He hardly stands out.
He doesn’t offer a flash of stunning white hair or an imposing stature. You could dismiss him as just another ordinary middle-aged, middle-class gentleman. But don’t do that. There is little that’s ordinary about Jon Vegosen.
Perhaps more than any USTA volunteer in history, the rather brilliant, more-than-savvy Chicago lawyer has pulled “an Eisenhower.” (Translation: Dwight Eisenhower, a modestly-ranked General in 1942, soared through the ranks and a year later leap-frogged others to lead our forces in WWII as our Supreme Allied Commander.)
As for Vegosen, in just four years, the fast-rising tennis lover has emerged from being a lost-in-the-crowd rookie member of the USTA Board to become the leader (well, make that the Chairman of the Board and President) of the mighty American Federation.
So what’s behind Vegosen’s jaw-dropping rise?
Well — not only is he passionate and hard-working — he’s one of the few in tennis who’ll say being a lawyer was a key to his success.
“When you’re a lawyer,” Vegosen told IT, “you have to look at issues from all sides…I had lots of training and dealt with a wide variety of issues. The ability to see a lot of different legal issues from a business perspective helped.”
Vegosen, who shortly after leaving law school launched what soon became a considerable law firm, also is a master of the arcane craft of board room diplomacy, which in rarefied USTA circles, is a vastly underrated skill. Years of attending countless board meetings with Chicago youth groups, the International Hall of Fame, the USTA’s fundraising arm USTA Serves and the Grand Slam Committee have allowed the quietly charismatic Vegosen to master an array of board room skills: the ability to listen and gain knowledge about new issues, sensible advocacy, alliance-building and the willingness to see other perspectives and to make mid-course corrections, plus a core love of the mission at hand.
Fortunately, Vegosen has an abundance of tennis DNA. A steady, trained-on-clay baseliner from the Jersey Shore, he played at Northwestern and his two sons are standouts. (Spencer, his youngest, was No. 1 in the nation, won a couple of national doubles championships with Sam Querrey and also has two wins over the tall Californian.)
So Vegosen came to the USTA with ample love of tennis, great skills sets and a resume that zoomed off the page.
No wonder he soon was pegged to solve a key problem in the game — college tennis. Not only do lots of kids put down their rackets when they go to college, for cash-starved schools tennis teams are a way too easy target.
“College programs were dropping like flies,” notes Vegosen. “So we created an advocacy network that was quite something. We then had about 255- dropped programs. We needed to do something. A collegiate committee, which had been disbanded, was begun again. We established an advocacy network that was quite something. We worked with the Intercollegiate Tennis Association and got about 2,500 people to be advocates. Western Michigan was our best success story. They were about to cut the men’s and women’s programs. We mounted a whole public relations campaign. We wrote the president. We got people in the local community geared up. We got the press geared up. Not only did they NOT drop the program, they built a new tennis center. That was pretty sensational.”
So a USTA star was born. Vegosen’s stock soared. But the fast-rising Andre Agassi fan, bristles at the notion that he is a one trick pony. “While most people realize that college tennis is dear to my heart,” he says. “I’m much more than just that …I don’t want to be labeled as the ‘college guy.’ My theme is “Tennis: The Sport of Opportunity.” We ARE a sport of opportunity. Look at what we provide, it’s not just about tennis. It’s about getting an education, about going to college, mentoring people, developing character. Our sport should be known that way. When I was growing up, we were a white man’s sport. For many years now, we’ haven’t been a white man’s sport. We want white men to play, but we want people of all backgrounds to play. I’ve made a number of diverse appointments — not because they’re diverse, but because they’re very talented people who I want to give opportunities to. If you look at my committee appointments you’ll see’ it’s a rainbow.”
Vegosen hopes there soon will be more Americans in the top 10, wants to “kid-size” tennis by the widespread implementation of QuickStart tennis and he will be overseeing the construction of a new small stadium at the U.S. Open.
Plus, the man knows his agenda. In a de force of seamless clarity and insight, Vegosen reeled off the six priorities he has for his way-too-brief two year tenure. “The first is to maintain strong and transparent relations with our partners and to enhance volunteer opportunities. The second is to advance the USTA’s financial soundness. The third is to promote the youth-collegiate continuum, from ages 4 to 24. That means getting kids into tennis early. We have only 11,000 kids who’re 10-and-under playing tournaments. In soccer, two million compete. The fourth is to build cross-cultural competence to ensure successful diversity and inclusion. The fifth one is to leverage the USTA’s commitment to education. And I can’t leave out the sixth: To have fun.”
Wow! This Chicago lawyer is good. A more than bright guy who’s passionate, great in the board room, has a vision, understands the importance of fun and, get this, isn’t long winded.
No wonder he pulled “an Eisenhower.”