Jamie Cunningham is the chief executive of Professional Sports Group, one of the leading sports-marketing agencies in the Middle East, with projected annual revenue of US$10 million (Dh36.7m) by the end of 2013.
It employs nearly 30 people in Abu Dhabi and in London. He is still only in his early 40s, but has a roster of blue-chip clients including Etihad Airways, Adnic Insurance, Aabar, Titleist, the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race, Nestlé, the English diving champion Tom Daley, and Britain's Brownlee brothers, the top triathletes.
Occasionally dubbed the Jerry Maguire of the Middle East, a reference to the Tom Cruise film about an ambitious sports agent, he has always been a man in a hurry. Where does that drive and ambition come from? "Despite my English public-school accent, it's probably my Glasgow roots," he says. "My father was very driven."
After a degree in modern languages at Edinburgh University, he applied to Harvard, Insead and Stanford to do an MBA.
He thought he had gained enough work experience for a year as an intern for the chief executive of Banque Indosuez and a spell at university running his own student newsletter.
"Those institutions thought otherwise," he says. "They told me politely to come back in a couple of years' time, but I knew I'd never study once I started working."
He joined Andersen Consulting in 1991 and for two long months worked in the north of England as a computer programmer.
"Big mistake. I thought I was going to be a consultant in Madrid," he says. "I decided that I would never work in anything that I wasn't passionate about, so I resigned."
He won a place on J Walter Thompson's graduate trainee scheme, but found he had eight months to kill before the training started, so managed to talk his way into IMG, the sports-marketing company. "I told IMG's boss that I'd make great coffee," he says. "He liked that idea."
He was pitched straight into the golf department, given a desk and a phone and told to start selling. He discovered that not only could he sell, but that he enjoyed it. "The only other person at the time who had turned them [JWT] down had a mental breakdown in Canada."
Four happy and busy years at IMG ended when he got an offer from Golfino, a German clothing company, to help it to expand internationally. "The best thing I ever did for IMG was sign Pádraig Harrington. I left two months later." As well as doing the clothing business, he started his own agency at the same time.
Three years later, just turned 30, he turned his attention to Professional Sports Group full-time. Now living in Abu Dhabi with his wife and three children, he remains an enthusiastic footballer, renowned for his tough tackling and competitive spirit.
Sport is your life. Were you always mad about it?
Aged seven to 12 I thought I was world-class and would soon be playing football for Liverpool. Then at Sherborne School in Dorset I played hockey, tennis, cricket and loved them all. What professional sport has taught me is that I am just above average, even though I am very competitive and always think I'm proper good.
But you were just 30 when you set up on your own. Wasn't it daunting to be out alone in the corporate world?
We had some good clients. It was 1999. Jean Van De Velde was one of our clients. You may recall that was the year he nearly won the Open. He needed to make better than a seven on the last to win. Unfortunately he didn't, and lost the play-off. It was one of those unbelievable stories. I learnt a lot very quickly. If he had won, I don't know if we would have been ready as a business to handle it. But I had prepared myself for the worst.
What did that loss cost you?
There's no point even thinking about "what if" in sport. If you do, it will muck you up. You learn from it and get better, But Jean's moment made us. We had two or three great years with him and it taught us to be a media company. Jean was unlucky. He was a passionate Frenchman from the south of France whose hero was Seve Ballesteros. Ballesteros never won taking an iron off the tee.
But at that time you're still just a golf company?
Yes, and probably too much so. I love golf, I get it, but it's not the passion in my soul. The Open, Augusta and the Ryder Cup is what interest me, less so the rest.
So you made a conscious effort to move into other sports?
Partly. Other things happened. A lot of money suddenly came into golf and we had trouble signing top players such as Luke Donald and Paul Casey without guarantees. And some of our golfers, for whom we had done a great commercial, just didn't perform. So in 2003-04 we hired a young guy who was working with [now Sir] Matthew Pinsent. We went and spoke to Matthew, who came to join us. It was his final year rowing in the Olympics, so it was great from our point of view when he won his fourth gold in Athens. It took us into mainstream sports, into events, public relations and sponsorship. We are though still the leading golf marketing agency in Europe.
And what brought you to the Middle East?
I knew Dubai from the Dubai Desert Classic, I worked there for IMG in '93, '94 and '95. Then I thought about doing a fun Pro-Am and was driven down to Abu Dhabi in 2004 where we created the World Sand Championship, the day after the Dubai Desert Classic. Al Ghazal is the best sand course in the world. We had Faldo, Woosnam, Montgomerie, Harrington, Campbell and others.
And then you started working with Etihad?
Correct. We came up with the idea of doing the Swing on the Wing in 2006. How do you make a new airline relevant to an international golf tournament? I'm one of the few people who's not an international terrorist who has closed down an airport. We had Ian Poulter and Paul Casey doing a long driving competition off a 747 down the runway. The television shots went all around the world, and we started the journey with Etihad. That's when we decided to move here. It was UAE or either India or China. We liked it here, even though the other two places might have been a better business decision. Abu Dhabi was a bit unfashionable then, but it was a good time to come.
What's for the future?
We'd like to own more events and properties, either on our own or with some of our clients. We've got a lot of exciting things coming up. Next year is going to be a big year for us, particularly with the London Olympics. We now have the right team to develop a lot of new opportunities.
Is there one person you wish you had represented?
Seve Ballesteros. He had everything, Everything. He did well as a sportsman, but with respect to the team around him they did an average job. He would have been the perfect client for us and we would have done an A-star job.
And if your children get involved in sport professionally?
I will be a dad, not an agent. I'll give any advice, but I'm not managing them. Hopefully they have their Mum's sporting talent.