Volume 13, No. 3/2005

Peter Johnson, former football standout, now in key IMG position

Peter Johnson, a University of Delaware graduate who played football for the Fightin’ Blue Hens from 1969-71, has built an extremely successful career by combining his business acumen with his background in sports.

Today, Johnson, who as a senior played end on UD’s 1971 small college national championship team, is the chief operating officer of IMG, one of the largest and most respected sports and lifestyle marketing and management firms in the world.

Johnson was promoted to chief operating officer earlier this year by IMG co-chief executive officers Bob Kain and Alastair Johnston, and he continues to head the company’s client business unit and its business development activities on a worldwide basis.

“Peter is uniquely qualified for this key position within IMG,” Kain says. “His experience spans all aspects of our business, from client recruitment and management to sales and marketing and overall oversight of the company. Peter has long been an integral part of IMG management.”

During his 30-year career at IMG, Johnson has been the personal manager for three National Football League Most Valuable Players, including fellow UD alumnus Rich Gannon.

In addition to Gannon, his clients have included pro quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Joe Montana, running back Herschel Walker, tennis stars Ivan Lendl and Martina Navratilova and golfer Nancy Lopez.

A native of Bryn Mawr, Pa., Johnson graduated from UD with a bachelor’s degree in business in 1972. He then went on to study at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, where he earned his master’s degree in business administration. 

Johnson was a member of UD’s small college national championship team in 1971, playing for College Football Hall of Fame Coach Harold R. “Tubby” Raymond. He still holds the Hens’ record for most average yards per catch in a career, at 23.1.

After graduation, he played for the Buffalo Bills and Detroit Lions in 1972.

Johnson is married to Stephanie Tolleson, a senior corporate vice president of IMG and a member of IMG’s Management Committee. 

Johnson says he had a “great all-around experience at the University of Delaware,” citing opportunities for a “good education, athletics, social life, fraternity life and work experience during my four years there.

“I enjoyed the diversity of the students and the terrific campus,” Johnson says, adding, “I was able to utilize my academic experience to get into the MBA program at Wharton and my athletic experience to get tryouts with the Buffalo Bills and the Detroit Lions.”

 Being an alumnus has had its benefits and rewards in business. “As a UD graduate, I was pleased to be able to represent another UD grad, Rich Gannon,” Johnson says. “I watched him develop from a fourth-round draft pick of the New England Patriots as a defensive back to the NFL MVP as the quarterback of the Oakland Raiders.”

Johnson was instrumental in the negotiations through which New England traded Gannon to Minnesota, where he was able to begin fulfilling his dream to become an NFL quarterback.

 Joining IMG was a great move on his part, Johnson says. “Similar to my UD experience, I have enjoyed my 30 years at IMG. We have the best people in the business representing the best clients. It has been a great overall business experience, recruiting and managing individual clients, selling sponsorships and managing people,” he says.

With the new position as chief operating officer, Johnson says he is traveling extensively to Asia and Europe.

“I enjoy the competition and the challenges,” he says.

IMG was founded by Mark H. McCormack in the early 1960s, and the company came to Johnson’s attention when he read a Sports Illustrated story on the founder. He sent a blind inquiry, earned an interview and was hired.

Today, the company has an international staff of more than 2,200 persons in 70 offices in 30 countries. 

IMG is involved in television, major sporting and cultural events, corporate marketing and sponsorship, stadiums and arenas, model management, performing arts management and the Internet. In addition, the company is the world’s largest noncharacter licensing firm and is a leading literary agency and book packager. 

IMG’s clients include golfer Tiger Woods, broadcaster Bob Costas, NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon, baseball player Derek Jeter, rising tennis star Maria Sharapova and actress Liv Tyler.

—Neil Thomas, AS ’76