Chris Pollak, 35, joined McKinsey right out of Brown University and worked his tail off in New York and Montreal for two years before taking a year off to live in Thailand and study Muay Thai, a local combat sport. At the end of that year, Pollak enrolled in Columbia Business School and, after graduating in 2004, returned to McKinsey. Four years later, while on a trip to meet McKinsey clients in Seoul, he fractured his right fibula during a recreational jujitsu lesson. Unfortunately, the local hospital reset it crookedly, and he spent six weeks in his hotel unable to move.
By the time he recovered, though, he’d had an epiphany. Within a year Pollak left McKinsey, moved to HongKong, and, together with B-school classmate Michael Haskamp, started his own mixed martial arts (MMA) fighting league. Legend Fighting Championship, a franchise that now airs on TV networks in eight countries, last summer closed a Series-A round of financing with Peter Chernin, News Corp.’s former chief operating officer. The key, Pollak reflects, was committing to his new career even before he and Haskamp had worked out any details. In spring 2009, Pollak quit McKinsey and traveled with Haskamp to New Zealand. “We spent all eight weeks surfing and mountain climbing, and the last two days came up with a business plan,” he says. In August 2009, they launched Legend out of their shared Hong Kong living room. They held their first competition in January 2010. Now, after Chernin’s investment, Pollak is in the process of signing with networks in the U.S. He says, “We’re now expecting to grow dramatically.”
Pollak’s Best Advice
1. If you’re watching the clock, you’re in the wrong job
Overtime could mean working all night on a presentation, or it could be a trip into the heart of Mongolia to train with the national MMA team, drink some fermented horse milk, and sign a fighter.
2. Ask for help early and often
My partner, Mike Haskamp, and I were shameless in seeking support, advice, introductions, and couches to crash on from our networks. Most people enjoy helping others. Be sure to reciprocate when you can.