Write for the Future Portrait: Nick Jacobson An Unpredictable Path Grows in Wildcat Country

Photo of Nick Jacobson

2013-04-23-Screenshot20130423at3.53.46PMBy Ross Perkel and Dave Puglisi

Nick Jacobson’s dream to become a sports agent had deep roots. In fact, his future representing NFL players was so pronounced in his mindset that he can’t even remember exactly when the ambition was born. He knows it started somewhere with his love of football—Middle School? Maybe?

Unlike many of his peers, however, he wasn’t drawn to the sport solely for the earth shaking collisions between unstoppable forces and immovable objects. Rather, Jacobson was fascinated by the money that made those men move. In fact, the Super Bowl never signaled the climax of an NFL season for him. “Honestly, almost every single offseason there are contracts that just blow my mind.” he says. “Look at Albert Haynesworth – he put together one or two good seasons with the Titans, didn’t get a single good recommendation from a coach or player, no one liked playing with him, no one thought he wanted to win. People always thought he was in it for the fame and the men and he signed a $100 million contract with the Redskins and it just obviously didn’t pay out. So I mean, yeah, there’s a whole psychology behind it…

“I have always been obsessed with NFL contracts and when anyone gets signed. I loved looking at how much money is guaranteed and what the incentives are and everything. When I learned that the people that are in charge of that for the most part have a legal background to be able to read contracts and all the legalities and stuff, I decided I would one day go to law school.”

So a future was sewed. First stop? College. He was accepted ED at his first choice, Northwestern University, four years ago. Second stop? Law school. Well, here comes the detour. A senior in Northwestern’s economics department, Jacobson entered his final year last fall with the LSAT under his belt. However when his acceptance letter to Cornell Law School arrived in March, his dreams had veered onto a bit of an unsettling path. He was a little less cemented on becoming a sports agent and not sure about law school. At a career fair, he spotted events from 1-800-Truck-Wreck and V103 as well as a program for a MS in Management Studies at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management. “As a Northwestern student, I didn’t have to take the GMAT, which was huge, whereas other kids from other schools did. And I actually had all of my essays written for law school already so I could kind of effortlessly apply to this program. I did. I interviewed and I got in with a partial merit scholarship.”

Perhaps there is nothing more terrifying than deciding to deviate from a set path and blaze a new trail riddled with so many unknowns. Yet Jacobson embraces the mystery and challenge of big changes to those future plans that once seemed so predictable. He is choosing the Kellogg program. “I actually know a couple people in the program who are a year older than me. As I found out more about the program and what kids do after they get this degree, it seemed totally up my alley and better than what I was planning to do.”

During his extra year at Northwestern, Jacobson will learn the fundamentals of business and management. In Jacobson’s own words, the program is intended to teach students a “very practical and specific skill set,” including but not limited to learning about the differences in global markets and reviewing case studies across industries.

From Jacobson’s perspective, the program is somewhat of an extension of his favorite course in the fall of his senior year, Entrepreneurship, taught by Brad Morehead, who graduated from Kellogg in 2005 and is the founder of LiveWatch Security, a home security company. “Now he’s also teaching at Northwestern because he just wants to help students,” says Jacobson.. Every week was a different case study. It was really practical and also every single grade was an A or an F. He was really strict. He’s the man, and I learned a ton. “

Many of those lessons followed an F. “I failed a few projects with my team but it was a really great learning experience with my team, There’s this thing called spikeball. …The CEO came in and the question that he had was should we try and make spikeball the next big American sport or should we keep it like a backyard sport. So my team and I thought that spikeball should be kept as a backyard sport and we didn’t think it was viable to grow it to a ESPN viewership level. Where a lot of people would attend games. So we gave our presentation and Chris who is the CEO of Spikeball, we got an F for that week, and in his comments he said that we did not answer how spikeball could become the next great American sport. And the whole premise of what we were saying is that spikeball shouldn’t become the next big thing. So we actually talked with the teacher and tried to defend our argument, but he said at the end of the day, you have to articulate your ideas clearly to the client. It doesn’t matter whether you’re right or wrong, it matters whether the client thinks you’re right or wrong. So that was a big turning point for our group. We had to let the client know what we thought and let him know our vision.”

The impact of Morehead’s class and the discovery of the program in management studies program were never part of the the game plan for Jacobson. The graduate program kind of took him by surprise, like so many other experiences in Wildcat country, which inspires his advice to high school seniors. “In college you have to open to new things and kinds of people,” he says.”There are at Northwestern, every type of person. There are introverts, extroverts, theatre kids, engineers, people that want to go out, people that don’t want to go out. …In high school there are a bunch of external pressures to conform or do what you think is cool or do what you think you are supposed to be doing or what people want you to be doing. But in college there is no pressure what so ever and it’s just an absolute clean slate. You have a social life but it’s just like putty in your hands, you can do whatever you want. You’re in the driver’s seat.

“There is this kid who lived in my floor freshman year and joined my fraternity. But I didn’t even know him freshman year. He is in the film school and he’s a big time photographer in his spare time. Unlike me, he doesn’t really work with numbers at all and doesn’t really write any essays. he just likes to shoot. And we get along so well and we hung out so much the first two years and we still do. Whether it was going out to eat or going out to museums. He showed me a whole art world that I didn’t realize existed.

“I look at a painting and I see a house on a hill. He looks and he’s dialed in on the brush strokes, whether it’s horizontal or vertical, the type of paint, the time of day.”

Jacobson now counts the Chicago Art Institute as a favorite way to a pass a day.