This transcript comes from an interview conducted by Saeed Ahmad—a board member for the Harvard Association for Law & Business (HALB) and former President for the Pre-Law Transfer Society at UCLA. The interview was conducted on May 25, 2020, with the Chief Legal Officer of Endeavor, Seth Krauss. Seth also serves as a board member of the Minority Corporate Counsel Association, and his illustrious career has spanned stints at the Manhattan DA, Morgan Stanley, & Take 2 Interactive. JSEL has agreed to collaborate with HALB by publishing this interview to provide its contents to a broader audience.
As of September 2023, Mr. Krauss serves as the Chief Legal & Administrative Officer at TKO, a premium sports and entertainment company that comprises UFC, the world’s premier mixed martial arts organization, and WWE, an integrated media organization and a recognized leader in sports entertainment.
Saeed Ahmad, Harvard Association for Law & Business: We are so excited to have you as a guest speaker Seth! Could you give us a little background information about yourself?
Seth Krauss, Endeavor: Certainly. I always like starting with a broad question. I was born in New York City but grew up in the suburbs. My father was a Broadway producer, and my mother raised me and my three sisters; I am the youngest of four. I went to school in New York City through high school and then attended Duke University in North Carolina. After that, I went to law school and graduated. I started my career at the Manhattan DA’s office, spending the last semester in law school on the hill working in a fellowship for travels abroad. I spent about eight and a half years at the Manhattan DA’s office, working for Robert Morgenthau. The first five years were as a street crimes prosecutor, focusing significantly on sex crimes and domestic violence. This experience inspired me to work at the DA’s office. In the last three and a half years, I worked on white-collar cases, including one that was part of the inspiration for the movie Boiler Room, and the investigation of Chase, Citibank, and Enron’s collapse.
After leaving the DA’s office, I joined Morgan Stanley and helped build their regulatory group. By the time I left, I was the head of the regulatory function there. I then became the General Counsel of a public company, a video game company, just before Grand Theft Auto was released. I helped the company navigate the stock options backdating scandal and managed to make it one of the most successful video game companies in the world. I left there in June of 2014 to join Endeavor WME. We’ve acquired about 40 companies during my time here, including the UFC, Pro Bull Riding, and Miss Universe, making us a sports entertainment company with a global footprint. I manage a team that operates globally.
Ahmad: Could you share how you decided to pursue law and provide some advice for students interested in careers in entertainment, media, or any of the fields you’ve worked in?
Krauss: Certainly. I went to law school because I wanted to work with the victims of crime, particularly victims of domestic violence and sex crimes. That’s what I wanted to do in my hometown. I was fortunate enough to attend a law school that emphasized clinical work. Wash U, where I attended, sends about 50% of its class to D.C. for the final year to work in a fellowship. I got to work on the Hill and if I hadn’t joined the DA’s office, I would have continued. My advice to undergraduates considering law school is this: law school is a trade school. It provides fundamental learning and teaches you how to think critically, attack problems, solve problems, and analyze the law. You learn how to be a lawyer once you practice. Law school prepares you for your career. It’s an investment, whether you plan to practice law or not.
Entertainment law, in itself, doesn’t exist as a separate entity. There are entertainment companies, and there are legal aspects associated with them, such as intellectual property law, tax law, and litigation. In my legal department, we have a diverse team of lawyers specializing in various areas, including corporate law, employment law, immigration law, intellectual property law, and litigation. An entertainment company involves different areas of law, and when people think about entertainment law, it’s more about the business and the legal aspects associated with it.
It’s important to find something that genuinely interests you because you spend a significant portion of your day at work. If you don’t find something compelling, it can make your day feel long. Pursue avenues within your field of interest, such as tax, employment, litigation, or intellectual property. Finding something that captivates you can make a difference in your career satisfaction.
Ahmad: I understand you’ve discussed your experience at Take Two Interactive. Could you elaborate a bit more on your involvement at Take Two? You spent several years there, and much of your success has been attributed to your time there. How did you secure the position, and what was your experience like?
