Kansas’ new commerce secretary has played professional soccer in Italy, written a romance novel and filmed a commercial with Danny DeVito.
Gov. Sam Brownback cited Antonio Soave’s experience in international business as the head of Capistrano Global Advisory Services when he made the nomination last month.
However, Soave also was a college soccer coach until just a few weeks ago.
In June, Soave was named men’s soccer coach for Ave Maria University, a Catholic university in Florida that competes in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, and coached for one season.
“Literally the season ended and then he ... was appointed the next week,” said Kimberly King, the university’s athletic director.
Soave, a Michigan native with Italian roots, played semi-professional soccer in Italy during the 1980s and has stayed involved since then, founding the Global Foundation for Peace Through Soccer in 2003 and writing a soccer-themed romance novel.
When he realized professional soccer wasn’t going to work out as a career, Soave said, he returned to school. That led to an internship in the Reagan White House, a law degree and a career in international business.
He started work Tuesday as interim commerce secretary – pending confirmation by the state Senate – and says he is focused on his new role.
But he doesn’t see the dual career paths as disconnected. All of these pursuits are related to a broader goal of peace, he says.
“I learned that we as members of the human family have a basic integrity. All members of the human family are created in the image of God,” he said.
There is a fundamental respect that’s owed to all members of the human family. And that is something that I’m passionate about, whether it’s peace through sports, peace through commerce or peace through the arts.
Antonio Soave, commerce secretary
“And as a result, there is a fundamental respect that’s owed to all members of the human family,” he continued. “And that is something that I’m passionate about, whether it’s peace through sports, peace through commerce or peace through the arts – all of which, by the way, I’ve done.”
Soave called coaching at Ave Maria part of a “ministry and a mission.”
King described Soave as “a very faithful man” and said he had originally planned to move his business to Florida, where “he would be able to coach, which I think is more of his passion, his heart” before deciding to take the commerce job.
Brownback offered relatively few details when asked about Soave.
“You know, I don’t remember how he got up on our view screen,” Brownback said. “But, yeah, he’s got a fascinating background, got a real impressive background, so I was very pleased to get him, and I think he’s going to really help us on focusing in on the areas where we need to be particularly focused for economic growth.”
Soave donated $500 to Brownback’s re-election campaign, according to campaign finance records.
Brownback called Soave “a big soccer guy” and noted “we’re obviously making a big play for soccer.” Last year, U.S. Soccer announced plans to build a national training center in Kansas City, Kan., which the governor promised would bring $1 billion into the Kansas economy.
Capistrano, Soave’s company, has “assisted with many businesses to expand their operations abroad,” commerce spokeswoman Nicole Randall said in an e-mail. She added that he had experience in numerous business sectors, including oil and gas, construction and heavy manufacturing.
Soave and his business associates were reluctant to share details.
“Many of the businesses that we helped like to remain confidential. They really don’t want the release of the information,” said Soave, who founded the company in 1989. “The common thread for the past 27 years has been assisting companies to expand. … So if a company in the U.S. is looking to expand abroad, we help them do that.”
Assisting small and midsized companies with exporting would be a major priority for him at the Commerce Department, he said.
John Menghini, a Johnson County businessman who knows Soave, described the firm as “kind of matchmakers,” saying it serves as a conduit between business interests in the Middle East and elsewhere.
Jameel Murshed, a Dubai-based attorney who works for the firm on international projects, said in an e-mail that Capistrano “assists U.S.-based companies to establish joint ventures and strategic alliances in Europe, the Middle East and Latin America.” He did not respond to a follow-up e-mail requesting the names of specific businesses.
Global business contacts
Soave was also executive director of Benedictine College’s School of Business from 2008 to 2009. Steve Sharpe, an Overland Park investor, said Soave organized a “Big Idea” competition at Benedictine where students could showcase their ideas for investors.
Antonio never does anything small.
Steve Sharpe, investor and friend
Soave flew in Coca-Cola executives and Arab sheikhs for the event. “Antonio never does anything small,” Sharpe said.
