A former top-ranked college player in the early 90s for the University of Kansas, Carlos Fleming hung up his racket after a short-lived professional career, and wondered, what now?
Returning to his hometown in Cleveland, Fleming enrolled in a JD/MBA program at Case Western, and also sought any opportunity he could to meet people associated with IMG, the mega-agency conveniently headquartered nearby. Fleming’s informal networking eventually lead to a summer internship with the company in 1996, and he quickly proved his metal. Given the task of cold-calling companies to help secure a presenting sponsor for a women’s tennis tournament, Fleming called a contact of his at Procter & Gamble. Next thing he knew, he was sitting down at a table in Los Angeles helping to hammer out the deal’s details. Fleming later said that the experience convinced him of his potential to succeed in the industry. More importantly, however, it convinced some higher-ups at IMG to hire him after the summer was over. This kid produced, they reasoned. “The common thread for everyone who works in this industry is a willingness to hustle, a willingness to do whatever you have to do,” Fleming later said.
Fleming is now the Vice-President of Tennis at IMG, working with both Venus and Serena Williams, as well as acting as the primary agent for the likes of James Blake (whom he signed to the company when Blake was a rising star coming out of Harvard) and Alexandra Stevenson. In the past he has worked with Lindsay Davenport, Jennifer Capriati, Monica Seles, Mark Philippoussis and Pete Sampras as his clients. But it’s Blake who is perhaps Fleming’s most prized client, if not for Blake’s own courageous come back story, but also for his willingness to trust his gut when Fleming first began to recruit him. “All agents are working as hard as they can for your best interests, but some seem to know you a little better,” Blake confided. “I couldn’t have chosen a better agent than [Carlos]. He’s legitimately one of my best friends. He works hard, but he also works very honestly, and that’s something I appreciate.”
Like any enduring and successful agent, however, Fleming is constantly eyeing the future. That’s why Blake’s match Monday night in the U.S. Open against the 19-year old Donald Young, the former junior phenom and now up-and-coming professional, had to have been bittersweet. Young was once with IMG, a company that landed him lucrative deals with Nike and Head before he could even legally drive a car, and that fostered and nurtured a relationship with his family for all of his teenage years, helping them to relocate even so that they could be nearby the IMG-managed Tennis in Motion National Tennis Academy in Atlanta. But Young signed with Octagon last January, which in the world of tennis representation is like the Red Sox getting one from the Yankees. He has the look and the charisma (and the game?) to help maintain the game’s reach to valuable U.S. demographics in a sagging market always on the lookout for the next big (marketable) thing (i.e., a la Andre Agassi). IMG Tennis will survive without Young, obviously, but the loss was surely a blow to Fleming and his entire division. Time to start hustling again?