Krauss: I was content working at Morgan Stanley, where I held a significant position in a department of around 50 senior professionals. I found my work challenging and fulfilling.
I wasn’t actively job hunting, but an opportunity presented itself. Take Two was in need of a General Counsel due to a stock options backdating scandal. Their previous General Counsel was convicted of a crime, leaving a gap that needed filling. They were more interested in someone who could help fix their governance issues than someone deeply experienced in the video game industry. They believed they could teach me the business side of video games. It was a risk for both parties. Despite their financial challenges and the lack of current filings, I saw potential in their intellectual property and creativity. I took a chance, and it turned out to be a pivotal move for me. I spent eight years at Take Two during a period of significant change, and I learned a lot about management under the leadership of Strauss Zelnick and Karl Slatoff.
Ahmad: Thank you for the insight. Moving on, at Endeavor, you manage a diverse portfolio of companies, including IMG Academy and others. From a legal standpoint, what is it like to handle such a diverse array of companies and navigate the legal complexities within these industries?
Krauss: Managing such a diverse portfolio is indeed challenging, but I find it rewarding. I am fortunate to have an exceptional team of lawyers who work with me, spread across the globe. We support various businesses that partner with us, which requires a deep understanding of each business’s goals, as well as the laws, rules, and regulations that apply to their operations. It’s essential to strike a balance between business acumen and following the necessary legal processes without unnecessary bureaucracy. Knowing when to say no and how to facilitate processes efficiently is crucial. The challenges are continuous, considering our company operates globally, but I am fortunate to have a dedicated team of lawyers from diverse legal backgrounds who have tirelessly worked with me to ensure the company’s success. We have faced numerous challenges in the last six years, but we have successfully navigated them, and I credit the success to my incredible legal team.
Ahmad: Could you delve a bit into your day-to-day responsibilities at Endeavor?
Krauss: Certainly. I’d be happy to delve into my day-to-day responsibilities at Endeavor. Before COVID, my role as Chief Legal Officer (CLO) involved a multifaceted approach. I was primarily stationed in our New York office, but my responsibilities often required extensive travel, including visits to our Beverly Hills office and numerous other offices across the nation.
My duties as CLO encompass several key areas. Firstly, I act as a counselor to senior executives within the company, providing legal guidance and support. Secondly, I manage the legal function, dealing with various material aspects that come under my purview. Additionally, I serve as a member of the management team, representing the company’s interests. As a lawyer, I play a pivotal role as one of the chief cultural and ethical officers, alongside the CFO, Chief of Human Resources, and Head of Communications. We form a cabinet of professionals guiding the company’s ethos, defining how we run the company, and ensuring fair treatment of our employees.
Initially, most of our C-suite executives were based in California, and part of my arrangement was spending about a week per month in Los Angeles. Over time, as Endeavor expanded, we established significant offices in Los Angeles, New York, and London. While these cities serve as the primary hubs for our executives, we operate in offices worldwide. For instance, the UFC’s headquarters are in Las Vegas, IMG Academy is in Florida, and Support, our television station, is located in London.
Traveling is a fundamental aspect of my role. I visit different offices to meet my team, engage with senior executives, and interact with employees across various locations. This travel extends beyond our national boundaries, involving international visits. I’ve spent an extensive amount of time on the road, managing internal and external issues, and engaging in activities like government relations and lobbying efforts. I’ve visited places like Albany, Sacramento, Carson City, and Washington DC, addressing matters crucial to our company.
While demanding, this job has afforded me the opportunity to work with exceptional individuals globally. However, it does mean spending a considerable amount of time on airplanes. It’s all part of the role, and despite the challenges, I consider myself fortunate to work with such a talented and dedicated team.
Ahmad: Sure, jumping into another aspect we wanted to discuss is your involvement with the Minority Corporate Counsel Association (MCCA). At UCLA, our society places a significant emphasis on diversity, inclusiveness, and equity, which we reflect in many of our events. We are aware that you serve as a board member for MCCA. Could you share more about your work with them and your responsibilities as a board member?
