FOG Roundtable: leadership in the sports industry, Part 2

(Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports)
(Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports)

This is Part 2 of the FOG Roundtable on leadership in the sports industry. Here’s Part 1.


Anita DeFrantz, President, LA84 Foundation

Greg Economou, Executive Vice President & Chief Revenue Officer, Guggenheim Media/dick clark productions

Jed Hughes, Vice Chairman, Sports, Korn Ferry International

Bill Shumard, President/CEO, Special Olympics Southern California


Which individual in the sports business industry best exemplifies leadership and how does he/she demonstrate this?

DeFrantz: There are many people who are doing extraordinary work at the many levels of the sports industry. I think of Judy Sweet, who was one of the first women to hold the unified AD position at a major university. She led the creation of a coaches association to develop more women coaches. Richard Lapchick, who has helped us analyze the hiring practices and other ethical issues in the sports industry over time.

Economou: Part and parcel to the previous question, David Stern’s ability to lead the NBA to the unprecedented heights mentioned above made him one of the more exemplary and successful leaders in the history of the sports industry. From a top-line perspective, he successfully embedded his core values – an unparalleled drive and work ethic, unmatched intelligence and innovative spirit, unbridled passion and compassion, and unending teamwork and collaboration – into every facet of the NBA as an enterprise and consistently maintained those ideals as the key to the league’s success. His mission to put the game at the heart of everything the NBA would ever do was high-minded enough to guide the implementation and execution of whatever strategies and tactics were necessary to build an ultra-successful operation. His vision for the future and his ability to engage his organization on individual and collective levels, while helping every single stakeholder to better understand, pursue, and ultimately achieve that vision, is stuff of legends.

Hughes: There are a variety of successful leaders. Mark Murphy, who took over the legendary Packers organization, brings a smart, humble, responsive style to the job. He responds to every caller that makes an individual call into him or into the Packers organization. When he joined the Packers, a controversy was occurring seasonally as Brett Favre went in and out of retirement, string the team along. Mark had to get the Board and the General Manager, Ted Thompson to agree that the best decision for the organization was to allow Farve to leave and promote an unproven Aaron Rogers to the starting role. Aligning all partners with the strategy involved in allowing Brett to leave the Packers tested trust and has resulted in an enormous bond being developed between Mark and Ted. And at the same time, giving an opportunity to a quarterback who has become one of the best in the sport. Andy Reid joined the Kansas City Chiefs following a tragedy and suicide and was able to completely turn the Chiefs around through his ability to bring people together and get them to believe in his philosophy and the one-ness in building an organization. Oftentimes football and the business side are not connected and Andy was able to demonstrate that type of leadership. Bob McNair, the owner of the Houston Texans, had to make a very difficult decision a year ago when he terminated a long-term coach, Gary Kubiak. But Bob was extremely decisive and well-organized and out in front in attracting Bill O’Brien to be his head football coach. The team is back in the race to be successful. Larry Scott went into the Pac-10 when it was struggling from a revenue perspective and has added teams, put a new television contract together and has built a separate division for the whole media aspect of the business. When Bob Bowlsby took over the Big 12, they weren’t sure the conference was going to stay together. His experience as an Athletic Director and his style of listening and experience, gave the Presidents, Athletic Directors and coaches confidence, and at this point the league has been extremely successful.

Shumard: Adam Silver certainly made his mark quickly in the Sterling case, especially contrasted against Roger Goodell’s handling of myriad controversial issues that took him a great deal of time to get out ahead of. Bud Selig leaves MLB with a strong legacy of satisfied owners, a successful product, and favorable player relations. Larry Scott of the Pac-12, in my mind, is the best commissioner in collegiate athletics by building the brand, visibility, and resulting revenue for the conference. Bruce Bochy and Mike Scioscia are exceptional field managers who surround themselves with strong leaders and empower them to be successful.

(AP Photo/The Green Bay Press-Gazette, Lukas Keapproth)
(AP Photo/The Green Bay Press-Gazette, Lukas Keapproth)

What advice would you impart to an individual entering a leadership position in the sports industry for the first time?

DeFrantz: I would urge everyone to undertake a historical review of the slice of the sports industry that they are entering. This review can help them better understand what is happening and the challenges presented by today’s world.

Economou: First and foremost, new leaders must understand and define their core values – so that they are realistic, scalable, and defendable to anyone and everyone associated with the organization. Secondly, they must be able to articulate these core values every day and in everything they do, so that the organization they lead embodies those ideals. The more symbiosis there is between a leader and his or her organization, the more common ground will exist to create much needed trust and productivity. Once trust exists, communication becomes open and progressive – whether positive or negative in nature – and everyone from the leader on down can be held accountable. Sometimes the greatest multiplier of growth comes from the melding of differing opinions and debate, which fuels best practice thinking and actions.

Hughes: If you are joining sports because you want to be a follower of athletes, you are doing it for the wrong reason. Sports have become a business and your passion will be really important. To be successful, the job you take, the mentors you have and the responsibilities you are given are extremely important as you embark on a career in professional sports. Larry Lucchino, the very successful President and CEO of the Boston Red Sox, has spoken about the time when he got out of Harvard Law School and highlights his work in a law firm with key partners as being critical to his success overall and what he has done in building a tremendous brand, whether it be in Baltimore or San Diego. In addition, in this new arena of technology, being open to new ideas and new approaches, willing to take risks and your commitment to entertaining the fan, will be extremely important.

Shumard: Have thick skin! Don’t be overly influenced by the voice of the emotional and under-informed fan. Be perceptive to trends in society, especially social media and how to engage the next generation. Surround yourself with people with similar character and values, and empower them to be successful.

(Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports)
(Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.