These alumni have built successful careers doing what they love.
By Kris Dreessen
The old adage “do what you love and you will never work a day in your life” has been repeated in various forms, but the aspirational advice continues to resonate.
Eric Hinman ’02 has created his entire career on it. “The key for me is to find what I love and find ways to do it — all the time,” says Hinman.
Hinman has created several businesses based on his love for fitness, adventure, hospitality and wellness, and he’s invested in similar start-ups.
He is one of several Geneseo alumni featured who have made successful and innovative careers around their interests in entertainment, sports and play.
A LIFESTYLE OF WELL-BEING
Eric Hinman ’02 seeks adventure, fitness and positive energy.
Eric Hinman ’02 hired a personal trainer to help him get in shape after years of driving to meet clients for his successful insurance business left him less fit to do the things he enjoyed.
Soon after, he challenged himself to run a 15K race, and the positive energy he felt crossing the finish stayed with him. He moved on to triathlons, then to Iron Man competitions, twice earning a place in the Iron Man World Championships.
“The further you go in these sports, the more you want to achieve,” says Hinman. “Like business, if you put a lot of work in, you’ll get something really good out of it.”
Hinman continues to expand his world of physical challenges and adventures and has built a variety of successful business ventures inspired by his passion for fitness, well-being, hospitality and fashion.
Hinman is the co-founder and co-owner of Urban Life Athletics, a CrossFit and cycling gym in Syracuse, N.Y., and two Syracuse restaurants. Original Grain specializes in healthy fast food, and XO Taco is a Mexican eatery.
He is also a partner in Fellow Gent, a new media company that caters to wellness-minded men, and Endurance Coaching Company, which provides expert training for endurance athletes.
He’s also invested in several business ventures, including a West Hollywood upscale restaurant and a producer of fitness gear and clothing.
“Throughout life, I’ve increasingly understood what my skill set is with every passing year,” says Hinman. “My skills are helping to create a brand, getting people excited about it and connecting to people.”
Recently, Hinman has been focusing on the growing field of influencer marketing. Companies partner with Hinman and others like him who are considered influential in a particular area or lifestyle, who can serve as ambassadors for their products.
Hinman, who has 38,000 followers on social media, chooses products he uses and likes, and shares photographs and other online content when he uses them during his adventures, in workouts and in everyday life.
“Influencer marketing is about a real person using products and demonstrating the experience in an authentic way,” says Hinman. “I am their photographer, marketer, media buyer and consultant, and I connect them with other influencers and brands they can collaborate with.”
Hinman strives to meet at least two new people each day; over time, those interactions help him learn, gather ideas and discover what can come next.
“The first thing for me is passion,” he says. “My happiness and success are defined by ‘chasing perfect days.’ I write one page at a time, instead of focusing too far down the road. If I can craft my perfect day — choosing those people, places, experiences and activities that give me positive energy, and put me in a state of flow — then replicate it and monetize it, I will write some epic life chapters.”
• Eric’s most-liked Instagram post in 2018: A selfie he took in front of a tree house built in the desert at Burning Man.
• Eric hung gymnastics rings from the rafters of his Denver loft and often swings above his living room.
THE BUILDING BLOCKS OF IMAGINATION
Amanda Santoro Madore ’05 spreads the mission of a world-famous toy maker. “>Watch her video.
When LEGO Systems promoted a Star Wars toy line with the launch of “The Yoda Chronicles” animation series in 2013, it did so with a bang — and a lift-off.
Model builders spent months assembling a life-size X-wing fighter that was big enough for Luke Skywalker to pilot. It was unveiled in Times Square before hundreds of cheering fans. Smoke even poured out of its engines as it moved across the stage.
With a 44-foot wingspan, the fighter was the largest LEGO model ever built; numerous news outlets related to gaming and toys shared the event with millions of people around the world.
Amanda Santoro Madore ’05 was part of the public relations team that strategized communications and logistics of the event.
