How to Be a Star Networker

The surprising history of Baskow and Associates spotlights the power of networking

Sorbo Baskow Gretch

Though she helms one of the top destination management companies, talent agencies, speakers bureaus, and event planning companies in the country, success has not always been a sure thing for Jaki Baskow. The founder and president of Baskow and Associates faced more than her share of challenges and relied on some high-stakes networking along the way. But her story recently enjoyed its own Hollywood ending -- even if this one takes place in Las Vegas.

In 1976, Baskow left her home in New Jersey with $300 in her pocket determined to make it in the booming Nevada city, drawn by an opportunity to work for a new movie studio being opened there. But when the studio's boss changed course and returned to Hollywood, Baskow was left stranded in Vegas without a job.

Determined to make the most of things, she took a position as secretary to Kojak star Telly Savalas, scouting caterers, locations, and extras for the 1970s crime drama in which he starred. "Telly saw I made things happen," recalls Baskow. "No matter what he needed, I accomplished it." He encouraged Baskow to open her own talent agency, and in short order she founded Baskow and Associates.

The Chairman of the Board
Savalas wasn't the only celebrity who mentored Baskow's start. She remembers being at Caesars Palace with models she hired for a golf tournament. Frank Sinatra was there shooting a commercial. Unbeknownst to her, a part-time actor she cast for a role served as Sinatra's valet. He introduced Baskow to Sinatra. "Frank walked me into the catering department to meet the director. He asked if I did events and I replied, 'sure,' although at the time I wasn't even sure what constituted an event," she says. "I became one of Caesars' out-of-house event planners." Thirty-nine years later, that relationship (with Caesars, not the late Sinatra) is still going strong.

After decades at the helm, Baskow was ready to step down as CEO to spend more one-on-one time with her clients. Traveling globally with them remains her passion but organizational duties stood in the way. Managing a full-time staff of 14, in addition to 78 part-timers, left little time outside the office.

"I didn't care about being the boss anymore. I want to be out there servicing my clients and producing events that make a difference in people's lives," she says.

Robert Massi, a Fox News legal analyst, who is a keynote speaker she often uses, as well as a friend, learned of her situation and offered his advice.

"Bob said, 'I know someone who is retired, bought a winery, and is getting a bit bored and is ready for his next venture,'" says Baskow. "Next thing I know, Steve Black arrived in Las Vegas and announced interest in my company."

A Perfect Pairing
They couldn't have been better suited; similar to Baskow, Black's success resulted from tenacity and hard work. Both share New Jersey roots. After more than 30 years working for securities firms and rising from the mail room of Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith, to the top of his field in operations management, Black helped prepare LPL Financial, the nation's largest independent broker-dealer, for its initial public offering. Its immediate success enabled Black to retire at fifty-three and start VPTick Vineyards in Sonoma County, CA. But after a few years, he was itching for something more active.

"I have a home in Las Vegas and had looked on and off for different opportunities for myself," says Black. "It was time to get back after five years of building the wine business. I gave it strategic guidance and direction and my wife implemented it with my family. I was looking for something more."

The Baskow opportunity was ideal. The two brokered a deal and Black acquired Baskow and Associates in December 2014. "I knew Steven was the person I could trust in handing my baby over as we both have the same passion for work," says Baskow. Although the exact figure is confidential, Baskow says Black paid millions for the company and the building that houses its offices. They agreed that Black would assume the role of CEO, while Baskow continue as president. A complete renovation of the building, a number of new staff hires, and Baskow and Associates looked to the future with two dynamos in leadership positions.

"I streamlined the operations side of the business, put more procedures in place, and enhanced the computer systems," explains Black.  

Paying It Forward
But Black couldn't stick around. A phone call from one of his life-long mentors changed everything. "He needed help and I went back and did some consulting," says Black. "It turned into an offer I decided to pursue because I enjoy working with him so much and he needed help with some of his projects."

The fact that this new role would take Black to the East Coast and Baskow and Associates remains in Las Vegas also made it challenging logistically. "How do you say no to someone who is your mentor, someone who helped you become extremely wealthy, and able to retire?" asks Baskow.

You don't. So what did Black do? He gave Baskow back the business and building he had bought from her only three months prior, asking nothing in return, she reveals.

"'It's time someone did something nice for you,' he said," recalls Baskow.

Black will remain a consultant, and he's confident the processes he implemented will help the company continue to thrive. "I hired a wonderful young lady with a great operational background who will be able to continue to enforce a lot of these controls I put in place," he adds.

As for Baskow, "I'll never stop paying it forward," she promises.

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This article appears in the May 2015 issue of Successful Meetings.