May 5th marks 19 years that Lisa Alberino and I have been married. We met in 1999, in Las Vegas of all places, and have been together ever since. In that time, we have seen more than most as a couple. We have moved across the country… twice. We have raised three children (four if you ask Lisa) and we have been a part of successes, failures, ups and downs, love and loss throughout this incredible stretch.
Our ride has been anything but boring.
And throughout these 19 years I have learned and continue to learn from many people. Mentors, family members, coworkers have been my professors… but Lisa has given me a PhD in life. When I decided it was time to settle down I wanted to assure that I had someone who was going to exceed all of the attributes that we expect in a spouse, but I also wanted someone who challenged me across all levels. Someone who championed me, but wouldn’t do so blindly. Someone who I could trust with my personal and business affairs. I found that, clearly, and after 2 decades of companionship and 19 years of marriage, I thought it only fitting that I share with you the 19 things that my wife has taught me.
eThese lessons, although sometimes difficult to learn, have stuck with me… and at 50, my only fear is that I have much more to learn.
So, sit back and soak up the wisdom that I was handed by one of the finest humans I have ever met.
1. Patience is a virtue. You’ve heard this before… nothing new. But it couldn’t be truer. Lisa has an excess of patience where I have very little at times. She is so calming and patient that when I am truly frazzled, I simply call her to hear her voice. It has the same calming effect as her actions. My biggest flaw is her greatest strength and I remind myself of that when I feel like frustration is boiling over.
2. Ambition is sexy. Amazingly enough, this was the #1 thing I was looking for in a partner. Someone who would attack the world and not rely on me entirely to row the boat. Yes, physical chemistry had to be there. Absolutely, a love for the family unit was a must. No doubt, someone who shared my values and interests was high on the list as well. However, I was never able to express just how important ambition is until I heard Lisa describe it this way. And, of course, she was spot on.
3. Versatility is a super power. I use this phrase often and I see it embodied in her as this competitive dancer, financial master, entrepreneurial spirit, gold-medal mom, award-winning athlete and small business owner showcases this every day. She is no one-trick pony and I am amazed at what she accomplishes even to this day. Because of this, I try and surround myself with people of the same ilk. Friends, employees, you name it, anyone who can showcase versatility is worth their weight in gold… this is a great thing to understand and once you do, the sky is the limit.
4. U2 is an abysmal band. No, I can’t say this with a straight face, but if you ask Lisa, one of my favorite bands (and arguably one of the greatest acts on this planet) may be her most disliked. Don’t ask me how she came to that conclusion and if I met her 10 years earlier than I did, this may have been a deal breaker for me. This goes to show you how strong love is, that I can hear her say this and still want her to hang around.
5. People who are threatened by you will never compliment you on success. Years ago, when Lisa first mentioned this to me, it hit home. I thought of how I firmly support assuring that teammates of mine get credit where credit is due.
It’s always ‘we’, never ‘me.’
With that, sometimes personal success happens and love is felt across many levels, from many sources… so much so that you tend to notice those who are unwilling to share in those successes as opposed to the ones who are. My advice based on what Lisa has taught me: eliminate worrying about those who can't muster a nod and a point when it is due… it’s their issue, not yours. Move along. Sage advice.
6. Loyalty should be everyone's middle name. 88% of the people who choose a sports team before they turn 10 years old stay with that sports team for their lifetime (I heard that years ago so the metrics may have changed...) Think about that, though. Who did you grow up rooting for…? Are you still a fan of that team / player? When you obtain a career in professional sports you certainly are a fan and can remain one, but your allegiance may change as the team supporting you becomes all important. Lisa is the most loyal person I know. She lives and dies with my allegiances and I can’t thank her enough for that loyalty. She knows living with a sports executive means understanding the highs and lows and it also means you may be passionate about a team one day and rooting against them a week later. As we have moved, so have her loyalties… and the only constant one has been to me and our happiness. She’s on team Rob.
7. My family is noisy. If you are a fan of Italian comics, then you already know and love Sebastian Maniscalco. He is the best there is when it comes to this genre. He often jokes that his wife’s family is the opposite of his. His Sicilian family is loud, confrontational, bold and overly expressive. Ditto for me. I wasn’t fully aware of that until I had a dinner at Lisa’s family’s house. No shouting, swearing, fights… it was downright Ozzie and Harrietish. I am not sure I prefer it, but it is something that I learned!
8. Celebrating holidays is the best thing since… well, Christmas! As I get older, I love the holiday’s more and more for reasons completely departed from what I once believed. I don’t care about gifts or candy or the amount of food that is placed on a table. I care about what that time means. Christmas, for example, is my favorite time of the year. I realize I only have a finite number of Christmases remaining and I cherish every one more than the last. Not only for what it means in regards to my faith, but also for what it means to my mental well-being and importance to my family. Lisa has made all holidays special by surrounding us in our home with remembrances of yesteryear and this time capsule of trimmings only adds to the feeling of holidays in Lisa’s presence. She makes each time of year come alive with a special touch and she allows us to immerse ourselves in good, old fashioned holiday cheer.
9. The right thing isn’t always the most popular thing. A phrase I have heard from her since day 1 and one of my favorites as it applies to everyone. The choices we have to make as parents, partners, sons, daughters, friends… they can be difficult and appeasing everyone adds to the degree of difficulty of said decisions. Do the right thing in every situation, regardless of critics and deal with it.
10. I will never win in a swimming race. When / If you marry a high school swimming star you will learn 2 things; You won’t ever beat that person in swim-off… and (most likely) you won’t die from drowning. A decent payoff that I can accept.
