Rising Star People Profile: Alex Locke, General Counsel at VeeFriends and Founder & CEO at NFIP Holdings, LLC
The global licensing community is powered by an incredible group of professionals whose diverse backgrounds and creative energy drive innovation and excellence. We profile one of these professionals each week, and in this special edition of the People Profile series we are introducing one of the 2023 Rising Stars Award recipients to shine a spotlight on their success.
How did you get into licensing (or how did licensing find you)?
Usually when you ask a person in the licensing industry how they got into it, nine times out of ten the answer you will hear is “I fell into it.” For me, that was not the case. Growing up I always knew I wanted to be a lawyer. Having known there is no required major for law school admissions, I decided to major in something I thought would be cool—sports marketing. I figured that I would enjoy my time studying this in undergrad and then go on to become the next Johnny Cochran. Once I started learning about sponsorships, marketing, endorsements, and branding, I was hooked. While it was great that I loved my studies, I was torn and had a real dilemma. On the one hand, I wanted to become a lawyer, but on the other hand, I wanted to pursue the creative route. In my junior year I was in the campus bookstore, and I noticed our jerseys switched from Nike to Adidas. Upon some investigation, I learned that the University of Michigan’s licensing deal with Nike had expired, and UM had entered into a new agreement with Adidas to license its IP. It was then that I realized licensing encapsulated all my interests and passions, and I knew then and there this was the field for me.
What’s a “typical” day in your current position?
I usually wake up early to check in on Bored of Directors’ various international sub agents and licensees. I get up to speed on my emails, review any new product approval submissions, and review the status of any pending license agreements. Then I head over to Hudson Yards and get my day started at VeeFriends. There, I typically meet with the various stakeholders from each of our different verticals and weigh in on any potential issues or liabilities any of our new initiatives or offerings may present and work with our teams to come up with creative solutions to keep the integrity of the idea intact while still putting out the safest finished product. There is no “typical” day as we are such an innovative and diverse company—one minute I can be evaluating our launch strategy for an exclusive pin set and the next minute I may be negotiating an agreement with an arena for VeeCon. This keeps me on my toes and there is never a dull moment, which I love.
What’s your biggest personal or professional accomplishment?
Staying the course in my career, persevering through challenges, and relentlessly pursuing my aspirations have been my greatest professional accomplishments. By unwaveringly adhering to my long-term vision, I transformed what seemed like a pipedream into reality, reaching the position and role I was often told (and often felt) to be unattainable. This journey involved overcoming setbacks, adapting to changes, and displaying resilience in the face of adversity. This achievement exemplifies the power of determination and strategic planning, underscoring the fulfillment that comes from ultimately realizing one’s professional ambitions and potential through unwavering dedication.
What are the most significant trends or changes that you’ve seen in the business in recent years?
The evolution of the ways in which both physical and digital products are now produced, stored, shipped, and sold, and the different nuance that comes with each method. When I began my career in licensing, almost every agreement only covered traditional manufacturing and wholesale sales. The same applies for digital goods, which were either sold as discs, DVDs, or CDs. Products were also inventoried in the traditional fashion. In a very short time, new methods for all of the above started popping up like downloadable content, direct-to-garment printing, “freemium” game models, direct-to-consumer sales, and various combinations of the foregoing. This presented many challenges as it related to both contract drafting and structuring and thinking about deals and the industry at large. Staying ahead of and mastering these new innovations is imperative to survive.
What keeps you up at night? What’s your biggest challenge these days?
Staying up to date with trends and evolutions in both technology and the laws applied to them. For a long time, technological advancement was somewhat linear. That all changed with the advent of the internet. Now, entire industries spring up and go extinct at such rapid rates. To be commercially successful and protect my companies from liability, I really need to understand how each and every innovation works, how it does or can affect our initiatives, and monitor any changes, no matter how small they may be. I also lean heavily on my teams and third-party partners, so knowing this information in a silo isn’t enough—I need to be an excellent communicator and relay this information to different people with different skillsets and different understandings of various elements of the business.
In your opinion, what is the top skill every licensing executive should have in order to succeed?
In my opinion, flexibility is the top skill every licensing executive should have. Unpredictable market shifts, technological advancements, and evolving consumer preferences demand leaders who can swiftly pivot strategies. Flexibility enables executives to navigate uncertainty, embrace innovation, and seize emerging opportunities. It fosters resilience, allowing leaders to efficiently manage unexpected challenges and lead teams through change. By staying open-minded and adaptable, executives can proactively respond to dynamic market conditions, ensuring the sustained relevance and competitiveness of their organizations. Ultimately, flexibility is vital for business leaders to thrive in the fast-paced and ever-evolving landscape of today’s licensing environment.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received, or what’s your favorite quote?
“To know that we know what we know, and that we do not know what we do not know—that is true knowledge,” stated by Confucius. To me it both takes courage and shows true intellect when someone knows that they do not know something and is able to admit it. This is how I always try to conduct myself. Of course, it is important to be an expert in your respective discipline, but it is just as important to know the areas that may not be your strong suit. In every situation, whether it be in business or in life, I try to think of what I bring to the table in that scenario, maximize my efforts in that arena, and then identify the areas that may not be my expertise and rely on various members of my team or network to help fill in those gaps.
What is your favorite licensing deal of all time? (It doesn’t have to be one that was signed by you.)
I am a sucker for nostalgia and very few items stand out from my childhood like Nintendo 64. One of my favorite games of all time was Goldeneye 007, developed by Rare and published by Nintendo. Licensing was prevalent in video games since the inception of the category, but rarely were licensed video games critical or commercial successes. James Bond bucked this trend and went on to be regarded as one of the best video games of all time, kickstarting the trend towards making games more cinematic. Aside from the joy I got from playing this game, I have been very active in video game licensing since the beginning my career and often credit my time with this game as a catalyst.
If you weren’t in licensing, what would you be doing now?
I would likely be a trial attorney. I count my blessings every day that this is what I do instead!
The last licensed product I bought was…
The last licensed product I bought was the Robocop video game (kudos to Matt Miller and the MGM team)!
The Rising Star Awards recognize the next generation of leaders around the world for their commitment, passion, and contributions to their company and the licensing industry. This year’s Rising Stars will be recognized and celebrated at the Hall of Fame Gala Luncheon in New York City on December 6th, 2023.