Krauss: I’ve been on the board for a couple of months now. I had been in talks with them for a while, but being a director of a company, as this role entails, comes with a fiduciary duty. I needed to ensure I had the time to commit, especially given the demands of my position. We underwent a pre-IPO process last year, which required significant dedication. After our last board meeting, I officially joined. Jean Lee, the CEO, is an old friend. I’ve known her for many years; she sought networking and advice from me when she was a young lawyer working for someone I knew. I’ve always admired her and the work of MCCA. I became involved with MCCA because diversity, inclusion, and equity are profoundly important to me personally, and as a leader, I consider them fundamental values. In fact, from my very first day in this position, I established a diversity recruiting, hiring, and retention program in my department. It was evident to me that such a program was crucial. I often find it surprising that I have to justify the importance of such initiatives. Diversity should be a given—it’s about doing what’s right. Moreover, from a business perspective, it makes logical sense. As a leader, when I hire, I want the pool to consist of the most qualified candidates, not just some, but all of the most qualified candidates. It’s about embracing a broader perspective and ensuring equal opportunities. For me, this cause is not only logical but deeply personal. I recently spoke at a corporate event, emphasizing that it’s not just about ethics; it’s about business. It’s about creating an environment where everyone has a fair chance, irrespective of their background. I am privileged to live in New York, where diversity is celebrated. However, I am aware that this is not the case everywhere in the world. My father, who faced discrimination, serves as a reminder of the struggles many have endured. I believe that advocating for change is not just a responsibility but a moral obligation, especially for those who, like me, have been fortunate. Joining MCCA is my way of contributing to this cause, a cause I am deeply passionate about as a human being above all else.
Ahmad: Certainly, this topic aligns perfectly with our next question. Endeavor CEO Ari Emanuel recently discussed the newly launched initiative called the Endeavor Impact Fellowship. He stated, “The Endeavor Impact Fellowship will serve as a point of entry for a generation that recognizes the power of entertainment in educating and inspiring positive change in our communities.” Could you share more about this fellowship and how it contributes to Endeavor’s commitment to diversity and inclusion?
Krauss: Absolutely. I believe change requires dedicated effort, focus, energy, and investment. The Endeavor Impact Fellowship represents one of the ways in which our company is investing in recruiting the best and brightest talents while also assisting individuals who need support to reach their potential. It’s about dismantling barriers that hinder progress. Every company, including ours, thrives on the strength of its people — they are our most vital resource. We understand the importance of attracting the most talented individuals, and we are committed to being part of the solution.
This initiative reflects our ethos. It embodies our dedication as executives. While it’s a step in the right direction, we acknowledge that it’s not nearly enough. However, it serves as a foundational building block in our ongoing efforts to enhance our company, create more opportunities, and foster a culture of inclusivity.
Building upon that topic, I’m aware that recent events and movements, especially the ongoing protests, have sparked a continuous learning process for all of us. We strive to gain comprehensive knowledge to effect systematic change on every level. This endeavor is something we, who are pursuing careers in the legal field, are particularly passionate about. It’s a complex question with numerous facets, deserving of more time than we have here. I don’t claim to have all the answers.
What I can emphasize is the importance of being open to learning and understanding. Anyone who believes that today isn’t a time for listening, learning, and embracing discomfort is hindering their own growth. Real and enduring change is necessary, and a legal education can play a vital role in this process. A legal education equips you with tools to create opportunities for yourself and others as you progress in life. However, this proactive approach and investment in change don’t need to start in law school. They begin with individual actions, dedication, and a willingness to appreciate the diverse perspectives people bring to the table.
Consider this: critical decision-making benefits from diverse viewpoints. If you want to solve a problem, it’s beneficial to have individuals with varied backgrounds and experiences around the table. Surround yourself with diverse opinions, ideas, intellect, and thoughts. Embrace the discomfort that comes with different perspectives, as this discomfort fosters personal and professional growth. Your goal, at this point in your life, should be continuous growth.