11. Women are tougher than men. Period. Ask your mom and then be sure to thank her for bringing you in to this world. Lisa has given me 3 kids and I know that, alone, makes her way tougher than I will ever be.
12. Green and Yellow don’t go together. On this one I don’t fully agree… but as a lifelong Minnesota Vikings fan, she will tell you that green and yellow don’t go together and has tremendous arguments supporting it. You learn something every day, right?
13. Dad Jeans aren’t flattering. I don’t think I will ever rock skinny jeans, but it took effort to teach me to get out of my beloved dad jeans (long on the legs and baggy in the butt) to a slimmer and more flattering pair and it’s a lesson I am glad I learned. I’m not sure I am as hip as I can possibly be… but I am getting there with her help.
14. Most people marry their mother (as Creepy as that sounds…) My mom has a way of being right all the time. Lisa does as well. My mom is amazing during emergency situations. Lisa is the best. My mom knows how to make me feel better because she’s an attentive listener. Lisa beats anyone I know in this category.
I can do this all day… it’s a hard fact but if you do it right, you most likely will marry your mom’s clone.
15. Never go to bed angry. A cardinal rule for Lisa and I although we don’t bicker that often, I can tell you when we do its over something I did wrong. We just don’t go to bed angry and as an added battle bonus, she once suggested we should hold hands when we fight because it is harder to be mad when holding hands… and easier to assure I don’t catch a backhand during the tiff either.
16. There is more in me than I have ever imagined. I often wondered where I’d be had I not met Lisa. Every big move, decision, leap I have taken has been with her standing beside me to assure that I had the confidence to achieve what I was hoping to achieve. Sometimes she was in front of me and sometimes she was behind me… but she was always there to let me know that the outcome would be OK and that was all I ever needed. Find yourself a spouse like this and in the face of any storm, you will be just fine.
17. Dance like you need the money. This actually spawned from a ridiculous hat that Lisa has, but the meaning is not lost. Unafraid to put herself out there, be silly, crazy, unafraid… Lisa is that person. While we are on the sidelines playing it cool and trying to be smooth, she is in the spotlight making us look bad. The moral to this story is “Get over yourself, dance like you need the money.”
18. When playing her, I will never win at Monopoly or Backgammon. This one needs no explanation. Just ask her for the embarrassing results.
19. The biggest business decision you will ever make is choosing a partner. This one had to be my ender, although none of the previous 18 are in any particular order.
How many people’s lives do YOU know that are affected by the choice they made in their partner? (I’ll wait… go ahead and let that soak in.)
Sadly, the person you chose to stand beside you might ultimately not be there in 5, 10, 20 years… but those kids, that nest egg, your belongings… they will be tied to that person in some way. Choose wisely as life is a gamble. But in 1999 I went to the place where gambling is on everyone’s mind and I won … and won big.
Happy anniversary Lisa. Thanks for the lessons. They will never be forgotten.
So many people come in and out of our lives.
Family, friends, co-workers and acquaintances alike, its truly countless. I am not sure we even realize the number of individuals that we come in contact with and how we can positively or negatively affect them on every conceivable level.
Every now and again, I’ll be out with my wife, Lisa, or my children and someone will come up to me and recant how we once met, if even briefly, and it’s always a great moment. I’m flattered to know that there was a memory hiding in a small conversation and I find that I am blessed to have touched someone in such a way that they want to stop and remind me of the encounter.
We inevitably end up chatting for a few moments, further strengthening the relationship. It’s about the most human thing one can do for another person. To remind people that they are priceless is a powerful thing and something we don’t do enough of. Kindness, at times, has faded.
However, when you realize that life is full of these great experiences, that is when it gets truly interesting. We all march on through our daily lives and, more specifically, our careers and we tend to talk about people who have molded us in to “who we are.” Without those people believing in us, trusting us, allowing us to succeed as well as fail, we wouldn’t grow and learn in safe quarters to become the professionals that we are today.
I wanted to write about great influencers, although, I want to place a caveat on the short list you are about to get familiar with. This group won't include spouses, parents, siblings, or bosses who have been beacons in our life. Their influence is too easy to reflect on.
These exceptional women and men have a special place in my heart and I can write volumes on where I might be had they not been a part of my life.
Today’s challenge will be focused on those people who randomly crossed my path and forever changed me based on their support, connection, advice and simple friendship that – to this very day – is strengthened every time we talk. Each has touched me in a different way and adjusted my journey for the better.
My Brother from Another Mother
Like so many great stories, this one starts at a wedding.
It was in the early 2000’s… I simply can’t recall the date, but I was at a friend’s wedding in downtown Philadelphia and was having a blast. I was sitting with my wife getting ready to enjoy the meal when the groom’s brother-in-law stood up to give a toast. The moment I heard him speak, I knew we were going to be great friends. Charismatic, creative, funny, brilliant and familiar is the best way I can explain Andy Hurwitz.
Andy is my “coolest” friend. He reminds me of the kid in high school that everyone gravitated towards who was friends with each and every person at the school. Ferris Beuller comes to mind, only a cooler, Jewish version of Ferris with an incredible career, family, attitude and mindset.
He is an entrepreneurial genius, entertainment lawyer, music industry veteran and all-around epic father.
