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Robert Morris University

Putting the Steelers in Batman

CEO Lecture Series speaker Thomas Tull says founding Legendary Entertainment let him combine two things he loved since childhood.

RMU CEO Lecture Series

When he created Legendary Entertainment in 2004, Thomas Tull was looking at the movie business mainly as a new investment opportunity. But the lifelong Steelers fan admits he had an ulterior motive too.

As a part-owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Tull was often approached by players asking to be cast in a movie. So when he saw that the script for “The Dark Knight Rises” included a scene in a football stadium, Tull recognized an opportunity.

“The thought was that if we could shoot here in Pittsburgh, they could play the Gotham Rogues,” he said. “We could line them all up and do a pan shot, and there you go — you’ve all been in a movie and you don’t have to ask me again.”

As the featured speaker at the RMU CEO Lecture Series in UPMC Events Center in September, Tull offered insights about his decision to move out of his comfort zone of investment in technology companies and create a studio driven by market data analysis and backed by long-term institutional capital.

“I started looking at the motion picture business, and more broadly at entertainment, not so much as I want to go to Hollywood parties and things, but I was interested in it as an asset class,” he said.

It was an investment that paid off handsomely. Tull sold the company to Chinese investors for $3.5 billion in 2016.

His latest venture, Tulco Holdings, invests in businesses that Tull says are leveraging technology to disrupt the supply chain. He described one, an e-commerce site called Figs that sells fashion-forward medical scrubs directly to consumers who work in the healthcare industry. Figs was named by Inc. magazine in 2018 as one of the fastest growing companies in the United States, with three-year revenue growth of almost 10,000 percent.

“A big thing for me is understanding what the data tells you and acting accordingly,” he said.

During the Q&A portion, Tull and Pres. Chris Howard discussed how they both learned valuable lessons about teamwork, resiliency, and dedication from playing college football.

“There’s no question that sports changed my life,” said Tull, who grew up in a low-income single-parent home in Binghamton, N.Y., and attended Hamilton College on a football scholarship.