Welcome to Industry Insider by Behind Sport. Our latest guest is Ehsen Shah, Founder & CEO of B-Engaged & Hifen Studios!
Tell us about yourself, what is your current role and what roles have you done previously?
My name is Ehsen Shah, 29 and I’m the founder and CEO of B-Engaged & HIFEN Studios. Away from B-Engaged I’m involved in a variety of other business as a non-exec board member within sports and the impact investing industry. Previously I was co-owner at Integrity Club for 18-months 2014/16.
What do you do in your current role?
My day to day now is filled with people & business management. Whether that’s our internal team or working with other business owners and C-level executives at brands. The fun work is left to our team and I’ll focus more on driving the business for the future. Away from the business operations I am more so involved day to day with the partnerships team and athlete teams within our business through consulting for our clients on future strategies and broad level thinking.
What does a normal week look like for you?
My weeks can vary drastically. We have 3 team leadership meetings per week to ensure all our teams are performing at the level we require them to. At the moment we’re recruiting and developing strategies to scale the business which has taken up much of my capacity over the last quarter. However the projects which I’m involved in long-term are the management of Héctor Bellerín, Serge Gnabry, Dele, Kai Havertz, Thiago Alcantara & Alphonso Davies’ athlete brands and projects. Therefore I’ll be working with their agents or the player direct on what’s needed that week from a marketing, content & partnerships perspective. From a brand level I’m only involved up until the strategy is approved, so this will involve liaising with our relevant internal team, client’s project team on high level strategy over the course of a 12-month period. One recent example would be our projects with StockX which entail the development & implementation of their football strategy from grassroots to global clubs. Nowadays I’m less involved in the execution of the work allowing the project manager and team to do all the fun work!
How did you end up where you are right now? When did you know you wanted to work in sport?
During my studies I always dreamed of working within the financial industry either through the investment banking system or management consultancy. However after 2 internships in my first year at uni I quickly realised this wasn’t for me so started to explore other avenues; one being marketing. Channeling that with my passion for sport I came across a few internship openings within the sports marketing industry and worked throughout my third year. Post uni I embarked on a start up journey with two experienced professionals from the sports world. I’d say it was at this point it thought “maybe I can make a career from this”… However, it didn’t go as planned and after 18-months we closed the business down. From there my friends convinced me to set up B-Engaged at the age of 24 and since then haven’t looked back.
What is your number one focus when it comes to your work?
Definitely to push boundaries. What’s been done before and what hasn’t is the first question when a brief comes in. If something hasn’t been done that’s where our focus shifts to immediately. Our mission is to change the way brands & athletes engage with sporting audiences. To do that we need to continue to drive change and creativity within our team and clients.
What’s been your favourite moment whilst working in sports?
On a project front I’d have to say Hector’s Unseen Journey Documentary. The audience and industry reaction to all the hard work everyone put in over 2-years was incredible. It truly was a project which every current and past team member was involved in. From a personal point of view, being able to help others with a route to achieve their dream of working in this industry.
What do you think is next for your industry?
We’ve seen a generation of players demand more from their brand partners, whether that’s from a community perspective or an ethics and values perspective. The younger generations will have a platform to be able to build upon this even further. The player who is mid/late 20’s now, paved the way through their attitude towards being more than an athlete. Likewise brands will become far savvier when marketing through sports. You see the odd one or two campaigns which really put the fans or athlete first but not enough in my opinion. I think this along with athlete self branding will be the next key growth areas for our industry.
In your area of work, what is something you feel most people don’t talk about enough or focus on enough?
Definitely gambling. Recently we’ve seen a few media articles highlighting the issue, but not enough is being done to eradicate betting brands from club partners. We, as an industry need to do better to have more impactful partnerships in place and shift the mentality away from easy money over ethical and moral values.
What is one piece of advice you would give to someone wanting to work in the sports industry?
Play the long game. This is a very small industry in terms of personnel. Everyone knows everyone. If you try to cut corners or people it’ll most definitely tarnish your long term success. Like most industries you have to climb the ladder and earn your stripes, but unlike some other industries you’ll need to show your passion and enthusiasm, this comes through your ground level work in the early stages of a career. You might not always get to do the fun work or the projects you want, but your commitment through all tasks is when you’ll see the most rewards.