With one foot in New York and the other in Durban, Marco Masotti is on a mission to make the Sharks the centre of the rugby universe. By Ockert de Villiers
Masotti, a high-profile Wallstreet lawyer, has built a reputation as a trusted advisor to international asset management firms for over three decades. Growing up in Amanzimtoti, Masotti had spent most of his life among the skyscrapers of New York City before he made his ‘return’ as the controlling partner of the Sharks through MVM Holdings.
“Your life is in three phases. You learn, you earn, and then you return. And I’m entering the return part of my life,” Masotti told SaffaMAG from his New York offices.
“I realise how important it is, for a city like Durban, to invest in a franchise that gives people so much joy and hope, and just how important it is to the community. “I’ve seen how important it is during the unrest, flooding and through all the adversity.”
When a bright-eyed Masotti left South Africa in the early 1990s to study at the University of Virginia, he had grand ambitions of pursuing a career in constitutional law. Masotti ultimately gravitated towards financial law, and put down his roots in New York.
“I wanted to grow as a person, study more and work in a New York law firm, but I still wanted to go back (to South Africa),”
Masotti recalled. “Judge Albie Sachs gave me the opportunity to do that and to clerk at the constitutional court in 1997, which was the first term under the final constitution. But I realised that my future was in New York, which is the type of place where you can still feel connected to South Africa. I came home often and maintained my connectedness with South Africa through rugby.”
Masotti has ensured his link with South Africa, leading the MVM Holdings consortium in taking a 51 percent majority stake in the Sharks franchise at the beginning of 2021. The 54-year-old Masotti has made clear his ambitions of building and expanding the Sharks brand beyond South African shores. Masotti is hellbent on instilling a culture of excellence at the Sharks that will make the franchise the envy of the global game.
These ambitions are reflected in the signings of big-name Springboks, including captain Siya Kolisi, Eben Etzebeth and Bongi Mbonambi. “I’m very involved in the Sharks, and the people on the ground feel like I’m too involved, but I have to be at this early stage,” Masotti said candidly. “I want it to be a world-class organisation, and I want the coaching of the Sharks to be as good as it is at the Springbok level. I want a world-class management team on the ground that is as good as any sport. That takes changing the mental approach because if you’ve been sitting in Durban for a very long time, the world looks much bigger outside.”
While Masotti was looking to bring about radical changes to how the Sharks viewed their place in the world, he did not doubt South Africans’ potential to be champions in various industries. Masotti believed South Africans deserved a seat at the table on the world stage.
In rugby alone, South Africa has been among the trailblazers of the global game, winning the Rugby World Cup in 1995, 2007, and 2019. “I mean, we have a great education system. Maybe there’s something in the water, but South Africans of every culture and variety are flying high in other countries and all parts of the world,” Masotti said.
“It needs to take its seat at the table. We should move its headquarters to Durban because, you know, that’s the centre of the world. You have to think like that.”
Masotti believed they would see a return on their investment with South African rugby’s move north also giving them exposure to the European market. South African teams played in a larger market with access to a larger broadcast market.
“Things don’t have to be one thing. I appreciated that the investment reflects everything that I’m interested in. Business, rugby, community development, education and mentoring all rolled up in one thing. That is what it was for me, but it’s a good investment on a long-term basis.”
When he is not meeting with clients or putting his energy into the Sharks, Masotti likes to spend time with his three children – Michaela, Alexander, and Sophia. Masotti admits he cannot remember when he last had a home-cooked meal but tries to balance work and life by going to the opera or exercising.
To add to his busy lifestyle, Masotti tries to find time to finish a book he is working on. Although Masotti enjoys visiting the Western Cape when he is in South Africa, Durban and KwaZulu-Natal remain his first love.
“I like going to Durban. I want to kiss the ground when I arrive. I want to hear an Afrikaans accent and a Zulu accent. And then go eat the curry buffet at The Oyster Box,” he said.
“When you’ve been away for so long, you can’t wait to smell the air. I have to go to Durban because I have family there. And then I take mum, and we go and stay at The Oyster Box, a great hotel, and Umhlanga, for a few days. If I’m with my children, we want to see animals, so we would do something like that.”
While he dedicates much of his time to his firm, his clients, and his new rugby ventures, Masotti said his top priority or driving force was to have his “children survive on the planet and being there for them.” And his vision for the Sharks? “The dream of winning a trophy. Winning the Heineken Cup!”