Andy and I hit it off immediately as he is a pathological Eagles fan (who has also pledged allegiance to the Faithful flag since my sojourn out west.) He is as Philly as they come and that means that he values family, loyalty and passion. He’s real. He has stood by me and supported my journey and I have reciprocated. I see him as a significant influence on my creativity and idea conception. When I have reached the end of my rope and needed some optimistic influence I simply sit back and text him… he responds in a flash with wit and heart.
Shining Moment: In late 2008, Andy, upon getting off a phone call with me said, “Dude, there’s a new thing out there and it’s going to be the next big thing. Check it out… it’s called Twitter. It’s going to be massive.”
Here We Go Rats
Sometimes you are put in the same room with someone simply because God wants you to meet them. Your similarities are so parallel, that meeting them is destiny. That was the case in June of 2010 when I sat in a room and talked to Stu Stram about a project I would be working on in concert with he and a charity he was connected to.
He has taught me to believe in myself and my vision. He took me under his wing when I arrived in Kansas City in 2010 and we have remained close ever since. He invited me in to his family and has embraced my crew as if it were his.
Shining Moment: Stu is best known for jumping on stage with legendary singer / songwriter Kenny Loggins and cranking out “Danny’s Song” in front of the crowd. Oh…and he crushed it.
She’s a Force to be Reckoned With
The next person on my list is difficult to explain because she rivals my sister as arguably the most intelligent human that I know. Insightful, powerful, funny, brilliant and thoughtful … she is a Philly girl. Let me introduce Jenn Stredler.
Her business acumen and insight have always helped me to see clearly when my vision was cloudy and sitting and enjoying a meal with her (which never is shorter than an hour and a half as we always have too much to catch up on) is a quarterly treat. She speaks her mind and when she does, people listen and learn.
I love watching her climb the ladder and her successes are shared when we connect.
Shining Moment: Jenn wrote an essay spotlighting a leader she admired. That essay was to lock in her acceptance to grad school at Yale University where she received her MBA. Can you guess who the essay was about? If you said me, you were right! Still waiting for that royalty check, Jenn…
Is There Anyone Tougher than a Sicilian from Detroit?
If you have followed me then you know all there is to know about Matt Yandura. He is a true American hero. Not because he is a COL in the United States Army and has honorably served for 2 decades and counting. No. That certainly helps, but he is my hero because from the day we met nearly a decade ago (chronicled HERE) he has been the lighthouse that I point my bow towards. His family, headlined by his amazing wife Mary, has become my family and there are no secrets between us. He knows me inside and out and what’s more amazing, he is the person on this list that I have known for the shortest amount of time.
It’s hard to sum up Matt, in short, though, he is what people want to be when they grow up.
Spiritual, kind, unjudging, sidesplittingly funny and unafraid to just be himself, he is Captain America. Oh, by the way, he’s the guy you want next to you in a street fight as well.
Shining Moment: Sitting out back, of my house in the South Bay, glass of whiskey in hand, telling stories of his adventure and combat. Glued to his every word, I can barely speak … the guy tells film-worthy stories.
Just Listen to the Voice.
OK, I am bucking my own rules and regulations on this one a bit and can spotlight any one of a half dozen people who have intercepted me along my career. But this one is a little different because I wasn’t recruited by this person… nor did I inherit him, hire him or even oversee him. But he became one of the most influential brothers a man can have.
I tend to wear my heart on my sleeve but I believe I am emotionally rock-solid. Sometimes though, life can throw haymakers that even the toughest of us can’t duck or withstand. Mitch was there to put his arms around me and tear that weight off of me. He fought by me and sometimes, for me. I owe a piece of my sanity and a great deal of growth to him. He is one of the finest listeners I have ever met and his ability to know exactly what to say and when to say it is the reason he is the Voice.
Shining Moment: New Orleans, 2012. Amidst a 2-14 season (the hardest I have ever endured in my 26 years, by the way) there was a moment. That moment was telling Mitch (the day before we won our only road game that year) that he had also won his very first Emmy for the outstanding work he had done alongside our crew. That was the greatest award I have ever been a part of because it meant the world to a guy who meant the world to me.
If you have gotten this far, I am grateful and now I have an assignment for you: Reach out to those who truly guided you and tell them what they mean.
Express to them why you are appreciative and what is was that they did to push you over the goal line, throw you a rope or simply offer you a shoulder when you needed one most.
It was a overcast day on the afternoon my life was changed forever. I remember it like it was yesterday, although it was exactly 7 years ago on this very date, October 24th.
The location was Arrowhead Stadium in Independence, Missouri. Several times a year, it was routine for me to host sizable group of brave women and men from nearby Fort Leavenworth as I had a friendly and growing relationship with one of the nation’s most iconic and important bases located about an hour away from Kansas City. My contact, who has become over the course of time a brother of mine, Colonel Matt Yandura, had been in touch on a weekly basis after we met in early 2010. We would set up these “meet and greets” for lack of a better term, but what we were achieving was much greater. Following in the wake of COL Yandura's two decades of serving and educating in the United States Army, he and I would work hand in hand in continuing on his path. Some of the best and brightest in the United States Army would be immersed for 3-4 hours in understanding how companies in the private sector – in this case the National Football League – dealt with challenging situations, leadership training and overall day to day operations. Under Matt's guidance, the soldiers would gain valuable information from these field trips and ask questions behind closed doors that – in my peronal hopes – would sharpen their already exceptional skillsets. Furthermore, I envisioned them walking away with the ability to tackle their goals and be better service people while a small portion of that could be attributed to my work with the League and fellow peers.
