Uttam has Passion for Tennis, Boston Lobsters

by Paula Vergara
Published in www.newengland.usta.com

         (Pictured L-R: Bahar Uttam, Jan-Michael Gambill, Andre Agassi)

When Bahar Uttam purchased the Boston Lobsters seven years ago, most people thought he was in the seafood business. He’s come a long way in building the team’s brand since then.

You could say Bahar Uttam’s foray in to the tennis world was never anticipated. As a young man growing up in England, tennis was the farthest thing from his mind. In fact, he had his heart set on becoming an electrical engineer, and came to the United States to further his studies. Uttam had only planned to stay in the U.S. for two years, and just finished up his third degree at Northeastern University (a PhD in Electrical Engineering). But he loved the Boston area so much, he decided to stay.

With his education complete, Uttam’s entrepreneurial bent led him to start his own company in 1984, called Synetics Corporation, a systems engineering and information technology firm. After 17 years on the job, all seemed to be going as planned. That is, until fate stepped in.

In 2001, Uttam’s son, who happened to be in boarding school at the time, needed to take up a sport. Tennis, he thought. He asked his father if he would consider taking up tennis too, so they could play together. He agreed. His son went on to play in college. And that was it. Tennis had taken hold of Uttam and ignited his next career move. In 2002, he sold his multi-million-dollar company, and decided to follow his passion: tennis.

"It became a religion with me", says Uttam. "Back in 2001, when I was still working, the USTA named me the ‘Tennis Nut of New England’. I’ve been to every tournament in the world. I’ve been to all the Davis Cup tournaments around the world. I have probably every cufflink that has a tennis emblem on it." Uttam also serves as a member of the Davis Cup Committee.

Transitioning from the corporate world into the tennis world was not an easy task for Uttam. He didn’t want to start another business. But as an entrepreneur, he was inspired by new ideas. He considered forming a tennis tour in Boston, based on a suggestion from close friend, Bud Collins. But Uttam had reservations about the idea.

After doing some research, Uttam learned about the Boston Lobsters, which had previously been owned by New England Patriots owner Bob Kraft. "He gave it up in the early ‘80s, and it was dormant as far as Boston was concerned, but the league was still flourishing," says Uttam. He then contacted Billy Jean King, who started World Team Tennis 35 years ago, about buying the Lobsters franchise. She told him if he could find sponsors and get a venue, she’d let him buy the franchise. And that he did.

"I was interested in it because it was a team," said Uttam. "It’s a community thing. It’s like the Red Sox, or the Patriots. I thought if I can build a following, this is what I want to do."

From Uttam’s perspective, running the Boston Lobsters WTT franchise is a far cry from his former job, working with GPS and navigation systems. "It's the 9 million moving parts that keep me up at night," he said. "Everything from the sponsors, the promotions, events…and you don’t have the luxury of time."

One of the biggest challenges Uttam faces as CEO of the Boston Lobsters is spreading the word about the team as much as he can. "This is very different from what I did in the technology world, where most of my work was for the federal government, and I stayed under the radar", he says. Here, I have to make so much noise, that everyone knows about us." Uttam is making lots of "noise" on social networking sites, like Facebook and Twitter, as a way to promote his team and connect with the tennis community.

Despite the enormous differences from his former job, Uttam has been able to take his passion for tennis and turn it into a very successful business. "I think the product we have is absolutely wonderful. Everyone who comes to a match loves it" he says.

This year will be Uttam’s sixth season as CEO of the Boston Lobsters and the team’s third year playing at The Ferncroft Country Club in Middleton, Mass. The Lobsters have made the playoffs twice in five seasons.

The 2010 Boston Lobsters season kicks off July 6 and the team roster includes James Blake, Jan Michael-Gambill, Coco Vandeweghe, Eric Butorac, and Raquel Kops-Jones. The Lobsters will also be hosting Martina Hingis when she comes to play for the NY Buzz against the Lobsters on July 11. Anna Kournikova will also be in town on July 19, when the St. Louis Aces take on the Lobsters.

For tickets, visit www.bostonlobsters.net.


Lea Ann Knight said...

Paula, nice article and so refreshing to read about a "tennis nut" who followed his passion...

Paula Vergara said...

Thanks, Lea Ann! I agree. It's quite a leap of faith.