Glenn Sugiyama: A Visionary in the Collegiate Arena

Dec 1, 2015

Glenn Sugiyama serves as Managing Partner and Global Sports Practice Leader in the firm’s Chicago office. Described by Forbes magazine as “one of the most influential men in college athletics,” Glenn Sugiyama is credited with building one of the largest and most renowned sports practice groups in the world.

For over ten years, he has been placing talent in professional sports organizations and for the top academic institutions in the United States and around the world, including senior sports executives and head coaches. Mr. Sugiyama is considered a human capital expert in the sports industry, is frequently asked to share his opinions and insights in the media, and speak about his experiences internationally. At twenty-seven, Mr.Sugiyama became one of the youngest directors of a major US pro sports team when he was named to the board of directors of the former world champion Chicago Bulls. Prior to his time with the Bulls, he was a Division I college basketball coach. Before joining DHR International, Sugiyama was vice president and account director for Leo Burnett USA, and a former director of North American business development at iLeo, Leo Burnett’s Marketing Services group.

Sugiyama began his career as director of marketing, advertising, and sales for a regional restaurant company. He made the successful transition from marketing to finance and operations when he ran a nine unit/700-employee chain as president and CEO. Since then, Sugiyama has served as EVP of a 5,000-employee service company and president of a real estate development company. In addition, he has served on the Advisory Council of the University of Illinois—College of Business and the Board of Directors of the Japanese American Service Committee. Recently, Sugiyama was named one of the “Outstanding 50 Asian Americans in Business” in the US. He is a graduate of Michigan State University.

Glenn Sugiyama graduated from Michigan State University and received his Master’s degree from Eastern Michigan University,where he became assistant basketball coach at the age of twenty-seven. Sports was always in his life growing up. His passion for basketball linked him to each step of his career. According to Sugiyama, “When I was younger and had passion for basketball, that helped lead to the assistant basketball coaching opportunity. One thing really led to another in my career. If I hadn’t been a basketball coach, I would never have gotten involved with the Chicago Bulls. If I hadn’t been involved with the Bulls, I wouldn’t be leading a sports practice for a global executive search firm today. So pretty much things happen in life for a reason.” Not only did he play and coach basketball, Sugiyama also sat on the Board of Directors of the Chicago Bulls. As member of the Board, he said, “My job was to assist the chairman in the overall operations of an NBA franchise that included the major areas of marketing, finance, and basketball operations.”

If Sugiyama were to put together a sports dream team, who would be on the team and who would be the coach? He did not have to think too hard on this, since he said,“I was fortunate that my fantasy became reality in being involved with the Chicago Bulls during their championship run. We had one of the greatest players of all time [Michael Jordan], one of the greatest owners of all time [Jerry Reinsdorf], and one of the greatest coaches of all time [Phil Jackson].” His experience with the Chicago Bulls was “a better training ground for an aspiring sports leader.”

Sugiyama has sat on the Japanese American Service Committee (JASC) Board of Directors for over two decades, where he also serves as Santa Claus at the annual Holiday Delight. The event is traditionally held on the second Saturday of November. This year, Sugiyama had a touching request. He asked one of the children what he wanted for Christmas and the child said “Peace on Earth.” “The response really struck me.”

The Popularity of Collegiate Recruiting

Sugiyama has been pursuing the college space in the last few years, because DHR’s “sports practice works with any sports-related entity, whether it is corporate sports, professional sports teams and leagues, or collegiate sports. Collegiate sports has received more public attention because of the many coaching and athletic director hires that we’ve completed for high profile programs.”

Sports recruiting has been a public affair with much secrecy due to the fact that people have such a great interest in, and passion for, sports in this country.” It makes Sugiyama's  job hard, as he has to protect the confidentiality of the candidates, making sure this information is not leaked out during a search.
Out of the ten College Sports’ Top Search Consultants, Sugiyama and Ted Gregory were the only men of color. Sugiyama hopes to see more people of color in this arena, as “being able to promote diversity in pools of candidates is a critical focus of every search in any industry. Having diverse search consultants helps to facilitate that focus.”

Sugiyama outlines the search process:
1—Being hired by the client; 2—Conduct an audit; 3—Visit campus; 4—Research; 5—Candidate is screened 3 times; 6—Show time; 7—You are hired. According to Sugiyama, each client’s search is different. “Sometimes we do a coaching search and it has to be completed in just a few days. When we are doing an athletic director or other sports executive search, it is usually a more conventional search, which can take thirty to sixty days.”

If you are interested in becoming a recruiter in any industry, Sugiyama says, “It is very important to have worked in a specific industry.” For example, “to manage a collegiate sports search at DHR International, you need to have work experience in a college athletic department. There are so many intricacies and so much that goes on behind the scenes on a daily basis, that to be a strong resource to our client, we believe it is important to have specific industry experience.”


Both of Sugiyama’s children played sports in high school and have a passion for sports and competition. His son played basketball at USC, and his daughter graduated from Notre Dame. Both colleges are known for their sports, but “time will tell if sports becomes a part of their future.” Forbes magazine may have described Sugiyama as one of the most influential men in college athletics, but his passion lies not only with sports, but with his family. His inspiration is his parents, “because I always believed in them, and my wife and kids, because they always believed in me.”

Sugiyama gives this advice: “No matter who you are, I think you should always have pride, self-confidence, and a willingness to compete. If you have those things, you will always do your best in life.”