It was through Soave that Sharpe met his business partner, John Bergida, who was an MBA student. Their company, Frosty Cold, has developed a refrigeration system that does not emit greenhouse gases, Sharpe said.
“He used to go to the Middle East nearly every month,” Sharpe said about Soave. “He has business contacts around the world … and he speaks the languages of most.”
Capistrano is based in Overland Park, but it’s registered in Missouri rather than Kansas.
Eileen Hawley, the governor’s spokeswoman, said in an e-mail that Soave moved his business to the Kansas City area from Michigan when he took his post at Benedictine. At the time, “his attorney advised him that the business climate in Missouri was more favorable than in Kansas and the company was incorporated there.”
Soave has ended his role in the company, according to Stefano Radio, Capistrano’s director of business development. Radio is also a former professional soccer player and is involved in Soave’s foundation, which puts on soccer clinics in Kansas City, Kan., and Topeka.
The foundation’s website says it plans to host the First Annual Soccer Peace Tournament next month in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. But Radio said now that Soave has begun working for the state, they think it would be nice to hold the tournament in Kansas instead. He said no details have been worked out but that such a tournament would involve teams from all over the world.
Soave said it usually takes about a year to plan a tournament and that Radio would oversee it. He touted both Wichita and the Kansas City metro area as budding soccer hubs.
The foundation’s website lists Doug De Luca, co-executive producer of the “Jimmy Kimmel Live” show, and Rudy Besserra, a senior vice president at Coca-Cola and former aide to President Ronald Reagan, as members of its advisory board. Besserra refused to be interviewed for this story.
The website includes a public service video for One Voice International about efforts to achieve peace between Israelis and Palestinians. It features Soave alongside Danny DeVito, Elliot Gould and “Seinfeld’s” Jason Alexander.
Antonio has done a lot of stuff in his life. He had an office in Hollywood for a little while.
Stefano Radio, business associate
“Antonio has done a lot of stuff in his life,” Radio said. “He had an office in Hollywood for a little while.”
That office, Capistrano Productions, made a television show called “The Soccer Academy” from 2003 to 2007. Soave was the host. His Seattle-based distributor, John McLean, said the show aired throughout the Middle East and in the U.S. on Bridges TV, a cable channel aimed at a Muslim audience. It shut down in 2012.
In an episode found online, Soave travels to Damascus, Syria, and visits the Temple of Jupiter, which was built by the Romans and later served as a place of worship for Christians and Muslims.
Soave said his production company focused on making material that was uplifting and that he was able to pursue such projects because of the stability his consulting business provided.
Capistrano Productions is not his only venture into the entertainment world.
Kansas City-based modeling agency Agency Models & Talent offers a modeling profile for Soave on its website. It features images of him in a business suit and a soccer jacket.
Soave laughs off a question about this and says he is not actively modeling.
Soave’s novel, “The Consequence: A Soccer Romance,” published in 1998, tells of a soccer prospect who begins a love affair with the wife of a Colombian drug cartel boss. It is described on Amazon as a “romantic, action-packed story, filled with deceit, dishonor, intrigue and adventure.”
Faith plays role
Soave has been a prolific writer, commenting about financial matters on a blog titled The Soave Report and about spiritual matters on a blog called Catholic Grounds. Both blogs have been scrubbed of posts, but cached versions still exist.
In a post on Catholic Grounds, Soave calls the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide a day of “sadness and infamy.”
“It does not matter how many people think that a certain behavior is acceptable; this will not modify or shift the nature of what God has created,” he writes.
Another post decries what Soave calls “the emasculation of society,” while another extols how soccer can be used as a tool to foster peace in places like Syria and bridge gaps between communities.
“It is a true ‘passion’ for much of the world’s population. It transcends cultural boundaries, race, color and creed.”
Soave said faith has played a major role in his life.
When you have a common core of beliefs … those common values extend beyond boundaries.
Antonio Soave on his faith
“When you have a common core of beliefs … those common values extend beyond boundaries,” he said. “I’m a big believer in living your faith in that regard and understanding how we can spread good will.”