One week in early September 2018, Gene Hallman ’82 attended the PGA Tour’s BMW Championship in Philadelphia, the Alabama-Fresno State football game in Tuscaloosa, Ala., and the Triumph Superbike Classic motorcycle race back home in Birmingham, Ala.
But here’s the best part of it all: He was working! Hallman is the co-founder and co-owner of Bruno Event Team, a sports management company that manages more than 50 golf, motorsports, college and amateur sports events every year, not the competition itself, but just about everything outside of it, including sponsorships, concessions and parking operations.
“I could have never dreamed of this,” he says. “But when I think back on it and my years at the College studying economics, it sparked an entrepreneurial streak inside of me, so I jumped at the opportunity when it came along. I’ve been very blessed.”
Hallman grew up in Columbia, and all his friends were going to either Clemson or the University of South Carolina, but, like many people, he fell in love with CofC’s campus after paying a visit.
“People often say that their college years were the best years of their life, and that’s true for me,” he says. “It just established the foundation upon which I’ve been able to have a very successful business career.”
After earning an MBA from UofSC, Hallman went to work for NCR, the point-of-sale technology company in Dayton, Ohio, for five years, but something was missing. And then in 1990 he read an 8,000-word Sports Illustrated article by E.M. Swift on Mark McCormick, who founded IMG, the global sports event and talent management company. And then he read it again. And again. That’s what I want to do, he thought.
“I must have read that article 20 times,” chuckles Hallman, who moved back home with his parents at age 30 to pursue his dream. “They were like, ‘What are you doing?’ I said, ‘I’m not sure. Just trust me.’”
After purchasing a thick, sports business marketplace guide that broke down the industry by sectors and companies with contacts and addresses, Hallman proceeded to
mail out 500 résumés. It led to just two interviews, one of which was for a business person to run a new senior PGA Tour event in Birmingham, the Bruno’s Classic.
Hallman moved to Birmingham in 1991, and five days after the tournament’s announcement, the Bruno’s corporate jet crashed, killing 11 people, including the chairman of the large Southern grocery retail chain.
“I’m looking at this horribly tragic situation and I thought there’s no way they’re going to continue as a sponsor,” he recalls. “But there was such an outpouring of support from the community because of how much these individuals had done for the community that we turned it into the Bruno’s Memorial Classic. It was hugely successful.”
Fast forward four years: Bruno’s gets sold in a leveraged buyout, and Ronnie Bruno, the son of the late chairman, approaches Hallman about starting their own sports event business. The Bruno’s Memorial Classic was so well run that others were asking if they would run their golf event, giving birth to Bruno Event Team in 1995.
“I’ve given talks to classes at the College via Skype, and I always tell them never give up on that process of trying to figure out what your passion is,” says Hallman. “Keep a very wide perspective and give a lot of thought about what you want to do with your career. If you told me when I was at CofC that I would spend my career in sports event management, I would not have even understood that that was a possibility.”
In other words, to use a sports analogy, swing for the fences.