How I Got Here: Tommy Lubinski (BUS ‘09, MST ’11, MBA ’15)

The DePaul MST and MBA alumnus describes how he landed his dream job working in the sports footwear and apparel industry

In this series, Kellstadt alumni share how they got to where they are today in their careers. Next up is Triple Demon Tommy Lubinski, who earned his bachelor’s in accounting and master’s in taxation from DePaul’s School of Accountancy & MIS in 2009 and 2011 respectively, then completed his MBA in sports management, business strategy and strategy, execution and valuation in 2015. Today, Lubinski works as a product manager for adidas Basketball and lives in Vancouver, Wash.

Tommy Lubinski

As a product manager… 

I manage various footwear and apparel product lines, including James Harden, Derrick Rose, Donovan Mitchell, Damian Lillard, Candace Parker and our team footwear range. I manage the product from the initial brief to the moment it ends up on retail shelves. In my day to day, I work cross functionally with designers, developers, merchandisers, our global markets and brand marketing teams to bring the product to life.

Biggest challenge of my job…

The biggest challenge we face as a team is working in the future. The product development lifecycle requires us to work well over a year in advance of a product being available for sale. In that time span, we must stay on top of trends, innovation and consumer needs. There is only so much that can be changed later in the process, so we really need to rely on consumer and athlete insights that we are constantly collecting.

What I like best about my job…

I love when I’m out and see people wearing the product I worked on. I also really enjoy working directly with athletes. It’s a high stakes game to continually build newer, innovative products that solve for an athlete’s or a consumer’s need. I’m privileged to work with an amazing team each day and stay connected to sport, which is something I have been fortunate to do throughout my career. I’ve also worked on some fun projects with external partners such as Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars, LEGO and even Ric Flair!

Lubinski with NBA player Derrick Rose, at a dinner where they discussed Rose’s next shoe.

How I got here…

I’ve always been a “sneakerhead.” There was something about it that caught my eye as a kid. Finally in undergrad, as I started to buy more sneakers and realize that money could be made on rare shoes, I turned my hobby into a job. I would save up to buy multiple pairs of rare sneakers and then sell them. This helped me grow my personal collection as I was going to classes.

I always knew I wanted to work in this industry but didn’t really know the right way to go about it. My undergrad degree was in accounting from DePaul and I tried applying for various accounting and finance jobs at footwear companies upon graduation with zero luck. I basically gave up on it until I started working at a sports agency and saw some of the endorsement deals that our athletes were signing. It really sparked my interest and when I was pursuing my MBA, I decided to go all in on my dream and ended up landing at adidas in the summer of 2015 as an MBA intern in Concept to Consumer.

Things I did to help me get here…

I actually gained a lot of the industry skills, experiences and insights by being a consumer. I’ve camped out for shoes, woken up extra early for them and even traveled to get an edge on getting rare shoes. Looking back, I see those days as the very early stages of my learning how important networking is. I built relationships with store owners and managers over the course of many years of buying and selling sneakers. In regard to basketball experiences, I played since I was a kid and when I got to DePaul, I had the opportunity to join the practice team for the DePaul Blue Demons Women’s Basketball. I got to see the behind the scenes of Coach Doug Bruno coaching and witness all his leadership qualities that make the DePaul Women’s Basketball one of the best programs in the nation year in, year out. That was my biggest takeaway during all those years, besides the competitiveness you need in sports. It’s all come full circle now as I’m currently creating products for that younger version of myself.

The Kellstadt faculty member who helped me the most in my career…

Andy Clark, director of the Sports Business Program, was a major contributor to my success in the sports world. He believed in me and was integral in my pursuit of getting into the footwear and apparel industry. During my time at Kellstadt, I was working at a sports agency and doing taxes for athletes. It was in my Sports Sponsorship course that I learned about the San Diego Sports Consulting course. Andy taught both courses and helped me realize my full potential. The San Diego course provided me with real world experience. We not only partnered with two other universities, but I also got the chance to work in conjunction with the San Diego Padres and Chargers to tackle a real-life business case. The two-week consulting project challenged me to work with other students I didn’t know, utilize market research platforms and present findings to senior leaders of the organization. This course is a boot camp in the world of sports and networking.

Advice for Kellstadt students interested in my career… 

There are a few pieces of advice I give to people.

No. 1: know the industry and consumer. One of the best ways to do that is to work in retail. In downtown Chicago, you have so many brands and opportunities to work with as a student. Retail isn’t the most glamorous job, but you are learning about the product and interacting with the consumer daily. There is so much that can be learned from having a conversation and helping a customer with a purchase. This is the type of value that an intern or someone just coming in can bring. You would be surprised to learn how many people worked at an Adidas or sporting goods retailer prior to joining the headquarters team.

No. 2 is networking. I thought I understood what networking was but then I took the San Diego Sports Consulting course and that opened my eyes. The experience made me step up my game and connect with so many different people that helped build my confidence in pursuit of landing in this industry.

No. 3: stay committed and don’t get discouraged. Most of us don’t get our dream job upon graduation. But if you don’t get hired by that company, don’t erase it from your memory. Instead, learn how you can leverage your experiences when you are ready to make that change. We all make career changes in life. I began to doubt that I would work in this industry, but six years later, I found myself signing a job offer on my childhood dream.

Read the first spotlight in this series on Angela Yang (MBA ’19), who works in healthcare strategy.



Posted on

July 19, 2021