One-on-One with MLB Agent Charles Hairston of Culture39

Q: When did you know you wanted to be a sports agent?

A: About five minutes after I walked out of the Jerry McGuire movie. Obviously, I wanted there to be considerably less crying and emotional baggage than Tom Cruise had in the movie. Seriously, I knew then that his passion for helping athletes achieve their dreams and support their families was my calling. 

Q: When did you get started? 

A: You mean when did I first fail?

Q: I guess. 

A: When I was in college. I was at Bryant University, and the star of the football team wanted to turn pro a year early. Given that we were at Division II schoolI knew that it would be a considerable challenge, but I was willing to do my best to get him signed

Q: So what happened? 

A: I failed miserably; but, not because I didn’t put forth the effort. I was working day and night to make it happen. Scouts, teams, open workouts, creating highlight tapes, and countless people hanging up the phone; or just stonewalling me. In the end, it just was not enough to compete with those who had the experience and knowhow. And, even though the player was not a close friend, I still felt as if I had let him and his entire family down. I knew then that care-level was at a premium; but, also that I never wanted to fail anyone again. So, I decided that being an agent was not for me. 

Q: Wow, so you gave up being an agent? 

A: Absolutely! I couldn’t shake the feeling for almost two years. I’d constantly wake up rehashing it all, trying to figure out where I had gone wrong. Mind you I was 21 years old at the time, but what I determined the biggest key to success was to focus on areas that you knew best, where you had connections, and that if you start something, you have to prepare yourself for the obstacles and challenges that will come with the responsibility of having someone’s dreams in your hand; and, if that didn’t work out, what else you were willing to do to fulfill your commitment. 

Q: So you went back to being an agent after two years? 

A: No way! It wasn’t until about six years later that I received a phone call from a friend in New York. He knew that I has just got separated, and was looking for something to occupy my free time. My friend had seen a band in New York perform, and they had this incredibly unique sound. Moreover, they didn’t have any representation at the time, and were looking for someone to help guide their business. At first, I was inclined to decline the opportunity, but given my passion for music as a budding song writer in college, I thought why not see what they were about. It was at that time that I found my calling in developing real talents, centered on a centralized business vision, and developing relationships that bordered on family

Q: Okay, so what happened to the band?

A: They are now doing great. Their name is “The Racer”and we still stay in contact to this very day. In fact, they are currently performing at SxSW this week. We still work with them on sponsorship and endorsement deals; and, they are still part of our Culture39 family. 

Q: So they were the first Culture39 clients?

A: Yes, those are my guys. We did TV and radio shows, tours throughout the country, placement on video games like Rock Band, music that appeared on MTV episodes of The Real World and Jersey Shore, and so much more. 

Q: Then what happened? 

A: Well two things. It was about 2012. As many people know, my cousin is Jerry Hairston, Jr. What many people do not know is that for much of his early career, we didn’t get along at all. In fact I played in an all-star game during the day at Camden Yards in Maryland, the same day he would have a night game; and, I was asked about him. And, I made sure everyone knew that we were not close, and I was my own man; a different type of player’. 

Q: Where did that come from? 

A: Mainly due to my jealousy of his great baseball skills and contract; and, I am sure he was jealous of my good looks. No, seriously, we just didn’t get along that well because we were quite similar, and I needed to learn to respect my elders before expecting it in return. But, I believe it was before the 2009 season, that he was playing for the Reds at the time, and going through a rough patch in his career; I had just gotten divorced. And, while some people were not there for both of us, we became each other’s cheerleaders and motivation — something we still share on a daily basis to this day. But by 2012, I became his personal business manager, handling everything big and small on and off the field. In that same year, we also added another musical group to the Culture39 rosterin the MorrisonBrothers Band; andbefore you knew it we had three clients. Lastly, I decided to move to LA to be around Jerry full-time to develop a network there for the music and to learn more about the inner-workings of baseball. 

Q: Okay so this is starting to make sense. Now you played baseball as well, correct?

A: Definitely. In fact, that was not an option in our family. But, by time I reached my second year at Bryant University, my love for baseball had dwindled; so, I left the team before the start of the season. Which made the next move I’d make that much more surprising. 

Q: You became an agent?

A: Precisely. But, it was not an easy decision by any means. First, I let our music clients go. That was incredibly difficult because both groups have what it takes to be huge stars in this industryand believe they both will be someday soon. Then, I needed to leave my fulltime job; knowing that I would have to put all that I had saved into creating my vision for my own agency. Or, I would need to select which agency was right for me to work with and develop. 

Q: So what did you do?