On October 24th, 2012, this was my 4th or 5th visit from the good folks at Fort Leavenworth. I had visited the post on many occasions as well as many other bases across all 5 branches. The countless trips and connections, spawning back to when I first entered the League in the mid 90’s, were always met with excitement because it was not only a departure from my daily work flow and cadence but it felt like I was doing something meaningful and significant. I never believed that someone was taking note of this work…but somehow they were.
The “meet and greets” in Kansas City had a loose order to them. The group of soldiers would first arrive and check in and we would take a tour route that would lead us up to the 8th floor of the expansive stadium. On one side, the Arrowhead inner bowl was a glorious site through the windows of the exclusive club that we would settle in and make our classroom for the afternoon. Directly opposite of the bowl, large, etched-glass panes looked over Missouri and across to the Kansas Border where Overland Park emerged from an expansive tree line. It was in that exclusive club space that my guests and I would get to know each other and I would introduce myself, explain my duty for the Chiefs and take them through my journey as an NFL Employee. A few questions were answered and eventually we would leave the 8th floor and make our way through the labyrinth of the stadium hitting the normal highlights: Locker areas, the field, the Hall of Fame and then, eventually, returning to where we began… the 8th floor.
On this particular day, we headed upstairs and with COL Yandura by my side, I noticed the tour had outpaced us and arrived to the 8th floor seating area in very good time. Even more bizarre, the double doors that separated the elevators from the 8th floor lounge were abnormally closed. In haste, I began to hustle for the doors, fearing a little chaos might erupt with 100 soldiers (and football fans) being unchaperoned. It was at that time when Matt grabbed my arm and asked me the question that I can hear as clearly today as I did that day.
“What’s the third best day of your life?”
I had no immediate answer because, if you know Matt (and you will after this excerpt is over) you have to know that he is cerebral, funny, compassionate and simply loves to get to know people to their core. For COL Matt Yandura, this question wasn’t out of the ordinary, but it was at the time a bit jarring because I was more concerned about the second half of my meeting with the soldiers as opposed to a deep philosophical question at an inopportune moment.
“I…I don’t know… I’d have to think about that…” was my response (maybe not verbatim… but that is what I recall blurting out.)
Matt quickly corrected and led me a bit. “Knowing that marrying Lisa is the best day of your life… and having your 3 kids is the second best … what would be the third best day of your life?”
As I went to answer, he stopped me immediately. “Don’t answer,” he said. “It’s about to be that day.” As he kicked open the doors, dozens of soldiers stood in formation. Where there was no pageantry earlier, flags were posted, my family was present, coworkers lined the room and I knew then, my life was going to change.
Now let me explain… I don’t sweat and I' d like to believe that I am tough to rattle.
At this point, though, I could feel perspiration trickle under my arms, my brow was warmer than usual and I felt flush. With my heart beating faster than I can remember in recent times, I felt an overwhelming sense of pride mixed with unworthiness. I had always carried a guilt of not enlisting to serve the country that has treated me so well and that my father, uncles and many cousins have bravely served. I carried this weight with me and thus that was why I had always wanted to go that extra mile for any woman or man who has made the sacrifice that less than 1% of Americans make.
Matt knew this and acted over the course of year to make my dream a reality.
“You will now be a part of the family,” he told me, “And once you get that green stink on you, it doesn’t come off.” An enlistment ceremony ensued and I was given gifts that I could only accept in awe. A uniform, flags, gear, boots and of course, dog tags, which I wear proudly every single day.
Matt’s assessment couldn’t have been more correct. I have worked tirelessly, every day from that day to this to pay forward the honor of letting me be a part of something greater than myself, if even to help in the slightest way to further the mission and goals of our armed forces. And reflecting back on that day, I would trade nothing for it as it is priceless. It truly remains the top three greatest days of my life and because of that I give him all credit, and more importantly, I will never let him down as that would be the greatest dishonor.
That is why I must end by letting anyone who has read this far that if you are blessed to have a mentor in this world as I have been blessed with COL Yandura, then take a knee and give thanks. I am humbled not because he has allowed me to realize great purpose, be connected with phenomenal and passionate people, given me the privilege to serve, speak in front of and stand beside those who make this country what it is, but because he has invited me into his personal family. He is truly the finest man I know and that is something I don’t say or write lightly. There are a handful of people I would put in that elite category, but Matt Yandura is one in none.
Thanks for giving me the third greatest day of my life, COL, and continue to do the work that you were called to do and you have done so exceptionally. Thank you for your service, dedication, selflessness and thank you for allowing others to walk the path you blazed.
I am a ‘Junior’ and so I carry my dad’s name with great honor and often use my full name as an homage to Robert Sr. I try and live my life knowing that this is the one thing that I have that can’t be taken away from me.
“Dad, I know I have our name on the back of my jersey, so when I get out there, I am going to make us proud.” It wasn’t me who said this so eloquently. It was my son, Jordan. Talk about understanding the importance of respect and pride in who you are and what you do, I’ll never forget Jordan stating this proudly as he began his career in the NFL and I almost broke down in tears as it left his mouth.
I know there are some of you out there who don’t have your fathers by your side and I feel for you with my entire heart and soul. My wife, Lisa, lost her dad two years ago and the impact of that loss is as real today as it was the day we said goodbye to Jim Brown, Sr. Today I decided to sit and write a passage on my dad, the life lessons that he taught me and to celebrate his 76 years on this planet as well as the greatest holiday of all holidays: Father’s Day! I hope that those who have their dads with them will make a call or (if you are lucky) turn and hug your father why you still can and tell him how much you love him. Others can simply reflect on the times that meant the most to them and take a trip down memory lane in their own thoughtful way. For those who are new dads or about to be a dad, well, your story can begin today so pay close attention.
