How Success Happened for Josh Harris, Co-Founder of Apollo Global Management and Co-Founder of Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment
Harris has a knack for building and growing forward-thinking ventures.
Josh Harris has a short resume. For nearly his entire professional career, he has held only one job, sitting at the helm of Apollo Global Management.
Since co-founding Apollo in 1990, Harris has spent the last 31 years building and shaping what has become a leading alternatives asset manager. But even with 15 offices globally and over $460 billion in assets under management, Harris has found time to pursue passions outside of the financial industry. With an eye for uncovering potential value, the investor maintains a robust family investment office, is an active philanthropist through family foundation Harris Philanthropies, and has successfully launched a premier sports and entertainment platform, Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment, which has grown to include the Philadelphia 76ers, New Jersey Devils and Prudential Center in Newark New Jersey.
Harris credits wrestling for unlocking his internal drive. After participating in wrestling at summer camp at a young age, he was hooked. The intensity of the sport and raw physical strength it demanded was motivating and compelling to his innate competitive spirit. But he quickly learned that without preparation — a healthy diet, cross-training and time on the mat — you get physically dominated. Once a struggling student, wrestling helped Harris turn his academics around and earned him acceptance to the University of Pennsylvania — and a coveted spot on the wrestling team there.
It was at Penn where Harris first got a taste of finance. An introductory economics class ignited a similar spark within him, compelling him to go to the fast-paced world of Wall Street. He transferred to Wharton and dove headfirst into finance.
“I was allured by [the idea of] helping companies grow,” Harris says. “I was a sponge for knowledge and wanted to learn everything I could … from the best people.”
The decision was made. He bought his first suit and headed to Wall Street.
"This is what I would recommend to [anyone just starting their career]: Treat your life like an investment," Harris says. "Do something you are passionate about … look at the upsides, the downsides. What is your competitive advantage? ... Really look at it analytically.”
Harris used that same lens when faced with an even bigger decision, several years into his career. After cutting his teeth at Drexel Burnham Lambert and attending Harvard Business School, Harris accepted a position at Blackstone. A few weeks in, he got a call from former colleagues Marc Rowan and Leon Black, asking him to join a new firm, the fledgling Apollo. Harris had worked only weeks at Blackstone — and used his signing bonus to pay off his student loans — but he was enticed by an opportunity to build with people whom he knew.
Fast forward thirty years, Apollo has become the second-largest alternatives and largest alternative credit manager in the world. Harris has been the architect of some of the firm’s most successful deals, including the historic LyondellBasell transaction, one of the most profitable deals in PE history.
In 2011, Harris applied skills from his day job to a new venture — joining forces with David Blitzer to purchase the Philadelphia 76ers from Comcast in a corporate carveout. One of the most rewarding aspects of owning sports teams, Harris says, has been serving as a steward of the city.
“[Sports teams] are public assets…you take on a real obligation to help the communities where you are playing,” he adds.
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Giving back to the communities where HBSE operates — namely Philadelphia, Camden and Newark — is of top priority for Harris. In our conversation, it was clear how deeply he believes in the power of sports to change lives, just as wrestling had changed the trajectory of his life. Through his many charitable endeavors with HBSE and Harris Philanthropies, Harris is focused on creating opportunities for kids to experience sports who might not otherwise be able to, providing access to sports programming and pairing it with academic resources and other support. More broadly, Harris Philanthropies is focused on catalytic giving and creating equitable opportunities in the communities where the Foundation has a deep connection.
In the past year, however, Covid-19 was front and center, requiring the Foundation to adjust their strategy to address needs brought on by the pandemic. We [immediately] had to pivot [our strategy] and lead,” says Harris, who through HBSE and Harris Philanthropies, set to work distributing food, medical supplies, frontline equipment, laptops and other resources to local communities.
Now Harris is starting a new chapter, returning to his entrepreneurial roots. Having recently announced that he’ll be stepping back from his day-to-day role at Apollo, Harris is excited about continuing to expand HBSE, as well as his multi-asset class investing business and diving deeper into social impact. But he hasn't lost touch of what has driven him throughout his career — building and investing in success.
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