Finding The White Space
The story of how Mark French '93 came to Avon Old Farms is one for the books: things were set in motion when he talked his way into a job as a ball boy for the New York Knicks. Forbes told the story in a March 2016 article:
"From the age of 12, when French wasn't on a basketball court, he was out grinding. Whether it was picking up after dogs in a kennel, or selling jean jackets that he had airbrushed with his signature graffiti, there was no limit to French's hustle. But as Mark's grades began to suffer, his father became concerned that he was going down the wrong path. In the hopes of incentivizing his son, Mark's father promised that if he got his grades up and stayed out of trouble, he would take him to watch the New York Knicks play at Madison Square Garden.
For the next several months, all French could think about was the opportunity of seeing his beloved Knicks, and rookie sensation Mark Jackson, in person. When the day finally arrived, French insisted they go to MSG early so he could try to meet Jackson. And while Mark's father calmly tried to explain to his son that he couldn't just march onto the court, it didn't come as much of surprise that within minutes of arriving at The Garden, Mark had done just that. There he was, laughing and smiling with his idol Mark Jackson, who waved off security multiple times as they tried to yank the young interloper off the court. Before exiting as the start of the game approached, Mark made a point to shake the hand of everyone on the Knicks roster, including a gentleman in a suit who was sitting at the end of the bench. When Mark returned to his seat, he pointed to the man and said, "That's my new boss... the head trainer of the New York Knicks."
In the span of minutes, French had talked his way onto the historic Madison Square Garden court, made an impression on Mark Jackson that would last a lifetime, and talked his way into a ball boy job for the team."
So, how did that get Mark French to Avon? Well, his mentor Mark Jackson (pictured above) began to see that instead of going to class, the basketball-loving French was skipping school to fulfill his role as ball boy. Jackson took the initiative to reach out to Mark's parents and let them know how he felt, that Mark was not living up to his potential in the classroom, or on the basketball court and needed a change. Mark's parents couldn't agree more, and they began looking for a strong high school for their son, a place with more structure where skipping class wouldn't go unnoticed. That place was Avon Old Farms.
"I admit that attending Avon was Mark Jackson and my parents' idea, not mine," shared French. "I was initially angry when Mark reached out to my parents - I felt I had the perfect teenage life in New York, but at the time I didn't realize the catastrophic damage I was doing as it related to my future. To this day, I thank my parents on a regular basis for sending me to Avon. Also, whenever I am with Mark Jackson, it is the first thing I do: thank him for seeing my potential and calling out the problem as soon as he saw it. I can say without a doubt, Avon Old Farms changed my life."
Already a basketball enthusiast, French made it onto Avon's varsity basketball team led by Coach Art Mehos, an experience he says was incredible.
"As a kid from New York, my game was more street ball, and being around the Knicks I would often try things with the basketball I had no right even thinking about," he explained. "I remember the first day of tryouts and thinking to myself, these kids are so fundamentally sound. I was intimidated. Coach Mehos quickly brought me down to reality and helped me focus on my best attribute, distributing the ball. He simplified the game of basketball for me, which was critical to my development as a basketball player."
During his two-and-a-half years at Avon, French also discovered his love for entertainment and media when he worked to reopen the WAOF radio station.
"This was a time of no social media, no email, no instant access to all that was going on around campus. I think that was the first time my passion for discovering the white space and filling it with my own ideas came out. A few friends of mine and I started the Avon talk show 'The Swing Hustler Show' and was a way to delve deeper into things happening at Avon while providing entertainment. I recruited some of the funniest characters on campus to help with the show, and soon the entire student body - and faculty, too - tuned in when we went on-air. We took great pride in the product. We scripted everything, had everything timed out... I would not have had some of the production successes in television had I not really dove into the AOF radio station."
While the show may not have been a favorite among school administrators, his work on the radio and on the basketball court lead to his acceptance at Ithaca College, home to one of the top media and communications programs, where he majored in media management.
"Avon is a great equalizer, just like sports," said French. "My classmates, my dormmates, and my teammates came from all walks of life. I had supportive teachers and coaches, and I learned how to interact with different people and different personalities. That diversity in a rigorous setting is what provided the solid foundation for my future."
After his college graduation, French found himself working for the media conglomerate NBC. He quickly climbed the corporate ladder, eventually overseeing NBC's Strategic Partnerships & Marketing Division before taking leadership of his own brainchild, NBC Everywhere.
At the time, NBC was facing challenges in the prime-time market. French was looking for an opening where NBC could break into a new area and capture audiences. The answer was NBC Everywhere, a digital out-of-home platform for audiences on-the-go.
"People are on the go now more than ever, and the time spent commuting or waiting in-line is very dull," French said. "I wanted to enhance these mundane experiences – pumping gas, waiting on line in the supermarket, riding in the back of a taxi, sitting on a packed commuter train, with customized relevant content, and geo-targeted advertising."
And so, as Forbes put it, "Every time you watch NBC news, sports, or Jimmy Fallon on a screen while sitting in a taxi or while pumping your gas, or checking out your groceries at the supermarket, you can thank Mark French for that."
