From his Uncle Al's zipper factory in Manhattan's Garment District, Tracy Dolgin ventured into the world pushing a delivery cart. He was 13 and ferrying zippers to manufacturers. And he was thinking about the factory, where tension between labor and management was startling.
"It was my obsession," said Dolgin '81, an ILR graduate who received the ILR School's Alpern Award March 29 at The Pierre in New York City, in tribute to his career in media and sports business.
The annual award honors a graduate whose professional achievements have been outside the industrial and labor relations field.
Dolgin is president and CEO of the YES Network, which has been the most-watched regional sports network since 2004, when Dolgin took the helm. Previously, he had served as a top executive at the FOX Sports Net, HBO Video and elsewhere.
Back when he worked at the zipper factory, he observed that workers and his Uncle Al "really didn't get along well." That prompted him at age 17 to want to become a labor lawyer.
He also wanted to make his mother proud. Going to an Ivy League school would do that, he thought. He was intrigued by Cornell's gorges, prelaw possibilities and intense intellectual atmosphere.
An internship and a postgraduation summer ghostwriting at a law firm, however, convinced Dolgin to drop the idea of law school and study business at Stanford University.
The career that followed "was a lot of hard work and an extraordinary amount of luck," Dolgin said. When students ask him how to get into the media business, he responds, "There is no plan to get from anywhere to what I do."
Rather, it's about passion, intensity and the power of people. Inspired by Professor David Lipsky, Dolgin urges media hopefuls to plot their futures with people-centric notions, not lockstep career moves.
"Take my way, not my path," he advises. "Hire people who are better than you. That's how I got here," said Dolgin, whose daughter Isabel is a freshman in the College of Human Ecology and Hannah, a junior in the Dyson School of Applied Economics.
About 500 ILR alumni, faculty, staff, students and friends gathered to honor Groat Award winner Eva Sage-Gavin '80, executive vice president of Gap Inc., and Dolgin.
Mary Catt is assistant director of communications at the ILR School.