When the New York Giants
won two Super Bowls in 1986 and 1990, tight end Mark Bavaro played a pivotal role. Now he's just as important a sales team member for DesignCentrix, a design-and-build firm for the trade show industry. Many exhibit elements such as booths and elaborate displays are built by hand in the company's 60,000-square-foot facility in Elmhurst, Ill. DesignCentrix also rents furniture and handles lighting production for shows and technology for digital signs and kiosks.
"I was looking for a fresh start," Bavaro says of his switch from the financial world, where he spent many post-NFL years, to the convention world. When one of his Wall Street colleagues, Jerry Fitzgerald, went to work for his father, DesignCentrix owner Dennis Fitzgerald, Bavaro followed. "I enjoy representing a product you can touch and see and feel," Bavaro says.
M&C: You have been described as both really tough and really quiet. How do these traits serve you at DesignCentrix?
Mark Bavaro: I don't think the toughness relates, other than facing rejection from potential clients. You make your presentation and go from there, hoping you can connect and generate business.
As for being a quiet person, I'm good at listening to what the client needs and looking for synergy between us, rather than talking them to death, which isn't my strong suit.
M&C: How did you hook up with the trade-show design industry?
Bavaro: I worked with [DesignCentrix owner] Dennis Fitzgerald's son Jerry in the financial world a few years ago. He decided to work with his dad, and I was looking for a fresh start.
I wasn't a big fan of the Wall Street world. When I learned about Jerry's business, it sounded very interesting to me, very appealing. I visited their offices [and DesignCentrix's 60,000-square-foot facility for building exhibits, corporate interiors, kiosks and other displays] in Chicago, and I loved the atmosphere, the family feeling. I like seeing the cabinetmakers building. I enjoy representing a product you can touch and see and feel. They just build some great stuff. I'm proud to be associated with them.
On Wall Street it was just generating money, making money for money's sake. It was faceless.
M&C: Do the people you are courting tend to recognize you?
Bavaro: Absolutely; I use it. I'm not saying I'm the best salesman in the world. We try to target companies that might know who I am. And it's great, I do tend to meet some great football fans. They're pleasant meetings -- they're three-quarters shooting the breeze about football and sports, and the last quarter presenting our company and asking potential clients to keep us in mind.
M&C: What similarities are there with your past life?
Bavaro: None. I work out of my home in Massachusetts, so I fly out to Chicago occasionally, and we visit companies in the New York area. Football was a day-to-day business, while this is more about whenever we find somebody who's interested. It's more like fishing.
M&C: What do you miss most about football?
Bavaro: I miss a lot of things. I miss having the ability to play football. I miss my youth, having that athletic ability. I'm 45 now; I just can't move that way any more. Along with that for me came big paychecks. I think that's the big challenge for any football player, getting used to smaller paychecks and getting used to the smaller grind.
Playing football, you went home knowing where you stood, elated or dejected depending on your particular day, and the coaches would let you know, too. There was a lot of immediate feedback in the football world. Some of our current projects take weeks, months. When we do land the job, it could take even a year before it comes to fruition.
M&C: What is your book about?
Bavaro: It's a novel called Rough and Tumble, and it came out in the beginning of September. It's about a football player in the last year of his career in the NFL.
I've always liked to write. This job is certainly conducive to that interest. I'm not in the office every day, so I have a lot of time to pursue this "hobby" of mine. I've already got a second finished manuscript that I have to start editing. -- S.B.