PHIL STEIN: The master of the billion dollar idea
by Jeffrey Beringer
"The real question is what do you have to offer today that is exciting, and that will make money. Any one of our projects will make multiple millions of dollars
in the right hands."
Phil Stein comes up with billion dollar ideas for a living. Game changing ideas that revolutionize industries, uncover new markets and completely change the way revenue is generated. So its probably not surprising that even after three cups of coffee, I'm still not quite at his level.
What is surprising, is that at 84 years old, he starts every single day with a six mile walk, routinely wins prestigious poker tournaments, can tie the female reigning world chess champion at chess, and is actively training to be the next world tennis champion in his age bracket. Not that there is exactly an overwhelming pool of competition among the 80 to 90 year old tennis crowd, but you get the picture.
The man has more energy than nuclear fusion.
Despite the overwhelming genius that seems to radiate from his aura, there is a mischievous sparkle in his eye that quickly disarms even the most stodgy disbeliever. Any sports aficionado will recognize that sparkle immediately...it is a love of the game, and of the thrill of playing. Even more than that...one can sense in Phil's bright white smile a firm and extremely contagious faith....a faith that he is going
to win....and he is going to win big.
While Phil's supreme confidence and love of the game can't exactly be pressed in a pill and sold to the masses as the long sought fountain of youth, for the lucky few fortunate enough to work with him and his consulting firm, 'Service Concepts Marketing,' they can translate into business ideas worth more than the gross national product of most countries. But before we get into that, lets begin this story at the beginning.
THE MAKING OF AN ENTREPRENEUR
"Even from a young age I loved the idea of selling something to somebody."
Phil Stein was born in Brooklyn, NY on June 26, 1930 to James and Esther Stein, a Russian shoe salesman, and an English housewife. His father made his living selling shoes to shoe stores in New York. "He was a great salesman," Phil fondly remembers of his father. "I used to go with him on sales trips. Even from a young age I loved the idea of selling something to somebody."
Phil graduated NYU with his bachelors degree in 1951 and completed law school in 1953. He went directly into the Army out of law school, where he worked for the military by day, and Sterling Life Insurance by night. "I was stationed in Fort Meade, Maryland," he recalls. "I did so many things in that time. I read rights in the military courts. I made sure both the prosecution and defense handled cases according to
military law. I handled court marshalls. I was a legal advisor. I was even a judge. I handled the colonel's divorce. And at night, I sold life insurance in D.C."
After exiting the army, Phil went back to Brooklyn and opened his own law firm. He took on a partner, "an original Knickerbocker basketball player," he says, and the two of them worked together until about 1976.
During his law practice years, Phil began developing a love for entrepreneurship. "A lawyer tries cases according to established law," he explains, "but there is something about the creative aspect of being an entrepreneur that attracted my attention. I began to realize that my true calling was in starting businesses and creating ideas."
And to a certain extent, gambling. Indeed, early on in his business career, Phil developed a knack for identifying opportunities, making deals with high profile partners and taking enormous risks.
His first ventures were in the travel industry. In 1971, when Disney opened Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, Phil attempted to pioneer the first I.T.C. chartered airline program, 'Florida Fling.'
"To compete with the major airlines," he explains, "you had to have three stops at least 50 miles apart. So I partnered with Disney, Universal Airlines, and some other key players, and I advertised three stops. Three days in Disney, two days in Palm Beach, and a cruise. We were much cheaper than the other airlines and for the first ten weeks we were able to fill every seat."
Unfortunately, Universal Airlines went bankrupt just as things were taking off for Phil. "All of a sudden," he explains, "I had no airline. Everyone let me out of their contracts, but I had to pay back all of our employees and all the expenses we had incurred. It was a huge flop."
But this didn't phase Phil. "I rationalized that I had done everything right. Everyone involved in the endeavor was exactly the right person. So I took a week off and I went back to work."
AN OLYMPIC SIZED GAMBLE
His next business venture would have a very different outcome. Labled "the Olympic Gamble" by the New York Times, Phil turned his attention North, to Montreal, where the Olympics were taking place in 1976.
Months before the Olympics, Phil had contacted Marcel Lupian, the biggest bigshot in the Montreal hotel industry, and had told him that if he could sell Phil in advance every hotel room he could get his hands on during the Olympics, Phil and his organization, "Convention Group Specialists," could guarantee a hefty amount of banquets and functions during the Olympics and the three days before and after.
Phil came up with a $350,000 deposit for the rooms Marcel could get, which was most of the rooms in Montreal at the time, and then turned his attention to Montgomery Ward. Montgomery Ward was holding hundreds of thousands of tickets for the Olympics, with nowhere to lodge the onslaught of out-of-town spectators. It was an easy conversation to get Montgomery Ward to part with some of their tickets...and after a
$313,000 handshake, Phil and his partners walked away with an agreement for about 400,000 tickets. Phil's organization resold the tickets and rooms together in multi-day packages and hoped their $663,000 gamble would pay off.
