Michael K. Syracuse, CPA

CFO, Harlem Globetrotters International

Michael K. Syracuse, CPA
Michael K. Syracuse, CPA, CFO, Harlem Globetrotters International, with Corey “Thunder” Law (left) and William “Bull” Bullard. Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler.

The Globetrotters operate around the world, and with the various countries we visit, we get exposed to a lot in the finance department, especially in taxation. In the United States, in Canada, and around the world, there are a variety of taxes at all levels, from a national, regional, or provincial level to state and local levels. Harlem Globetrotters International (HGI) has adopted a more sophisticated approach to current tax and accounting issues, but even with the assistance of our public accountants, it makes for a real challenge for a small company operating in an increasingly bureaucratic environment.

We’re a small, entrepreneurial-spirited company with 138 staffers, and at HGI, everyone’s involved in every aspect of the business. It’s a matrix organization. Whoever knows the most or can offer added value is in charge at the time. It’s not a company where you have one position. You have the opportunity to cross over, and you’re not limited to just one discipline. And it’s entrepreneurial in the sense that everyone, all the team members, all employees have active input in the property and how things are operated. The nice part of it is you can be a CPA and still have operations, marketing, and sales input. We also incorporate our marketing and merchandise departments to help the accounting team with various financial settlements that are performed on a daily basis.

Being a great basketball player is the price of entry to be a Globetrotter, but our players have to be much more than that. They have to be great entertainers as we travel the world, exposing everyone to great basketball and great show entertainment. Most importantly, they have to be great people. Globetrotters truly are ambassadors of goodwill. In the back office, we look for the same qualities: Our staff must all be highly skilled, and they are great people with strong character. The good character traits are expected from everyone, from team members through all the other departments. Team members and staff are the biggest part of creating that special, unique feel of the ambassadors of goodwill.

The Globetrotters are entering their 89th touring season—that’s consecutive touring seasons. We have played in 122 countries in front of more than 140 million people. We are scheduled for 320 games in North America from the fall through the spring and up to 150 more around the world before we conclude our fiscal year.

What I enjoy most about my career is the variety of duties to which a CPA is exposed. After public accounting and industry training, you get to apply and adapt the things that you’ve learned through education, studying for the CPA exam, and a variety of training. You get to apply those in the business environment, from taxation and annual audits through every phase of the business operations, sales, and marketing activities. Every day you seem to be exposed to something new as the rules keep changing and new things are applied to the profession.

The Globetrotters do market research, and we’re very sensitive in that we want every fan to be able to come enjoy the Globetrotters and make it a memory worth repeating. What our research shows is that the Globetrotters are engaging a whole new level of fans. In the past, we’ve had parents bringing their kids along to introduce them to the Globetrotters they saw as kids, like Meadowlark Lemon and Curly Neal. Over the last 10 years, the Globetrotters have engaged a whole new set of fans and introduced them to current stars like Big Easy Lofton, Ant Atkinson, Hi-Lite Bruton, Moose Weekes, and TNT Maddox. Our players have been on three different seasons of The Amazing Race. We’ve been on The Bachelorette, Access Hollywood Live, ESPN, Disney shows, and major morning talk shows—as well as in publications such as USA Today, People, and US Weekly, generating billions of media impressions every year. We still have the nostalgic fans and are adding the younger audience; that’s our two-pronged approach.

—As told to Sheon Ladson Wilson, a freelance writer based in Durham, N.C.

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