That was just what occurred. As we logged mile after mile and shared story after story I became increasingly thankful that I continue to have him in my life. I was one of the lucky ones and even after repairing a fracture that kept he and I apart for a handful of years, he has been my confidant, partner and closest friend.
My father is an exceptional man.
Born and raised in New Haven, Connecticut, he embodies everything a stereotypical Italian-American does but he is also educated, insightful and overly excited to enjoy the golden years of his life. He is a history buff, film aficionado and a world class chef as well as a fisherman and boat captain. In his former life he was a stockbroker, restaurant owner (Italian, of course!) and manager at Yale University’s dining halls where he created incredible teams and a culture that valued people over all. That was the most valuable lesson he taught me. The many diverse men and women who worked alongside of him admire him to this day and he can’t go anywhere without getting stopped and sharing an inevitable hug.
The lessons continued on as did the years. My dad is a man who improves with age and even in random conversations or daily calls with me he drops wisdom or galvanizes a philosophy that he has championed. I carry his lessons with me everywhere I travel and have passed them all down, with pride, to my family and coworkers as they truly are as relevant today as the first day that they passed from his lips to my ears.
Growing up on the East Coast meant that noise, chaos and confrontation can be a daily event. Battling isn’t always the right way, but growing up where I did, it was often the most common way. Combative personalities were a staple of my younger years. I often walked into a room to debate, immediately poised to defend myself and potentially offend the person I had a disagreement with. My father used to say “put the pistols on the table and disarm those who are ready to fight back.”
Translation: listen first and talk later.
Let people connect with you and actively understand what they are trying to communicate. After doing so, be ready to see it from their standpoint, continue with an empathetic mind and look for resolution instead of further conflict. That’s rock-solid advice when applied properly.
Speaking of advice, my dad never gave me the answer to a challenge I was facing, he simply advised. A great way to live life while also doing your best to be a dad.
He would frequently give me great nuggets of wisdom and I was smart enough to digest them properly. Sometimes I would feel as if I were wiser than my parents and like most young adults I would want to go about solving these snags in my own way. “I have a map here,” my dad said regularly with confidence. “It outlines where some of life’s mines are hidden. I don’t know where all of them are but I have stepped on about 70% of these throughout my time. Take the map and use it if you want … or go it alone and take your chances.” This was prudent guidance and something I use each and every chance I get. Knowing where the pain points are, having true experience across many fronts and learning from those is irreplaceable. My dad’s voice was always a guiding one, but never with judgement or expectations that it would be listened to. “Dads are like conductors on a train.” He once said when we were chatting about how I raise my kids. “They get you on board safely, punch your ticket and carefully get you to your destination. Not many people turn to the conductor after the train arrives and give them a handshake or hug. It’s simply expected.”
Through all of the ups and downs, different career moves and family matters, my dad does one thing that everyone comments on and openly admires. He stops and smells the roses. As he has gotten older my dad has gotten wiser and most certainly more introspective and it’s the small things he appreciates. I knew if I took my dad to Hawaii the trip would be bursting with small wonders for him. A whale breaching in the Pacific, having a drink while watching the sunset, putting his feet in black sand… all of these things were wonders to him and that was wonderful for me.
This is what I see now, because of Robert Alberino, Sr. The journey is more important than the destination and once we get to where we are going it’s the stories along the road that we remember. It’s the pit stops and pitfalls that we learn the most from.
So, as we continue to roll on, mile after mile, I savor the little things and urge you to do the same. If you are one of the lucky ones, do the same on this Father’s Day and every day after. If you aren’t, then close your eyes and revisit that one moment in time that puts you right near your father and simply enjoy the ride for as long as you can.
“You win some, you lose some.”
That phrase, yet simple, is also extremely complex. Defining to most in the sports business, particularly on the team side, life can be all about those wins and losses. In no other profession are people graded by an outcome that is displayed on a scoreboard. In no other business do employees go home at the end of the day and know whether or not they have succeeded or failed based on the outcome of a game. In all facets of the world of sports, you most certainly win some and you will absolutely lose some.
This day marks my 25th season in the National Football League and there have been some victorious ups and just as many debilitating downs.
I began my journey at 330 Fellowship Road, NFL Films’ first New Jersey-based home, and it was the genesis of my career with the league. I would have to wait two years before joining the team side in the NFL and did so with the Philadelphia Eagles in 1997. I still recall pulling up to the concrete pillars that graced the outside of Veteran’s Stadium (RIP) and feeling overcome that I was about to be a part of an elite group, in an elite league with the likes of some of the industry’s giants. I worked alongside a few of today’s whales including Len Komoroski, now Chief Executive Officer of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse and Scott O’Neill, Chief Executive Officer of Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment (Philadelphia 76ers, New Jersey Devils, etc.) Back then, NFL front offices were much less populated and the ability to connect at a deeper level was always an option. It was a true blessing to learn directly from these men, especially for a young and hungry newbie to the NFL. (Fun side note: I have a passage written about a story I conveyed to Scott in a book he co-authored and it can be bought here. I won’t tell you about it in hopes you buy the book and boost Scott’s sales.)
The reality is, this was the talent that surrounded me, educated me and went to battle with me on a day-to-day basis. There are so many other names that I can site as incredible influences on my path to current day including Steve Ryan, David Perry, Dave Rowan and more. One of the greatest influences, to this day, happened to be the final leader I had at the Eagles and the first and only I would have in Kansas City.
