Dallas Mavericks’ owner, Mark Cuban, makes headlines for speaking critically on all subjects, from poor refereeing and NBA league mandates to the economy and the state of education. And, while most owners wear suits and watch home games from a suite, Cuban sports a t-shirt and jeans from his seat behind the home bench. It’s these oddities coupled with his willingness to talk straight with the media that makes him so intriguing. But a completely different reason landed him on the Forbes 400 with a $2.5 billion net worth.

Mark Cuban doesn’t rest on his laurels or sit on his money. From Broadcast.com and the Dallas Mavericks to Landmark Theatres and Magnolia Pictures, he’s dabbled in most everything. The outspoken Mavs owner is able to win in business because he applies successful methods to different industries. Just as important, he puts in the time and effort to understand each business venture and its underlying foundation. How else can someone create a dot com site that sells for almost $6 billion, lead a film distribution company, own a basketball team valued eighth highest in the league, all while putting personal time and investment dollars into numerous startups—some a result of deals made while appearing on ABC’s Shark Tank? Cuban does it with hustle and an attention to detail that’s lost on many of us today. In an interview with Entrepreneur he says as much when asked about the key to success: “Busting your ass. It’s not about money or connections—it’s the willingness to outwork and outlearn everyone when it comes to your business…” In his eBook, How to Win at the Sport of Business, Cuban says that one thing we can all control is effort. He believes that people should put in the time to become an expert in whatever you’re doing and that it gives you an advantage because most people don’t do it. What seems like simple advice is easier said than done but Cuban does it time and again. Since purchasing the Mavericks in 2000 he has struck the right balance between active ownership and hands off leadership. His interest in analytics has made the basketball team a leader in the field and his knowledge of the digital space keeps the team on the cutting edge of ticketing, website design and more. While Mark Cuban is involved in the team’s direction, no one will ever compare him to Jerry Jones, another Dallas team owner that can’t leave personnel management to the experts. Before Cuban invests in a company he asks the founder some difficult questions—where did you come from, where are you going and how exactly will you get there? He assesses the person’s drive to succeed—is it your sole focus or a side hobby? The queries often invoke emotional responses; he needs to make sure the owners will live and die with their business. But, ultimately, the decision is fact-based because those details—sales, projections, margin, process, cost—tell how the story will end.

Mark Cuban isn’t an Ivy League graduate; he doesn’t even have a master’s degree. The Indiana University educated, serial entrepreneur built his empire on effort, attitude and good sense. Consider the same approach as you navigate the sports industry waters. Whether you’re an assistant coach, scout, accountant or marketing manager, never coast on your abilities. Learn the ins-and-outs of your job, then become an expert in your manager’s job so you’re ready to fill in and eventually replace him. If you manage people, shadow each of them so you comprehend their procedures and processes; that’s the only way you’ll strategically improve the department. Understand the numbers. In business—sports or otherwise—it comes back to the bottom line. Talk to accountants and other financial experts within the company, familiarizing yourself with a basic Profit and Loss Statement, invoice documents and billing processes. It allows you to see the organization from a different angle and be in line with the goals of top management. Become an industry expert. While it’s paramount to grasp your own responsibilities, the path to leadership requires knowledge found beyond the four walls of your office. When you find a few minutes of spare time at work, don’t spend it perusing Facebook. Read about competitors—another sports marketing company, cross-town team rival or new apparel design shop—to find an edge. What are they doing that your team should try out? Do you see a flaw in their structure that, when reflected upon, also exists when you look in the mirror? So few employees are industry experts, executive leadership is tasked with that responsibility. When you’re able to speak knowledgeably about the broader industry, your leaders will start paying attention.

These are just a few examples to illustrate a point that people like Mark Cuban has made for decades. Brains and eloquence are important. But a willingness to learn the details, ask tough questions and, as Cuban says, bust your ass really makes you shine.

By Niral Patel

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