Building a successful career takes time and patience. Excellence is a journey that requires effort, pressure, and, most importantly, time. Early in your career, be patient as you establish your professional trajectory. Remember, a career is a long-term commitment, not a short sprint.
In my experience, the key lies in active listening, continuous learning, and understanding different viewpoints. I don’t claim to possess the sole correct answer or the exclusive way to approach challenges. My success often stems from facilitating others’ problem-solving journeys and aiding them in improving their methods. In life, one of the most effective paths forward is helping others succeed, thereby elevating yourself alongside them. This principle is especially pertinent in the realm of law.
Ahmad: Can you tell us a bit about your journey throughout law school and key tips you have in this aspect of our academic and future professional careers?
Krauss: Your question touches on an essential aspect of the legal journey. Law school, often glamorized and mystified, is indeed a significant challenge. Reflecting on my own experiences, I realize that law school is not merely an academic pursuit but a full-time job. If you attend classes for four hours a day and dedicate an additional four hours to studying, that’s an eight-hour workday. It might seem daunting, but in reality, it’s a manageable workload.
One vital realization is to treat law school like a professional job. Attend classes diligently, complete assignments promptly, and approach your studies with dedication. Much like high school, daily assignments become the norm. For those of us inclined towards liberal arts, the transition can be a bit shocking, but it’s about readiness and maturity. Accepting the commitment it demands is key.
Managing the workload becomes feasible when you maintain a balanced approach. Allocate time not only for studies but also for self-care, exercise, and social interactions. Law school should not consume your entire life. It’s a demanding endeavor, but it shouldn’t overshadow your well-being.
Furthermore, law school is not just about grades. While the pressure to excel is palpable, remember that your efforts matter more than your position on the curve. Control what you can control: your dedication, preparedness, attitude, and curiosity. Embrace the learning process; ask questions, engage with the material, and seek understanding. Your commitment will reflect in your work.
As you progress, resist the urge to burden yourself excessively. Don’t fixate on Law Review or class rankings as the ultimate measures of your worth. I was a middle-of-the-class student, and it didn’t hinder my career growth. I’ve hired individuals like me because I understand the value of hard work and determination, irrespective of class rankings.
In essence, approach law school as a professional endeavor, maintain a balanced lifestyle, and focus on your efforts rather than external validations. Remember, your journey in law is defined by your dedication, resilience, and the knowledge you gain, not just your grades or accolades.
Ahmad: Can you explain the complex merger process of Endeavor, especially regarding the merging of agencies like William Morris Agency and Endeavor? Also, could you shed light on the various subsidiaries of Endeavor?
Krauss: Certainly. Endeavor, founded in the mid-90s, began as a talent agency. Eventually, Ari Emanuel, along with others, acquired the renowned William Morris Agency, one of the oldest agencies globally. This merger led to a significant restructuring of governance within the company.
The visionaries behind Endeavor, Ari and Patrick, recognized the evolving landscape of entertainment. They understood that the future involved not just talent representation, but also delving into content creation and new platforms. This foresight led to strategic expansions and acquisitions. For instance, WME later acquired IMG (International Management Group), which started as a representation company in the 1950s but grew into a conglomerate spanning media, sports, and entertainment.
Over the years, Endeavor diversified into numerous sectors. We operate in live events, ranging from mass participation events like triathlons to cultural festivals. We have representation businesses like WME talent agency, operating globally in places like New York, LA, Nashville, and London. Additionally, our subsidiaries include IMG model management, catering to the modeling industry, and the IMG Academy, a renowned sports training institution.
Furthermore, Endeavor has delved into media with IMG Media, which handles marketing, selling, and distributing sports media rights globally. We also have a gaming arm, IMG Arena, focusing on monetizing gambling rights for sports. Our production business, Score Productions, covers everything from live TV sporting events to specialized event productions, including cricket leagues in India.