Which it did. On a major, major scale.
(Just how major? Maybe Phil will tell you if you meet with him for a delightful chat in person. Which even in today's instant message high-tech world is still his preferred way of doing business.)
At any rate, armed with vaults full of cash and the supreme confidence only success can bring, Phil and his 'Convention Group Specialists' spent the rest of the 70's making a fortune, getting corporations and large organizations the best deals on rooms and travel accommodations for their large events throughout the country. But Phil's keen mind was hardly content falling into a routine or resting on laurels. Being
on top of the world wasn't enough. He preferred to change it completely. And what better way to change the world than selling brilliant ideas to people with the power to implement them?
IDEAS THAT WOULD CHANGE THE WORLD
In 1981, Phil devised something he called the "Lifetime Pass" concept. He sold this idea to industry giant American Airlines and they implemented the concept under a proprietary title.
While confidentiality agreements limit what he can publicly say about his involvement with the program or its successors, the Lifetime Pass concept was perhaps the crown jewel in Phil Stein's long list of achievements. It revolutionized the way businesses use incentive programs and was the precursor to almost every frequent flier and credit card incentive program we see today.
Branching out into the world of movers and shakers and captains of industry, Phil's next project was a bartering and trading company called "Universal Trading Exchange" financed by Citicorp Venture Capital which he successfully took public.
"We did very unique trades and barters and had 50 of the fortune 500 companies as members," recounts Phil. "We had a great board of directors. At one time we were the fourth leading stock gainer." Surrounding himself with a top notch Board of Directors and consultants is a strategy Phil prides himself on to this day. Phil sold Universal Trading Exchange to Drexel Burnam in 1988.
ABOVE AVERAGE PASTTIMES
In the years between Universal Trading Exchange and his current project, 'Service Concepts Marketing,' Phil was involved in a slew of fascinating endeavors, some lucrative, some charitable, and some just plain old fun.
He joined forces with Ford Motor Company as a consultant and devised a long term leasing program. He was CEO of a company called 'Emergency Service Network,' for venture capitalist John Whitman, which flew people who needed emergency airlifts to proper medical facilities.
He raised money for the Pearl S. Buck Foundation in Asia. He became an accomplished tennis player and won gold medals in both singles and doubles in the Maccabiah Games (also known as the Jewish Olympics) in 1993. He judged the Miss Universe contest. He invested his money and raised children and owned multiple noteworthy homes in the US and in Europe. His home in Palm Beach was the 1989 recipient of the Robert
I Ballinger Jr. Award for excellence in Architecture. He even tied the reigning female world chess champion at chess at a public event at a South Florida
mall where she challenged 134 people to play her simultaneously, in a successful attempt to set the Guinness World Record for beating the largest number of challengers in the shortest period of time.
ASSEMBLING A BILLION DOLLAR TEAM
"I am now surrounded by a group of board members and consultants that serve on the combined boards of eighteen Fortune 500 companies."
But his passion for creating and implementing game-changing ideas did not abate. So in 2008, he pulled together a superpower board of directors, many from the fortune 500 "who's who" list, and dove into his latest endeavor, 'Service Concepts Marketing.'
Essentially, 'Service Concepts Marketing' is a consultant group which identifies untapped markets and underutilized sources of revenue, and finds a way to tap and utilize them. Partnering with key industry players, Phil and his team develop ideas and strategies which aim to jumpstart a given industry and generate massive amounts of revenue from overlooked resources.
In other words, Phil comes up with billion dollar ideas.
He currently has developed a repertoire of about 15 such ideas, and if you are willing to sign a non-disclosure agreement and meet with him face to face, he might be willing to share them with you. "The past is largely irrelevant," says Phil. "The real question is what do you have to offer today that is exciting, and that will make money. Any one of our projects will make multiple millions of dollars
in the right hands."
This is an exciting thing to hear from an 84 year old man who walks six miles a day and in his spare time is actively working on becoming a world 'Texas hold-em' champion and a tennis champion in his age group. "I am now surrounded by a group of board members and consultants that serve on the combined boards of eighteen Fortune 500 companies," he says. "I have been in a happy relationship for the last
26 years. It gives me the energy I want, and the passion I need to succeed, at my business and at my hobbies. I have faith that this is a good success formula for my grandkids to look up and be proud of."
At the very least, its a formula that definitely puts the 'gold' into the golden years, and enough revenue to make even the stodgiest old-timer jump around like a spring chicken.