A: I listened and learned. Being around the Dodgers in 2013 was an extraordinary opportunity for me. I watched the baseball decisions and transactions. The inner workings of that team were incredible – and I still say that if Hanley doesn’t get hit on the hand against the Cardinals, the Dodgers are in that World Series. Anyways I will never forget the advice I was given by Matt Kemp in Chicago. He told me that the best agents in the world are the ones that think outside the box. And, to never allow that box to change me, or its not worth doing. And, it was a rookie pitcherPaco Rodriguez, that solidified it by saying, if you are going to do it, don’t ever change for any player, or anything. Be who you are and that will make you great. Hearing that from two completely different career perspectives; and, having Jerry, Jr. and Jerry, Sr. provide me guidance, I knew that I had to do it on my own – and take Culture39 from an unknown management group to the agency we have become today. 

Q: Speaking of that, what is Culture39 all about?

A: It stands for family first. I am the last of thirtynine Hairston grandchildren from a small town called Cascade, VA. And, regardless of how big or small, rich or poor, young or old, we consider ourselves all equal – because we are all family. That is something we try to share with our clients every day.

Q: So lets talk about your clients. You have had a pretty good first year of agency signings, right?

A: We are happy with what we have done so far, but we by no means are done refining it either. Our focus is all about quality over quantity. I interviewed with many of those mega agencies and they are terrific at running their machines. We are and intend to maintain a boutique style of agency. So while the number of signees, which are up to eleven now, starting from zero at the beginning of last year, it may look like we are grabbing the lion’s share of the market. However, we can honestly say that we turn down the opportunity to represent more players each month than we accept. Furthermore, I must constantly remind my team that with any agency, we will have some quick exits from our client list — and, there will be no hard feelings there. What I have come to realize in my single life is that you can’t marry every woman you take on a date – because real life and player representation is far different than sandy beaches and umbrellas in your drinks. 

Q: You mentioned your team. What does that look like today?

A: From the agency side, we have myself and Ariel Nunez. We have a great COO in my childhood friend who keeps us going in one directionand, we have a number of other people who add substantial value in a number of areas. Obviously, Jerry and I launched this vision together, so he is instrumental to whateverwe do, and how we do it as well. 

Q: Okay, now back to your clients. What are some of theirnames?

A: Well, we have added the veteran Carlos Marmol, who we believe is going to have a huge bounce-back year this year, either in MLB or JapanWe have known his for a few years now, and his reputation as a former All Star, we just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to represent him. And, when we heard of the circumstances that led to the public perception of him being swayed negatively, we wanted to be part of his comeback story. His arm is great, and we believe we are just a few weeks away from selecting the right place for him to launch the 2nd half of his career. Likewise we feel the same way about Hector Nelo, a 2013 Rule 5 guy, who will be signed shortly as well. 

Q: Nice. Who else?

A: Well we have our diamond in the rough in Vio Rosa from the Marlins. We love this kid! He trains hard, comes from a great family, and is willing to trust the Culture39 process to realize his goals. He is just 24, and we know that in the next couple years he will be a household name in a Marlins uniform or otherwise. 

Q: And, you have added a few new Cuban players as well, right? 

A: Our Cienfuegos, Cuba guys. There are three of them: Team Cuba pitcher Jorge Hernandez, IF / OF Pedro Luis Marquez, and P Danny Hernandez. All of them defected from Cuba in 2014, and are training in the Dominican Republic. Jorge will have his showcase on April 12thPedro Luis will hold a showcasethereafter in April; and Danny’s will come in late May. 

Q I am hearing positive things about Pedro Luis. What is his story? 

A: Pedro Luis could very well be the most talented Cuban we have worked with thus far. In fact, just a few years ago, he and Yoan Moncada were mentioned in the same breath for potential. And, although he does not come with the same fanfare as a Moncada, he brings such a strong work ethic and humility thatwill serve him well for years to come. 

Q: Anyone else you want to mention?

A: Definitely. We are so pleased to announce the recent signing of Kelyn Jose, a 6’5” left handed Dominican pitcher from the Blue Jays organization. Keyln was a top 10 signee just two years ago in the International Signing class. He is a player that many compare to a Randy Johnson type, as he throws 96 + consistently at the young age of 19. And, although he is a super talent, more importantly he comes from an outstanding family, and brings a wonderful character to Culture39.

Q: Well, you guys have been busy. How do you do it all?

A: Family. I would not be able to do what I have done without the support of my immediate family. The love and support of my siblings and parents. The understanding of each of our clients that they are part of a family. And, families stay close regardless of the distance by having transparent, vulnerable, and open conversations with each other. This only further solidifies our relationship with them and allows us to be all over the place – and still be there with them even when we are not. But, the person most responsible for all of this is my nine year old son. He is my biggest fan and he pushes me every day to get back out there make it happen. And, while he does miss seeing me half of the month, he wouldn’t want me doing anything else because he knows how much we do for our clients; and in turn for their families in the end. 

Q: Thank you for the time and look inside your agency. Most agents would not feel as comfortable talking so openly about all of this stuff.

A: Well, we are an open book. No secrets here. Others will try to replicate our formula and we hope they succeed. The competition is inevitable; but if they do what we are doing, they will only strengthen the MLB Players Association and better impact the futures of players for years to come.

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