By Brent Shearer, Special to TPN
Bronx, New York – (August 19, 2022) – When the finalists in the 60K NYJTL Bronx Open take the court on Sunday afternoon, they probably won’t notice that they will be playing on the Victor Kiam Stadium court.
But I remember Victor (1926 – 2001) and on the occasion of his court hosting the singles and doubles finals of an event made possible by his and other NYJTL donors’ generosity, I’d like to share some of the experiences I had when I worked with him.
But before going into the tennis specifics, a capsule biography will provide some context for how he got to the position where he could indulge his love of his family and of our game by ingenious combinations of which the Victor Kiam Stadium at the NYJTL’s Cary Leeds center is only one example.
Those of us of a certain age will remember Victor’s TV commercials, which made him famous and created the catch-phrase that we who were privileged to know him will always fondly associate with him. Speaking about his 1979 acquisition of the Remington Products Company Inc., a maker of electric shavers, Victor said, “I liked the razor so much, I bought the company.”
Victor’s Remington acquisition was a milestone in the development of corporate finance because it was one of the first leveraged buyouts, a technique that uses borrowed money to pay for an acquisition.
Had there been no Remington deal, there might not have been any RJR-Nabisco LBO in 1985, which was the biggest of a wave of transactions using debt instead of cash to buy a company.
As a businessman Victor was primarily a marketing genius, but with his Remington deal he broke new ground as a deal maker. He was also the owner of the NFL’s Boston Patriots, wrote a book “Going for It,” and came close to making a run for president.
Victor hit the ground running after his 1951 graduation from Harvard Business School working for Lever Brothers, the consumer products company. Before there were classes at business schools on being an entrepreneur, Victor was pouring all his drive and energy into creating profitable companies and then moving on to the next project.
I crossed paths with Victor in the mid-eighties when he and his son, Tory, who had been competing in USTA Father and Son events, decided to start their own Father and Son circuit. They created a national Father and Son tournament in Nashville.
After the success of the Nashville tournament, Victor and Tory decided to set up an international Kiams’ Father and Son event in Marbella, Spain. I think the Kiams picked Marbella because Victor had an aunt living there.
In any case, the week-long event was contested by Father and Son teams from nine countries, and Victor footed the bill for setting it up. As in Nashville, the event was on the up and up because even though Victor was the founder, he and Tory never won it.
But everything Victor supported; he supported 100 percent. As we tennis fans know, there is no gravitas in tennis umpires quite like the ones at the All-England Club. So Victor imported not one, but two Wimbledon head umpires for his event. He got Mike Gibson, who had been working Wimbledon finals since the end of the Second World War, and Gibson’s eventual replacement, Jeremy Shales.
Although I was only there to shoot video, I think it is easy to imagine that for a teaching pro from New York, hanging out with Wimbledon umpires and teams of Father and Son tennis players from many countries on the Costa del Sol was a kind of heaven. Thank God, I hadn’t quit drinking yet.
One of the fathers competing at Marbella put it well. “If I had the money, I’d do exactly what Victor is doing. There’s nothing better than playing the game you love with your child.”
Victor was a titan in the business world. He was able to use the rewards of his successes there to underwrite his love of our game. The combination of tennis and his love for his family was reflected in his Father and Son entrepreneurism. His concern for generations of tennis players to come from all backgrounds fits perfectly with the mission of the NYJTL.
So, on Sunday when the women tennis pros walk onto the court named after him to play the Bronx Open finals, it is understandable that they will be concerned about their match strategies, their hopes for wild cards and whether they will get into the upcoming US Open and not be wondering about who the Cary Leeds Stadium court is named after.
I’m going to be there on Sunday, too. So will the kids from the NYJTL’s programs that I’ve had the privilege to teach this summer. But since Victor has left behind so much for them and for so many of the rest of us in the NYC tennis community, I’m going to pause and remember him and be thankful for how much he contributed to our game.