As senior manager of brand relations for LEGO Group’s U.S. operations, Madore works on communications and public relations strategies for the company in the United States and Canada. Along with promoting the launch of specific LEGO products, Madore also promotes the company’s mission, philosophy, brand and philanthropic efforts across a variety of platforms. That may include getting editors to include LEGO sets in toy-related features, or highlighting donations of LEGO toys for kids in Connecticut-area hospitals. Madore is part marketer, part strategist and part spokesperson.
She’s been a judge on TV’s “Cake Wars” when professional bakers made cakes to look like LEGO scenes. She also presented the “Today” show with a $2.1 million donation of LEGO sets for the show’s holiday toy drive.
“Working for the LEGO Group, a company that promotes play and creativity, has been an amazing experience,” says Madore. “To me, play means inspiring creativity and finding happiness and fun in the everyday. We get to take that and inspire ourselves to do things differently — playfully.”
The LEGO Group was created by Danish furniture maker turned wooden-toy maker Ole Kirk Christiansen in the 1930s. His sons introduced the plastic bricks in the 1950s. The company has expanded into animated feature films and LEGO-themed amusement parks. Madore appreciates that the company is still family-owned and that she’s helping to foster imagination with her work. Each brick can transform into whatever the builder wants.
“Our mission is to inspire kids, and inspire creativity in kids of all ages, who become the builders of tomorrow,” says Madore.
A career focused on play has also changed how Madore approaches her daily routine: “It opens up a different part of my brain,” she says.
In addition to playing with LEGO toys more, Madore sees all the ways she can redecorate a room or create something in her house. She’s also become an adept multitasker.
“We are a small team and I have to be able to juggle a lot of ideas and projects to be successful,” says Madore. “Instead of thinking I need to finish one thing before moving to another, I can do a little of each task and tap into my skills and thought processes needed to do so.”
• Amanda has about 50 LEGO sets at home.
• Amanda’s photo was taken in a sea of some 15,000 LEGO bricks at the LEGO Systems U.S. headquarters in Connecticut.
A PIONEER IN THE SPORT OF VIDEO GAMING
Emmy Award winner Ariel Horn ’98 creates gaming competitions that draw more than 40,000 cheering fans and 100 million viewers.
Ariel Horn ’98 made a name for himself in TV broadcasting as part of a team that won three Emmy Awards for coverage of the Olympics for NBC Sports. He then used his knack for storytelling to transform live coverage of video gaming.
Horn took what he learned covering traditional sports and applied it to gaming. He brought the players, the drama and the emotion front and center.
The experiences he’s created as an executive producer of video gaming live events has made him a pioneer in electronic sports (esports).
In fact, in 2018, Horn won the first Sports Emmy in electronic sports.
“Traditional sports, especially the Olympics, tell the stories of athletes and their sacrifice really well. Esports players, too, put an incredible amount of time into practice and give up so many things to excel at the highest level, with the world watching,” says Horn. “The Emmy is incredibly important to the sustainability of esports. I’m proud it is recognized along with traditional sports.”
Horn started to build his niche in video gaming in 2007 when he left NBC Sports to start his own production company, Horn Interactive.
“I felt like something was missing,” says Horn. “I wanted to challenge myself to make something new.”
He found it producing a live broadcast of BlizzCon, the Blizzard Entertainment convention and tournament for that company’s line of video games. There were thousands of game enthusiasts at the convention; many were dressed as their favorite in-game characters.
“There was this fandom, rich lore and meaningful professional competition, but it was not really covered like a sport,” says Horn. “I knew it was something special and I began imagining it as some crazy sport of the future.”
Horn produced the broadcasts with his friend and creative partner Dustin D’Addato ’98, whom he met at WGSU-TV their first year. Each year, their BlizzCon production got more elaborate and viewership increased.
Horn took that expertise to Riot Games in 2013, where he became the executive global producer for League of Legends — the world’s most popular PC game.
He and D’Addato first created League of Legends professional leagues for Riot Games, culminating in a World Cup. Again, viewership increased every year — and has set records for esports viewing.
In 2013, the League of Legends World Championships were watched by 32 million people. The 2017 finals were watched by 58 million, and by nearly 100 million viewers in 2018.
