punches. You really have to have a runway — emotional, physical and financial — no matter if it’s a new idea, a start up, or business — it all takes time and fortitude to flourish. You also have to have guts and believe in what you’re doing and that it’s the right thing to do.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Our goal is to bring entertainment to the masses. We all have such busy lives and it can really be stressful at times. If we can help lighten anyone’s load so that they forget their troubles for a few hours or minutes by being at our events — that’s the positivity that we can bring. We also strive to encourage a healthy, active lifestyle and getting people outside of the house. It’s easy to do and not expensive. We are also at the same time giving the sport of beach volleyball a platform where it is accessible for anyone to watch the best volleyball players compete on the pro tour, whether live, on Amazon Prime Video or NBC, and we are also expanding participation through all of our grassroots programs for the future generation of beach volleyball as well.
Is there a particular person that made a profound difference in your life to whom you are grateful? Can you share a story?
My father has been that person for me. One of the greatest lessons was and still is watching him run a successful business with the utmost respect and kindness for his team. He lives simply and has a very open-minded philosophy that has worked for him and that I buy into.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
My father telling me to “be humble” all my life. When I was an overconfident eight-year-old boy, I came home bragging about something I did better than a friend, and he quickly shut me down, told me to be humble and to never brag again. He said being overconfident is a sign of weakness and you never know — you could have nothing tomorrow. That was an early life lesson that has stuck with me since then.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each)
1. Always do your due diligence and research thoroughly before you jump into anything. I don’t have any regrets but I came into this business with idealistic projections and expectations for myself. It took a long time to know who I could trust, who I should be in business and how to build a strong, dependable and passionate team who has my back.
2. Whatever projections you may have, discount that projected success by 50% or more. Things are not going to go 100 percent your way so you have to be flexible, especially in the first few years of business. Yes, you want to shoot for the stars but curb those expectations.
3. You don’t know what you don’t know. Make sure to hire the right key staff to take care of business. You can’t be an expert in every single little thing, so find the right team with the same drive and enthusiasm that is dedicated to you and your company.
4. In the beginning, be cautious who you go into business with. If you don’t do your homework, the wrong people will see you as fresh blood and try to take advantage of your naiveté. Many genuinely want to help but most see a paycheck. Their motivations will not always be altruistic.
5. It’s like playing golf. You have to remember to look up once in awhile — don’t just stare at the ground. Embrace your surroundings and enjoy the ride. If you make a mistake, own it and move on. You made the choice to be where you are so make most of it. Don’t live in misery and try to look on the bright side to live every minute with positivity by the choice you made.
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Originally published at medium.com