As managing director of IMG Middle East, Greg Sproule, left, hosts major sports talents like world champion tennis player Roger Federer.
From small-town Red Deer in the 1980s to the bright lights and luxury of Dubai, Greg Sproule's global journey has taken him around the world. It all began with one decision during his second year at the University of Calgary.
A friend convinced him to join AIESEC, the International Association of Students in Economics and Commerce. "I was talked into joining the group; very reluctant at first," recalls Sproule, BComm'87, from his office in Dubai, where he is now the managing director of IMG Middle East, which includes North Africa and Turkey.
That single decision led him to a 13-month job placement in Seoul, Korea, in 1987, a time of political upheaval as the country transformed to a democracy from military rule. He was also there during the Seoul Summer Olympics the following year in 1988, and the experience sparked a love of working abroad. "What started as a student job exchange pretty quickly turned into a career path," he says.
These days, Sproule spends his time hosting IMG clients such as Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Tiger Woods, Maria Sharapova, Sergio García and Justin Timberlake to name a few. He oversees all of IMG's Middle East operations, which includes hosting sports events, including a European golf tour (the Abu Dhabi HSBC Gold Championship), a high-profile tennis exhibition called the Mubadala World Tennis Championship, a large triathlon, arts and entertainment events such as the Timberlake concert, a sponsorship consulting practice, a stadium business in Turkey and a television production and distribution division for its sports programming. IMG is also the largest fashion and modeling agency in the world and it is advancing opportunities in that part of the business in this region as well.
Sproule met his wife in Singapore in 1995 during a 12-year stint there when he joined IMG Singapore. They moved to Dubai in 2005 to start up IMG's Middle East office, bringing his two kids—a son aged 11 and a daughter aged 10—along for the ride. It's a long way from his first job as a research analyst on his AIESEC exchange working for Hankook Research during the 1980s.
There have been challenges along the way, but Sproule's career path is a prime example of today's global, mobile workforce. "I am forever grateful for the opportunity I was given," he says.
In such a high-profile line of business, the global recession has had an impact on most businesses, but the international nature of IMG is one of its greatest assets. "Globally, the market spend has been impacted in many ways, but fortunately a number of markets I'm responsible for are very resource-rich—oil resources—and buoyant from a tourism perspective," says Sproule. "We're a global company, so when some markets suffer, others such as China, India, Russia, Brazil, Saudi Arabia and Turkey flourish."
Being such a large global company—IMG has 60 offices around the world and numerous divisions—hasn't stopped the giant from using its local talent, like Sproule and others, to maintain a local presence on the ground in its various locations. "It allows you to fly under the radar from a competitive point of view and not everybody else notices, which is nice," he says. "We all pull together and identify opportunities that are global in nature, but also local."
Despite his global success, Sproule remains true to his Canadian and Albertan roots, never forgetting where he came from or how that one, seemingly simple decision to join AIESEC set him on an international career trajectory.
"You can take the boy out of the country, but you can't take the country out of the boy," he says.