A lifelong athlete and sports fan, Justin Hoeveler, WG’17, was named CEO of US Sports Camps (USSC) in the middle of a pandemic – when the company completely shut down its summer sports camps.
“Shutting down all revenue channels obviously created sustainability challenges for us. Fortunately, we found a great new capital partner in Roark Capital, and we hit the ground running for our 2021 season shortly after,” explained Justin.
He credits Wharton for giving him the confidence and aptitude to source, manage, and ultimately close the deal with the company’s new private equity partner. “My Wharton coursework allowed me to communicate my vision for USSC in a way that our new partners would enthusiastically support,” he said. “Since then, I have put my MBA experience to the test to lead the company, not only in getting back on our feet, but in our pursuit of higher performance and growth.”
Finding the Right Fit in Sports Business
Growing up in California, Justin was passionate about sports. Playing “all of them” as a kid, he focused on tennis and basketball in college at Northwestern University and then landed his “dream” job at Priority Sports & Entertainment, a sports agency in Chicago. While he enjoyed the experience of working with professional athletes and witnessing them realize their dreams, he ultimately found the “agent life” unfulfilling.
Justin returned to the Bay Area and started his journey at US Sports Camps, a family business started by his father 47 years ago. “I felt some reluctance in joining the family business, but after a few weeks I fell in love with the company and its mission of connecting young athletes with great coaches to foster athletic and personal development. I also saw tremendous opportunities for growth,” he said.
How Wharton Adds Value
Justin didn’t necessarily need an MBA to succeed in his family’s business, but he wanted to continue his educational and developmental journey. He explained, “I loved working at US Sports Camps, but I also needed a more formal business education to achieve my vision for the company and build credibility. I knew there was a chance I would be in a leadership position some day, and I wanted to be prepared.”
Looking at EMBA programs, Wharton stood out for its strong brand and academic rigor. “I needed to develop stronger corporate finance muscles and further evolve my management approach. Wharton provided the best opportunity to achieve this.”
He noted that Wharton’s EMBA program added value in many ways. A few examples include:
“The entrepreneurship classes helped me identify a new opportunity in esports. The rise of competitive gaming was — and continues to be — a phenomenon that can’t be ignored. Though USSC had never meaningfully committed to the promotion of non-sports activities, I thought that our model would be a nice fit in this growing space, and I also thought we could really have a positive impact on youth training habits. Wharton’s commitment to a comprehensive entrepreneurship curriculum was a valuable resource as I pushed forward on this new venture.”
“A big part of my job as CEO involves communications. As a company, we are still trying to navigate the fear and impact of COVID-19 in youth sports and appropriately address parental concerns around health and safety at camp. Internally, we have a team that has been grinding for 10 straight months to make camps happen this summer. I frequently think back to my communications classes at Wharton, specifically some of the cases where corporate communications failed. Messaging really matters and I’m grateful for the formal training at Wharton.”
In transitioning from employee to CEO, I frequently think about leadership and influence. I think about how Prof. Cade Massey dissected the ways in which Robert Moses built incredible influence in New York City to reshape the landscape in his own vision. Moses was polarizing but effective. The Wagner Dodge example from the Mann Gulch fire also stands out. I wish I could take that class again!”
“I took every M&A class offered related to both the soft and hard skills needed for success. A big part of my role today involves M&A and I often refer back to my M&A projects with Prof. Harbir Singh and Prof. Bulent Gultekin to shape how we identify synergies, plan integration, and value targets, etc.”
Why Wharton is Worth It
When asked if Wharton’s EMBA program was worth it, Justin said: “Yes! You will invest in yourself in many ways during your life and you will not regret this investment. If you have the work ethic and support from your employer, then this is the best model to pursue for an MBA. You won’t disrupt your career, and you are learning with and from classmates who are experienced, knowledgeable, and passionate. When you arrive on campus on Friday morning, the energy is inspiring. Everyone is fully engaged.”
He added, “It’s the best way to set yourself up to identify new career opportunities, build confidence, and make an amazing network and life-long friendships.”
— By Meghan Laska
Posted: October 4, 2021