After three years in Kansas City, I accepted an opportunity with the 49ers. I’ve spent the last six years growing under a handful of direct reports with a multitude of superpowers. The leadership team in San Francisco has redefined how sports and entertainment coexist.
I was drawn to come to the Bay Area because of the unique skill set of an entrepreneurial front office that ranged from Silicon Valley moguls, to multi-league executives, to blue-collar and self-made men. Some of the strongest, most charismatic business minds have helped me continue to learn, grow and improve as an executive.
During the last 8,767 days (yes, I did the math), I have absorbed invaluable knowledge that I have shared in bits and morsels to those I work with, my children and in talks I have given over the past quarter century. I felt it prudent to boil it all down to 10 key learnings:
1. Bridges were meant to be crossed, not burned. The world is small. Treat people with respect, kindness, empathy and love because you will undoubtedly meet them (or someone close to them) at that bridge again.
2. Manage the highs and lows. Something I struggled with early and learned too late. It’s never gloom and doom, no matter how difficult it is, but it’s also not Camelot either. Steady hands are hands that work well.
3. Learning never stops. The game, business, personnel and world constantly evolve on a daily basis. Evolve with it by remaining educated and being an expert at what you do. Read, ask questions, write and absorb. Never go anywhere without a notepad and don’t underestimate what the most novice of people might bring to the table.
4. Treat the business as if it were your own. If you have worked with me or walked alongside me, you will often see me pick up trash in my path, assure the coffee maker is ready for the next co-worker in need of a boost, or park at a meter when on a business visit instead of using valet. The people who have given me this incredible opportunity deserve me to look after their business as if it were mine and they get nothing less than just that.
5. Reach out, just because. It’s so easy to not say anything when something was accomplished in style by a co-worker yet it has no impact on you or your career. Too often in any business, employees are like offensive linemen that only hear their name called when they are flagged for a penalty. Celebrate coworkers or stop to tell someone they did something well. I’m a hands-on guy and you will get a hug, high-five or fist bump from me when you crush it. That’s the way it should be.
6. Network. It’s always good to meet new people, keep in touch with colleagues and open yourself to sharing information about how you’ve succeeded, struggled and more. Nothing works more than networking. Period.
I vowed then, that when I was successful in my field, I would find the time to clear the fog for others when approached. Sometimes paying it forward means a little in return as well.
8. Be Empathetic. Don’t kid yourself. Your set of shoes aren’t the only ones being walked in. I reflect on times that I could’ve thought more about what someone else might be going through in their lives rather than responding in haste, frustration or anger. I wish I could have read this and really taken it into consideration. Empathy is powerful.
9. Take your Shot. You never want to look back and “wish you would have.” I am a proponent of not being too comfortable. I love adventure, building teams and tackling challenges. Thus I have taken my shot multiple times and – so far – it has worked. Do I reflect back at decisions/moves I would reconsider? No doubt. But once the ball leaves my hand, and it is what it is. There’s a fine line between being assertive and aggressive and being foolish. Only you can assess that prior to taking your shot.
10. Enjoy the Journey. This is one that I preach… but have only recently followed this sage advice. I have realized that life is too short to not enjoy the moment. Exclusive meetings, traveling, working alongside great teams, meals with co-workers, a big win, the smell of a field before fans walk in the stadium or the smell of a parking lot full of 20,000 people barbecuing during a tailgate. I can go on and on, but this one is a big one. Make time to stop - if even for just a minute - and enjoy the moment. You won't ever regret doing so.
There you have it.
25 seasons melted into a short article for you to hopefully extract a few nuggets of gold. Before I close, you may be wondering what’s my career record when counting all season wins, losses and ties as a team employee? I’m a mere 162-177-2 in the regular season, and 12 – 10 in postseason games. Yes, I would have liked to win more... no I haven't won the big one... YET. When I do look at the record posted, though, I only think of the band (not my former employer) when it comes to summing up victories and defeats:
“You may lose and you may win, but we may never be here again.” – The Eagles
For nearly a quarter of a century I have been employed by the NFL. It has been a wild ride and as my good friend and the 49ers Director of Production, Wil Blackwell, states, “We are unemployable in any other business.” Now I’m unsure and hopeful that his statement is untrue, but it certainly feels accurate at this stage of my life. Like many in the sports world, I have had many opportunities to take different paths throughout my tenure but remained on the team side because it presented something that few other professions offered; progressiveness, innovation, camaraderie and the ability to be part of history.
I ask you to look into your hearts as you read more. Are you doing what you want to do? Are you progressing in a linear fashion as it pertains to your career? Is that career path one that will be fulfilling for the short and long term? These were questions I asked myself and still do to this day. I truly believe anyone who is introspective and in touch with themselves will do the same and I am hoping that a snapshot into my path might help understand that although incredibly fulfilling, doing what is right for you and your career plans isn’t easy nor is it scripted.
As mentioned, I am going into over 2 decades of being employed by an NFL franchise, however, my entry in to the National Football League did not begin there. The genesis of my career with the League started in Mt. Laurel, New Jersey as a Filmmaker for the “Hollywood of Sports”, NFL Films. I joined the Films crew in 1995 and spent 2 years working alongside some of the greatest storytellers of that time. To this day, I am amazed to think that I received advice, guidance and criticism from these leaders in the industry and even more amazing, Steve Sabol who led the charge at NFL Films after taking over for his father, was amongst that group. Fun Fact: I was present at Hall of Fame Inductee, Ed Sabol’s retirement which blows my mind as I reflect on the cast of characters who attended to see off Film’s patriarch. From Michael Buffer to Paul Hornung and everyone in between, I was a boy among men on that evening.