Additionally, our licensing division, IMG Licensing, assists brands in licensing their products for consumer goods. Recently, Endeavor Content emerged as a crucial facet, acting as a financial hub and empowering independent talents, bridging the gap between talent and studios.
In essence, Endeavor’s journey involves strategic mergers, diversified ventures, and a continuous adaptation to the ever-changing entertainment landscape. Our aim is to maximize opportunities for both our clients and our company across various sectors within the realm of sports and entertainment.
Ahmad: Our next question delves into Endeavor’s purchase of the UFC for a record multibillion-dollar amount. Could you elaborate on the process that led to this acquisition? I am aware that Silver Lake Partners was involved. Did you coordinate with UFC executives such as Dana White or Hunter Campbell, among others?
Krauss: Hunter wasn’t there at the beginning; he came on board later. We hired Hunter six months after the initial stages to serve as the General Counsel of UFC. He currently holds the position of Chief Business Officer. Additionally, Riche McKnight, who was my Global Head of Litigation, now serves as the General Counsel of UFC and co-runs global litigation with another one of my lawyers. Like any business transaction, they were looking to sell their business. They had built an incredibly successful and valuable enterprise, and we were one of several groups interested in acquiring it. We were willing and able to make it happen. However, I can’t divulge many specifics beyond that. Dana White is a remarkable executive, an effective promoter of the business, and a staunch advocate for his employees. We consider ourselves very fortunate to be in business with him and for him to be a part of our team.
Ahmad: Thank you for your response. Shifting gears a bit, I’d like to address a broader topic related to effective leadership. We’ve heard from numerous speakers about the importance of effective communication, collaboration, and leadership in the legal and business fields. Could you share your insights on taking on a leadership role, and what advice do you have for individuals entering the field on becoming effective leaders?
Krauss: Absolutely, and I often emphasize this to my legal team. It might sound cliché, but being a good lawyer is paramount; that’s your ticket into the room. You need to excel in your core legal skills. I encourage individuals to seek as much training as possible before aspiring to become strategic executives because fundamentally, it all boils down to being a proficient lawyer within your chosen discipline. For example, my foundation is in litigation.
Additionally, as an in-house lawyer, you need to think like an owner, understanding that it’s not about you but about serving the client’s needs. It’s about balancing the role of a partner in the process while also acting as a control function.
Furthermore, mastering efficient processes without unnecessary bureaucracy is key. Lawyers often point out inefficiencies to others but overlook their own disorganized workspaces. Being self-reflective about your own work habits is crucial. Saying “no” when necessary is part of our responsibility. Although it may feel uncomfortable, it’s integral to our role. Conversely, figuring out how to get to “yes” whenever possible, even if it means finding alternative solutions, is equally important.
Moreover, effective communication is vital. The more empathetic and open-minded you are, the better communicator you become. Listening actively and considering diverse perspectives is invaluable. Life is about accumulating tools for your toolbox. The more tools and experiences you gather, the more challenges you can address. Understanding the importance of continuous learning and involving others in your educational journey is paramount to success.
Ahmad: Certainly, my next question is related to the impact of COVID-19 on businesses, including Endeavor. How has the recent global setback from COVID-19 affected Endeavor, and what measures do you think will be taken post-quarantine to cope with these challenging times?
Krauss: Well, it has affected us like it has affected everyone. First and foremost, as I mentioned earlier, our employees are our greatest asset. New York, where a significant part of our operations is based, has been severely hit. We haven’t been in our New York, LA, or London offices since March. We’ve had to adapt to working virtually. Interestingly, I used to have reservations about working from home. Part of it was valid; collaboration and spontaneous problem-solving, which are crucial in law, are somewhat compromised in remote setups. However, we’ve learned that remote work offers unexpected benefits, especially with the adoption of video technology. We’ve seen some businesses start to come back, like UFC and PBR, although fans are not present in the stands yet. Smaller gatherings and BB (behind closed doors) events are happening, giving us a glimpse of the future. Discussions about returning to production are underway in places like California, [which is] vital for the entertainment industry. Implementing social distancing measures, possibly through temporary barriers, is a challenge, especially for companies with open floor plans. Traditional office spaces might find it easier to adapt.