In the years since his days at NBC, French has become known as a serial entrepreneur. Mark has created and operated disruptive business innovations in the media, sports and consumer goods industries. As the recipient of three '40 Under 40 Awards' in three separate business sectors, Mark has proven that his passion, creativity, leadership and entrepreneurial skill sets drive sustainable growth across industries.
Mark is the Co-Founder of MISSION Athletecare™ and Inventor of Court Grip™, an NBA endorsed, patented traction enhancing formula and delivery system. Mark's innovations have been credited by ESPN, CNBC, the NBA and Turner as 'some of the most dynamic innovations in the sports industry.' Mark developed his Court Grip business with an all-star team of partners including NBA Champion and All Star Dwyane Wade. Mark worked closely with NBA superstars Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard, Brandon Jennings, Mike Conley, as well as the NBA, the NBA Trainers Association, and several premiere NCAA and NBA coaches who all endorse Court Grip and the way it has changed the game of basketball. Starting in Footlocker, Court Grip was recognized as one of the fastest selling accessories in sports retail history. Today, Mark is in discussions with the leading global sneaker manufacturers who are looking to maximize Mark's patent, which embeds his Court Grip formula directly into the rubber sole of the sneaker.
Following the success of Court Grip, Mark and his team launched multiple new products under his leadership, including Power Grip, Liquid Chalk Technology which helps negate the impacts of sweaty hands, and EnduraCool™ a revolutionary instant-cooling product line. Mark worked closely with partners Serena Williams, Drew Brees, Reggie Bush, Georges St. Pierre, David Wright, Ryan Tannehill, etc. on the development and marketing of the Power Grip and EnduraCool product lines (instant cooling towels, hoodies, helmet liners, etc.). Mark always brings his new MISSION products to Avon Old Farms to test with athletes and to get their candid feedback.
Mark is a member of Derek Jeter's Board of Advisors for The Players' Tribune™. The Players' Tribune is a new media company that provides athletes with a platform to connect directly with their fans, in their own words. Through impactful and powerful long and short form stories, video series and podcasts, The Players' Tribune brings fans closer than ever to the games they love. Mark is helping Derek and the All Star Team of Advisors and Investors including NEA, Legendary Entertainment, Kobe Bryant, Russell Wilson, Andrew McCutchen, Blake Griffin, Danika Patrick, etc. with strategy, fundraising, athlete relations, marketing, and talent recruiting. As the recipient of the 2016 Sports Business Journal's 'Sports Breakthrough of the Year' Award, Mark and The Players' Tribune are positively disrupting the sports media landscape.
Mark recently launched his latest media business, No Look Productions™ where he and his team of award-winning producers are developing new television and film properties. Mark's first creation is a groundbreaking interactive kids TV show titled FIT TEAM FIVE™. Combining forces with strategic partners in the children's entertainment and youth health industries, French has created an entertainment property with the power to get children excited about exercise. FIT TEAM FIVE will feature guest celebrity athletes who will unite with the FIT TEAM FIVE heroes to help kids become healthy through the show's world-class fitness content. FIT TEAM FIVE will premiere globally in 2018.
Mark's experience and passion for creating impactful mobile platforms drew him to his latest mobile technology venture, InSite Applications which he Co-Founded with Avon Old Farms alum, Darren 'Diesel' Peltz '12. Diesel and Mark have secured investments from some of the most respected organizations in entertainment and sports including: Live Nation, Endeavor (previously WME / IMG), Jay Z and Roc Nation, The Madison Square Garden Company and the TAO Restaurant Group, who will integrate the InSite Applications product with their fans through a variety of global integrations (i.e. talent, digital, festivals, concerts, sporting events, etc.) when the product is launched in early 2018.
"If I had one piece of advice for anyone looking to turn an idea into a reality, it's that you need to have your idea buttoned-up before you present it to anyone; flush it all out, all the way through and make sure you talk to your potential consumer to ensure you are really solving a problem," he said. "I start with a thesis, I build a strategy, and I identify the people I need on my team to help make it a reality."
Again, when French looks at the major ventures in his career, he reflects on Avon as a place that helped him build the foundation he needed to be successful.
"I always had the drive to work hard to make the most out of my passions in life, but it was at Avon that I learned how to really work, and to work with high integrity, and to surround myself with people who reflected those values," he said. "Upon joining the Avon Old Farms community, Coach Kevin Driscoll recognized me for what I was: a fish out of water. He helped me along, as did Coach Mehos. There are so many people in my life today that I met at Avon."
This spring, French plans on returning to his high school's campus to celebrate his 25th reunion along with the rest of the class of 1993, and some of his friends who he remains close with: Todd Lady, Adam Cline, Andy Arcand, Taj Lewis, Pete Chelala, Pedro Ortiz, JJ Tilahun, and Neil Sirni - just to name a few.
"Seeing old friends and being back on campus is always something to look forward to," French said. "I love sharing this special place with my family. It's definitely something you appreciate more and more with age. I feel very blessed to have attended Avon, and to still be so closely tied to the school."
We hope that all members of the class of '93, near and far, return for reunion this May 11-13, 2018. For more information on this spring's reunion, visit www.avonoldfarms.com/reunion or contact Liz Abramson at (860) 404 – 4268.