From Films I found my way to the team side through unfortunate events. I was let go as were a host of young filmmakers (8 of us to be exact) and that was the turning point in my career. I asked myself the question that almost everyone facing the long stare at unemployment faces;
What could I have done different?
The loss of my position at Films, to this day, is surprising to me. I never would (or could) be out worked. My career was priority #1 for me and I gave everything I had, both personally and professionally, to assure anything I touched would result in success. That was the case at Films, but unfortunately for me and the crop of young talent that worked alongside of me, we were sent packing to blaze a path elsewhere. I knew what I wanted to do and I knew what I loved; that was creating and delivering stories. I loved shooting, writing, producing and working with a team who cherished those very same things. With my ego and mind bruised from the expulsion, I had 2 choices.
Choice #1: Find a new profession. Do something a little safer and with greater potential for income, growth and stability.
Or Choice #2: Waste no time, pick your ass off the mat and do what you love and were put on this earth to do.
Although we were absolutely achieving our goals and working at our peak, I asked myself, “What do you do when you have a perfect ecosystem?”
The answer, “Build another one and see if the first was a fluke.”
Reaching out to one of my greatest centers of influence, Kansas City Chiefs President, Mark Donovan, I engaged him as I did many times. I connected with Mark to talk about what he thought about my career path and the potential options I had in front of me that were outside the scope of the NFL as well. I had the conversation in my car on a rainy Philadelphian February evening. I hung up the phone with a plane ticket to KC in hand and a promise to be able to mold a new group of storytellers, from scratch, into a true team that would compete with the best the League had to offer.
The creation of 65 Toss Power Trap Productions (the Chiefs in-house production team) launched a new way to look at a team locally. In this new system, marketing, production, design and new media all lived in one department. This equated to no walls and a high-octane way to create and distribute media to a hungry fan base that had been craving just what we were delivering. How powerful you might ask? As a matter of fact, in its first year, 65 TPT Productions won so many Emmy Awards that the crew walked out of the award ceremony with a hand truck to cart out the accolades.
The Chiefs were on the map and professional teams and leagues were starting to take closer notice. Once again, the power of truly enjoying one’s profession was on display. Total immersion in the marketing and storytelling of a team was paying off and even greater changes would occur as the entire team was seemingly being watched from near and far.
In early Spring of 2013, I received a call. I was in a car headed from Kansas City to Minneapolis when the 49ers, then COO, Paraag Marathe, called and connected with me and we talked about what was occurring in KC and the desire for the 49ers to have this but at a greater level. It was intriguing beyond words and my wife, who was in the car with me that day, was grateful that we would have 5 hours of a drive remaining to talk about the opportunity at hand. We talked about yet another change for our family, what the opportunity meant and weighed the pros and cons. We talked about uprooting and moving further from core members of our extended family to a place that we had no support system on a personal end and how we’d be “live without a net” in a foreign place. And then we talked about love of the work and how I would be getting to build, yet again, on one of the biggest stages in sports with one of the most historically significant franchises on the planet.
This is where I will deviate from the story and talk about a personal chapter that only a few close to me have been privy to...
Upon taking the visit to the Bay on a Thursday morning and meeting with the 49ers, I still had trepidations about moving my family and starting over.
I returned back to my house in Kansas City late that Friday night. I went dark on all communication as I needed time to think. Surely in 24 hours I would know what my plans were as I have never been one to be paralyzed when facing a difficult decision. This instance was different, however. I truly didn’t know what the “right” choice was. I had a terrific situation, worked with amazing folks and had a comfortable life; change was unnecessary. I was doing what I was put on the earth to do; building teams, creating content and connecting with people on personal levels while telling stories.
That Monday rolled around faster than I had anticipated and, like any other day, I strapped my boots on and headed to work. The entire time knowing I had to have an answer for both sides as both were awaiting my decision. Would I leave what I had built to begin again? Would I stay and continue on with a familiar system?
Either way, answers were expected.
As I pulled into the Chiefs complex in Missouri, I distinctly remember Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s, “Wasted on the Way” playing on my playlist in my car…. laugh if you will, but read the lyrics and it will make sense. At that very time, my phone buzzed. I pulled into my parking spot and inspected my phone prior to gathering my gear and heading in. The text was plain and simple and it was from my wife, Lisa.
“The 3 biggest gambles in my life are as follows; Being a single mom. Moving my life and son to Philadelphia for a man I knew for 6 months. Starting my career over at 30.
All were home runs.
Take the job.”
That’s how I made it to the Bay. Plain and simple. It hit me immediately that it was the right move to make for me, my career and my family. It was obvious that, in order to grow and take greater leaps towards my goals, I had to take myself out of my comfort zone.
As I head into my 6th season and 5th year with the 49ers, I am doing what I love. I have 5x the responsibilities from my previous position and I have a great number of people that rely on me to make decisions for both the franchise and the Faithful on any given day. Although I come to “work” every day I simply don’t see it that way – even on the toughest of days, facing the most severe circumstances, I can’t live without it. That’s how I know the career choice, and more importantly the journey itself, have been the correct path for me.
The impetus behind this blog are the questions that arises almost every time, “How did you know this was right for you?” as well as “I want to get into the sports business but is it worth it?”
For me the answers were obvious, and exactly the same for both questions. “Find what you love to do and attack it.” Loving what you do is the true path to success and happiness.
