Bob Woolf, agent to hundreds of stars in sports, media, entertainment and even politics, says there is one basic rule everyone should live by: The Golden Rule.
"I believe in the Golden Rule, from the bottom of my heart," says Woolf. "The greatest minds since the beginning of time, the greatest philosophers, the greatest religious figures, all agreed on one precept - the Golden Rule. They (only) disagreed on other things. So, are you going to try to tell me that the greatest people that have existed . . . are all wrong and Donald Trump and Leona Helmsley are right?"Woolf, who was in Salt Lake this week to promote his new book, "Friendly Persuasion," grew up in Portland, Maine. He said the values he learned there haven't changed, despite his having become prominent enough to be featured on "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous," and interviewed by Johnny Carson.
Woolf's book takes exception to the popular notion of sports agents. In it he explains that he doesn't believe in having athletes hold out, that they should honor their contracts, and that he always is honest with those he is negotiating with.
Woolf requests that he be referred to as a "sports and entertainment attorney," not an agent, because "the word agent really has an unsavory connotation."
"Anybody can call himself an agent," he says. "You can come in and out of jail and be called an agent."
Whatever he calls himself, Woolf is the biggest of the big stars in the world of high-level negotiating. He has represented Joe Montana, Larry Bird, Vinny Testaverde, Doug Flutie, Byron Scott, Carl Yastrzemski, John Havlicek and Jim Plunkett, as well as the likes of Jazz players Mike Brown, Darrell Griffith and Thurl Bailey. His interests are well-diversified, though. Other clients include Joan Kennedy, talk-show host Larry King, wrestler George "The Animal" Steele, violinist Itzhak Perlman, track star Florence Griffith-Joyner, Harlem Globetrotter Meadow Lark Lemon, Iditarod champion Susan Butcher and recording group New Kids on the Block.
Woolf generally takes a standard 5 percent commission from the contracts he negotiates, which stands for big money. In one year, Woolf said the New Kids on the Block generated $861 million in revenue.
Woolf is so prominent, he doesn't solicit clients. Last year alone, five first-round NBA draft choices came to Woolf for representation.
Despite his fame and wealth, Woolf reiterates that treating anyone with respect is essential. "People are surprised to find I'm mild mannered. They're surprised because since I'm so high profile, they think I must be a domineering and forceful person. I'm from Portland, Maine. I try to keep those principles. You don't change just because of your job or being in a larger city."
Woolf says Bird, who is also his neighbor, epitomizes what a sincere person can be, despite being an idol to millions. "He has more character and integrity than any person I've ever met," says Woolf. He said Bird spends little of his money and remains very much the kid from French Lick, Ind., that he was before becoming famous.
Woolf's family moved to Boston when he was 16. Shortly after, he formed his own company, The Woolf Supply Company of New England. In what he calls a "fourth-hand ramshackle jalopy," he bought household items from the factory and sold them to local stores.
Later, Woolf graduated from Boston Latin School, Boston College and Boston University Law School. His first representation as a "sports attorney" came when Earl Wilson, a Red Sox pitcher, asked Woolf - who was functioning simply as an attorney - for help in handling personal appearances and endorsements. Soon Wilson passed the idea on to teammates Yastrzemski, Reggie Smith, George Scott and Ken Harrelson. It then spread to the Celtics, Bruins and Patriots.
"Without planning it, I became the first sports attorney in the country," says Woolf in his book. "I get credit for being brilliant for having the foresight to stake out this new frontier, but the truth is that I just happened to be in the right place at the right time."
Having negotiated more than 2,000 contracts in his career, Woolf says he has no intentions of changing his style, despite the number of books on the market extolling the virtues of intimidation. "Negotiating is just trying to persuade a person to see your point of view," he says. "I've always felt that you don't have to be disagreeable to disagree."