November 2012 -- November is here and John Embree has arrived at the USPTA World Headquarters in Houston. Over the next two months John will work alongside current CEO/ED Tim Heckler, who has led the Association for the past 30 years. In January, as USPTA enters its 86th year, John will officially become USPTA's new CEO/ED.
Over the next several months, we will hear from John about his vision for the Association's future. To start, he plans to visit the divisions and spend time with as many of you as possible. Meetings with industry partners and endorsement negotiations are top priorities, while close communications and interaction with the national board and Executive Committee will be ongoing. Spending time with the national staff and learning what they do on a daily basis is another early priority. During the selection process in August, John emphasized a "we can do better" approach to his leadership. I know we all look forward to seeing John's actions and follow-through as he begins his USPTA journey.
But first, let's step back for a few weeks as John decompresses a bit from the World Conference and takes time for a road trip to Seabrook Island, S.C., with his wife, Dagmar, before beginning the process of relocating his family from Chicago to Houston. I decided to give him a call and spend some time getting to know John Embree outside the office without his USPTA hat on and before he dons that Texas cowboy hat. While John traveled the roads of the Carolinas in late September (his wife was driving), I enjoyed asking him a variety of questions.
So, let's go On the Road with John Embree.
Tell me about growing up and your family. I was born in Hinsdale, Ill. I am the oldest of five children. I have three younger brothers and one sister. My mother died of cancer when I was 15. My dad remarried and my new stepmom had three daughters, so we ended up with a total of eight children.
Tell me about your immediate family.
My 18-year-old daughter is a freshman at Miami of Ohio and my son is a junior at the Hun School (prep) in Princeton, N.J. My wife, Dagmar, is from Germany. We have been married for 20 years. We have a cool tradition that began with our honeymoon: Each anniversary, I plan a surprise getaway for her to a special, secret destination. I just tell her to pack her bags and be ready to go.
What are your hobbies, passions and interests outside of tennis?
I am definitely a sports and fitness buff. Besides tennis, I am an avid golfer and play platform tennis at the national level (unfortunately, there is no platform tennis in Houston), along with skiing and hiking. We also love to travel and try to take one special trip per year; this year was Barcelona.
When you have time to relax and kick back, what do you like to do?
I am a big music enthusiast with a rather eclectic repertoire - from rhythm and blues and soul to pop. The 70s was the best decade for music with so many "super" groups like Crosby, Stills and Nash; Loggins and Messina; Eagles ... When I get the chance to read, it is typically business-related magazines or sports rags but sitting down with a suspense novel by the likes of John Grisham or Robert Ludlum is also satisfying. Now that we are "empty nesters," dinner out with friends is a treat.
What is something people would never guess or know about you?
I have never had a cup of coffee, alcohol, cigarettes or any type of illegal drugs in my life. I know that this is hard to believe but it is the truth. I made this decision early on for a variety of personal reasons and have been able to stick with it. Additionally, I played tenor sax and sang in a prep school glee club that performed in New York and Boston. We even cut an album.
Do you have a favorite vacation spot?
I would say any of the Caribbean Islands for a tropical vacation. When we want to ski, we choose Beaver Creek (Colo.) or Dear Valley (Park City, Utah)as our preferred mountains.
How would you describe your perfect day?
The day would start with 18 holes of golf, then lunch, followed by two out of three sets of tennis, a massage and then dinner/dancing on some gorgeous tropical island. But, I am an early-to-bed guy, so it wouldn't be a late night!
If you could have the chance to have lunch with anyone, who would it be?
I would love to share a private moment with Arthur Ashe. He was such an inspiration to me and others. After reading his book "Days of Grace," my admiration for him grew even stronger.
How did you get started in tennis? My dad played high school and college tennis. He got me started at age 6 in Hinsdale, which was a great tennis community with a strong tennis tradition. When I was 15, I went to prep school in Deerfield, Mass. I was the third generation in my family to attend there; yes, I am a preppy. During my four years at Deerfield Academy, I played soccer, basketball and tennis. Following prep school, I attended Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Va., where I played four years of soccer and tennis and was honored to be named the most valuable athlete my senior year. I was inducted into the Washington and Lee Hall of Fame in 2005.
What was the best job you have had in tennis? Without question, it was my first job at Wilson as Director of Racquet Sports Promotions. Not only was I responsible for scouting up-and-coming talent in the juniors plus dealing with all of the teaching professionals on staff, we also had a core group of professional athletes that I was fortunate enough to recruit or work with, including Courier, Sampras, Evert, Edberg, Martin and Davenport. This provided an unbelievable experience, especially given that I was young and single, traveling the world six months a year. The opportunity to spend time with these legends and attend all of the Grand Slams ... Who wouldn't love a job like that?
What are your favorite tennis tournaments?
There are three that stand out. The French is the absolute best of the Grand Slams: Paris in the spring is tough to beat. Secondly, the NCAAs in Athens, Ga., ... especially when Georgia is competing for an NCAA title. The atmosphere is pretty special. And finally, Kalamazoo for the National Boys 16/18s. What a venue! The entire community comes out to support our best juniors.
Looking back on your career, what do you think has been your most significant accomplishment?
Without question, I am most proud of being on the ground floor of the start of the USTA Adult League program. Having participated in two years of pilot programs in the late 70s, the USTA adopted the league program in March 1980. After signing Michelob Light as the national sponsor, I was asked to serve as the first National League Tennis Administrator. Knowing what we went through to get the program off the ground and seeing how it has grown to where it is today is incredibly gratifying. Let's face it, the USTA Adult League program is a huge component of most teaching pros' programs today.
Is there anything else that you would like to share or close with?
I started as a teaching professional in college almost 40 years ago and have now come full circle. Having played tennis since I was young, I have been blessed to be able to have a career in a game that I have loved. Few people can say that. Now, I have the opportunity to be working for the finest teaching organization in the world, which is a great honor. The responsibility is awesome. This is a new day, a new chapter, and I believe we can do things better.
I'm sure you will all join me in warmly welcoming our new CEO/ED John Embree to the national office.