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Marvel, a giant of the comic book industry, bought Fleer, a leading trading card company, a year ago. Last summer, they tapped Bill Jemas from the NBA to be the strategist responsible for developing and marketing new sports and entertainment products. From what we can see, Jemas really knows how to play his cards.
9:00 AM BILL JEMAS BOUNDS INTO HIS OFFICE AND OFFERS A quick, firm, handshake. "Okay," says the energetic vice president of entertainment and business development at Fleer Corp., in Mount Laurel, New Jersey. "Where do you want to start?"
Before the question is answered, Jemas, who turned 36 on the day of our visit, begins with a quick synopsis of his background. He graduated from Rutgers College in New Brunswick, New Jersey, in 1980, where he majored in history and took minors in philosophy and economics. From there, he went to Harvard Law School, graduated in 1983, and took a job as a tax attorney at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett in New York.
Tax law turned out to be somewhat of a disappointment, so after two years he left the firm for a job at the National Basketball Association, joining fellow Rutgers graduate, commissioner David Stern. "Tax law didn't offer the kind of life I wanted," says Jemas, who gets up and sits down a couple of times while talking. "It seemed like the goal was to get into the corner office."
The NBA was different. It was entrepreneurial, and allowed him to manage a business and work on deals--two of the things he says he does best. "That's what I like to do," he says. "Get involved and manage growth."
In addition, the NBA gave him entry into the entertainment field. "I really wanted to do that," he says. "It seemed like it would be interesting and give me a chance to make a lot of money." Among his accomplishments at the NBA, says Jemas, was helping to build an almost non-existent basketball card business into a multimillion-dollar enterprise. "Hat for hat we were right there with baseball," he says. "But when it came to trading cards, no one cared [about the game of basketball]. We had nothing."
To change this, Jemas and others decided that they ad to reach basketball …