Regarding our consumer businesses, they are subject to local laws and regulations, which vary widely. As restrictions ease, businesses will cautiously return. Humanity has always displayed resilience, and despite challenges, we will navigate through, considering individual circumstances, health concerns, and anxieties. Empathy and patience will be essential as we move forward.
Indeed, with the recent changes due to COVID-19, industries like sports and entertainment have rapidly adapted to new norms. Endeavor, too, has adjusted. For instance, UFC and PBR events are continuing without fans. Soccer, a global passion, is resuming games, offering a sense of normalcy that people crave. Safety protocols are paramount, and adapting to evolving circumstances will remain key.
In the entertainment sector, movies that would have had theatrical releases are now going directly to consumers. Businesses, including ours, will always find ways to engage with consumers and deliver content. People are eager to venture outside their homes once it’s safe, and businesses must figure out how to facilitate this transition responsibly.
Ahmad: Certainly, my next question is more of a personal inquiry, delving into the dynamics of high executive leadership in major corporations like Endeavor. Could you elaborate on the distinctions between roles, such as CEO, EVP, and Executive Chairman, in these contexts?
Krauss: Well, in all companies, there are dual roles – your day job and your leadership role. My day job entails being the Chief Legal Officer, supporting the CEO in their domain. Similarly, there’s a CFO overseeing finances, an HR head managing human resources, and a Chief Communications Officer handling communications. Each person has a role defined within the organizational chart, contributing to the business’s structure. We interact, collaborate, and share perspectives. When I face a challenge, I consult my CFO, HR head, and communications officer, seeking their input. It’s about good judgment and problem-solving as a team. We’re all part of the executive leadership team, partnering and addressing issues collectively.
In essence, every company, except for legal firms, has a designated lawyer. I’m there because of my JD diploma, serving as a counselor, manager, and much more. I tackle problems, collaborate, and enjoy solving issues for various departments, from the UFC to IMG Models to WB Television. In a diverse company like mine, every day is unique, ensuring it’s never dull. However, what truly makes my job rewarding is the people I work with. Engaging with creative, talented, and diverse individuals worldwide is enriching. Learning from different perspectives, experiences, and belief systems shapes my understanding. Working with my department of outstanding lawyers, corporate security, and government relations teams is a privilege. The people, their passion, and the collective endeavor make my job remarkable.
Ahmad: What is your favorite aspect of your job, and what makes it most fulfilling for you?
Krauss: People are my favorite part of my job. I collaborate with incredible individuals globally – creative, smart, and challenging people. Interacting with them, facing challenges, and finding solutions together is incredibly rewarding. Whether it’s ensuring UFC or IMG Academy runs smoothly, every aspect of my job is intriguing. The diversity within my role, from bull riding tours to IMG Models, keeps me engaged. Being part of processes that facilitate these businesses is fulfilling. However, above all, it’s the people I work with that truly make my job extraordinary.
You spend more waking hours at work than anywhere else. Having colleagues you admire, collaborate with, and face challenges alongside is invaluable. As I mentioned earlier, the people are what it’s all about.
Ahmad: First, what advice do you have for students aspiring to pursue a career in law, entertainment, or business, whether at UCLA, USC, Harvard, or any university?
Krauss: Follow your passion fearlessly. Take chances, explore, and be open to learning. Understand that you don’t have all the answers and that diverse perspectives enrich your understanding. Enjoy life; it passes by swiftly. Embrace your youth; before you know it, you’ll be where I am, realizing how quickly time flies. Stay curious and open to new experiences.
Ahmad: Thank you so much for your time. I reached out to you, and your graciousness in accepting this interview is truly appreciated. I look forward to staying in touch, and thank you for helping us.