LEIGH STEINBERG, THE MOST POWERFUL AGENT IN SPORTS, TELLS FREE AGENTS IN THE BUSINESS WORLD HOW TO NEGOTIATE GREAT DEALS -- AND HOW TO DEAL WITH THEIR FEAR OF NEGOTIATION.
BY ALAN M. WEBBER
It was the phrase of 1997: "Show me the money!" And though the words came from the movie Jerry Maguire, they originated in the world of Leigh Steinberg, agent to the sports élite, who was the model for Tom Cruise's character and whose office memorabilia doubled as that of the movie's fictional agent. Steinberg, 49, has been negotiating high-profile, high-stakes contracts for 24 years -- ever since he stumbled onto the field of sports law by helping out Steve Bartkowski, a fellow University of California graduate who became the top NFL draft pick in 1975. Bartkowski landed what was then the richest rookie contract ever -- $650,000 for four years -- and Steinberg began his career as a sports lawyer.
Now Steinberg's firm, Steinberg & Moorad, represents more than 100 athletes and negotiates multimillion-dollar deals for such clients as Troy Aikman, Steve Young, HYPERLINK "http://www.fastcompany.com/person/drew-bledsoe" Drew Bledsoe, Warren Moon, and Ryan Leaf. Sensing the growth of the free-agent market in the business world, Steinberg is now exploring ways to expand his practice to include negotiating on behalf of the talent that companies need to attract. As a lawyer and a businessman, Steinberg is involved in several high-tech ventures, including Interplay Productions Inc. (a video-game publisher), MotionVision Inc. (which sells sports trading cards that show athletes in action via digitized video), and EastSport (which puts sports programming on the Web).
What distinguishes Steinberg's sports-representation practice, however, is his approach to negotiation. To Steinberg, negotiations are a part of everyday life, and they need to be handled with a clear focus and a principled philosophy: "The goal," he says, "is not to destroy the other side. The goal is to find the most profitable way to complete a deal that works for both sides." Steinberg insists that his clients look at their negotiations, and at their athletic careers, not just as tests of talent but as tests of character as well. He also encourages them to "give back" part of their huge paychecks to their community -- by establishing foundations or by contributing to causes.
In the recently published Winning with Integrity: Getting What You're Worth Without Selling Your Soul (Random House, 1998, written with Michael D'Orso), Steinberg lays out his philosophy of business, his approach to negotiating, and his techniques for achieving positive results. To find out how you can get people to show you the money, Fast Company interviewed Steinberg in his office in Newport Beach, California.
EVERYONE IS A NEGOTIATOR
We're always negotiating, every day of our lives and in every kind of situation -- whether it's a boyfriend and girlfriend deciding which movie to see, a husband and wife deciding which city to live in, a customer looking to buy an automobile, or an employee trying to get a raise. We all negotiate. But many of us still have a fundamental fear of negotiation. That fear can make us act meek and obsequious -- which means that we're likely to end up with our goals unmet. Or it can make us behave aggressively and angrily -- which could break down the discussion altogether. Anybody can learn to negotiate. There is no magic. There are no mirrors. What you need is an understanding of human psychology and an open mind. You need to be able to listen and to have respect for the other person in the negotiation. You don't need to be the stereotypical tough guy. You need to look at negotiations as a process that can be exciting, as an opportunity to improve your condition or to enhance your situation, rather than as a terrifying confrontation.
FIRST, NEGOTIATE WITH YOURSELF
The first key step is introspection. You need the clearest possible