Horn won the Sports Emmy for Live Graphic Design for the 2017 live broadcast of the world championship. Among his surprises for the 40,000 attending fans at the Beijing stadium? Hundreds of dancers in the opening ceremony along with an augmented reality flying dragon. During play, cameras showed players’ reactions, and microphones allowed fans to follow the drama of wins, losses and grand and disappointing plays.
“We wanted to create an interactive, entertainment spectacle,” Horn says.
Now, Horn is again considering what’s next for broadcasting. He recently started a media company with D’Addato that will focus on the next evolution of TV, as streaming services like Netflix grow.
“We’ve taken video games and made them into sports, which is insane,” says Horn. “We are again at a transformative time with media. Check back in a few years and see what we do.”
Horn credits Geneseo with much of his success, both the experiences that inspired his calling and his foundation for the last 20 years.
A pre-med biology major, Horn joined WGSU-TV and says he “spent every waking moment at the station.” He and a few friends, including D’Addato, reinvented the comedy show “After Hours” and syndicated it to other colleges.
“I found this incredible awakening,” says Horn. “Everything was student-run. We tried things and made mistakes and were self-motivated. I owe so much to Geneseo. I met my best friends there, I met my future wife Kelly Smith Horn ’98 there, and I found my future career there.”
• Ariel co-produced the Platinum-selling song “Warriors” with Imagine Dragons, inspired by League of Legends.
• Frequent flyer: In the past five years, Ariel has traveled more than 1 million miles by airplane.
MAKING HISTORY IN PROFESSIONAL WOMEN’S SPORTS
Jami Cohen ’15 is proud to be a part of the first national women’s hockey league. It’s also her dream job.
As a championship team in the National Women’s Hockey League, players on the Buffalo Beauts make history every time they hit the ice.
The Beauts have played in every championship final game since the league formed in 2015, and dominated to win the 2017 Isobel Cup.
Jami Cohen ’15, who serves as the team’s operations coordinator, has been there from the start, promoting the team and the United States’ professional women’s hockey league.
Cohen manages the team’s budgets, trip and game planning and most daily operations. She is also the team’s social media editor and manager, posting photos and commentary during home games.
“It is an incredible honor,” says Cohen. “I grew up playing ice hockey. Little girls come to our games wearing Beauts jerseys and tell us they want to be just like one of our players. Those moments confirm what we’re doing is something bigger than me, the players or the team. We are creating a path for kids to follow their dreams.”
Cohen works for Pegula Sports and Entertainment, which owns the Beauts, the Buffalo Bandits lacrosse team and the Buffalo Bills. In addition to her work with the Beauts, Cohen is a live social contributor for the National Hockey League (NHL). She captures video and content for visiting NHL teams and the Buffalo Sabres at all home games.
“It’s a perfect fit for me,” says Cohen. “I grew up playing ice hockey and softball, and always wanted to work in sports.”
Cohen played catcher for four seasons at Geneseo while she pursued her business administration degree. Experiencing what goes into athletics programs sparked an interest in her career.
“As a small school, there are a handful of hard-working individuals who are responsible for managing all of the Geneseo teams and games,” says Cohen, who recently earned a master’s degree in sports administration from Canisius College. “I realized there were opportunities for me to work behind the scenes in the sports industry, and that is definitely what I want to do.”
Cohen interned with the Academy of Hockey at the Buffalo Harborcenter during her senior year at Geneseo. A colleague there ultimately shared the career opportunity with the Beauts.
With a demanding schedule, Cohen says the industry requires her to go with the flow, but she loves it. She says she gets so engrossed in a game, she doesn’t notice time passing from first to final buzzer. She’s watching and keeping fans and media outlets updated on social media of the shots, saves and standout plays.
“There’s that cliché that if you do something you love you won’t ever feel like you’re working,” says Cohen. “I’m living that.”
• Morgan Beikrich ’12 M.S.ed. played forward for the Beauts in the championship 2016-17 season.
• In 1990, there were 6,300 female players registered with U.S. Hockey. Today there are more than 79,000.