The question for Fight Night: How do you keep a nearly 24-year-old fundraiser thriving?
The answer: Get Under Armour founder Kevin Plank to chair the annual smoker, which raised a record $4 million Thursday night.
“People like to be around winners,” said the chief executive of the billion-dollar company. “That’s a fact. Winners attract winners, because they want to be around one another, and they feed off of one another’s energy.”
The billionaire businessman, 41, told us he’s using his company’s momentum and power to see what he can do “beyond just returning corporate profits. . . . We want to apply that formula to other aspects of life.”
Which brought him to Fight Night. The fundraiser was founded in 1990 by the late real estate investor Joe Robert, who poured his heart and his money in the boys-only night dedicated to local children’s charities. Robert died just weeks after 2011′s event; last year was a spirited, sentimental farewell to him.
Before Robert died, Plank – a fellow alum of St. John’s College High School – promised he’d chair the party in Robert’s honor. But, more importantly, he also brought in the Under Armour team, experts at building and taking brands to the next level.
“It’s about creativity and passion,” said Raul Fernandez, who chairs Fight for Children, the evening’s beneficiary. “That’s the one thing that Kevin and Joe and all have – passion for kids, education and health. The biggest thing we can do to honor Joe is to keep growing this and to keep reimagining it.”
The basic formula of cigars-steak-boxing-sexy hostesses hasn’t changed. But every element of the party – food, music, decor, layout – was revamped. “This is 2.0 for Joe,” Fernandez said. Also new: More CEOs from outside of Washington who flew in for the party, where they saw John Legend perform for the 1,800 guests at the Washington Hilton.
“What I’m a big fan of is not philanthropy that lives within one charity event where people celebrate and have a good time, which of course is what Fight Night is, but things that endure and live on,” Plank said at Wednesday’s chairman’s reception at his new Georgetown home. He’s teamed Fight Night with his ongoing WIN initiative, which helps low-income children in several cities around the globe.
In the crowd were familiar faces – former D.C. mayors Tony Williams and Adrian Fenty, plus Jim Kimsey, Russ Ramsey, Michael Saylor, Mark Ein – and some new: New York Stock Exchange Euronext chief executive Duncan Niederauer and pro golfer Jordan Spieth.
“I recognize that we’ve got this engine and momentum around Under Armour that can do a lot of really great things,” Plank said. “I think it’s the right thing to do.”
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