Here’s to hoping your adventure is fraught with twists, turns and cliffhangers, as well as an outcome that has you never “working” a day in your life.
It’s that time of year.
Everyone in the world is seemingly graduating and the job market is about to be flooded. I know from experience as one of those people who was released into the wild (a long time ago!) as well as someone who fields email upon email and call upon call by hungry young men and women all looking for their shot to be a part of the sports and entertainment business.
I also have a very unusual perspective this year as I living besides, rooting for and mentoring one of those bright young hopefuls in my son, Jordan. As he navigates the minefields of interviews and the rocky terrain of searching for employment he is learning the art of assertiveness, not aggressiveness. I am living it all over again with him but this time, from the angle of the anxiety-filled parent.
So for the next few minutes, if you are interested, grab a cup of coffee, sit down and let me profess what I have learned, what works and what all newcomers should be doing if they aspire to get a shot in any business.
That’s a key piece, by the way. I am not only going to speak about the sporting world but know that this knowledge can apply to ANY profession because the truths I am about to share are universal. They are what I would like to believe every hiring manager is looking for when a candidate enters their office / inbox / HR search.
So off we go…
#1 - Don’t call it a job – it’s a career. You can get a job at a fast food joint, or a car wash and there’s nothing wrong with either of those. But if you want to work next to a talented crew of people and begin your career…begin it by talking about it like it’s larger than a paycheck or a destination for a year or two. It’s a mindset and your mind should be set on getting your career off on the right foot.
#2 – Millenials have an uphill climb. Only old people call young people Millenials and there’s a reason for that… and it may insult some. Stereotypes are defined as a widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing. Love it or hate it, stereotypes have stuck and if you are under 25, heed this warning; You will have to work harder, prove yourself more valuable and lose any thoughts of entitlement when it comes to compensation, positioning and day to day duties. It is widely viewed that those who can have answers at the touch of a button, communicate via text and have lived under their parent’s bank account for the first 20+ years of their lives aren’t properly socially acclimated, grateful or possess simple business etiquette (or what your parent’s called “common sense.”)
Again – stereotypes… read further before venting.
I have plenty of novice and hungry co-workers who have toiled to get where they are and show no signs of stopping. But I have also run across those who have made me cringe with the lack of decorum, politeness and respect for those who have worked for 5, 10, 15+ years and did so without the help of the internet to pave their way. This is a stereotype that must be broken and YOU are just the person to do it. Come in ready to work, forgetting about the vast wealth of knowledge you might think you have and with the understanding that when you walk through those doors, you just might not be liked, valued or respected until you earn it. There are no medals for everyone, a limited amount of back-pats for doing what you are paid to do and if you don’t do a great job, there are no do-overs. The hard reality is there are 100 people ready to step over you to prove themselves too… so if you get the shot, cherish it and break stereotypes. Oh… one last thing. A good handshake is a must as are ‘pleases’ and ‘thank you’s.’ Don’t come at me with a dead-fish handshake…ever.
#3 – Your Resume has to be bulletproof. Plain and simple, would you go on a first date with a booger hanging from your nose or a belt loop missed? No, of course not, or there wouldn’t be a second date.
Your resume is your first date and if it is a wreck… you may not get another.
Have as many people look at your resume as humanly possible. It should be a work in progress with tweaks happening often. Worried your parents, professor or crazy uncle may be too harsh as they review your resume? Well, that simply means they are the perfect person for the job. Thicken your skin, take criticism and note that if I personally get a resume with 3 mistakes on it… there is no second date. If you can’t handle your own details, how can you handle mine?
#4 – Dress to impress. Always a touchy subject and one that even within my current office walls comes up often. Should you wear a suit and tie / pantsuit to an interview? The answer (from me) is 100% YES.
Even if you are being Skyped for and interview, you should be putting your best foot forward. I don’t care if its New York, Florida or the Bay, some things, in my opinion, are non-negotiable and dressing for a job interview is one of them. There’s no sin in dressing up for an interview but there is one for not doing so.
#5 – Handwritten notes go far. Sensing the trend here? Respect, old school, buttoned up, no dead fish handshakes… business has been going on for quite some time and this is how it is done. Want to take it a step further? Send a hand written note to the interviewing manager after a meeting. A few lines thanking them and showing gratitude for the time they spent. Don’t want the job? STILL SEND THE NOTE. You never know what this person will say about you when you walk out of that building but they just might recommend you because of something that stood out during your interaction. Why not remind them how special and detail oriented you are by giving them something tangible to mull over? I promise you this type of thinking will separate you from your competition.
#6 – There’s no shame in interning after graduation. I personally have an 80%+ rate of hiring interns who have worked for me or for teams that I have been a part of. If you are lucky enough to be asked to work in a profession you love and the opportunity is to learn and become more valuable, then I say “There is no time to starve then when you are young and have no kids or mortgage.” Interning teaches incredible lessons, trains a budding professional to be a veteran and gives insight on two core thought processes; what you like and more importantly, what you don’t like about the job at hand.
Learning first-hand, 40 hours a week + as an intern is as valuable as a full-time position because your foot is in the door, you are sharpening your skills and I can assure you ANY great intern will find 1 of 2 paths upon completion. The first path is as follows. They work hard, learn, impress but find there is no room to become employed at the company. That path will lead to a recommendation of the highest level for that intern to get an opportunity elsewhere and this time they are working with a year under their belt. That means the opportunity next time will be of greater value. The second path a great intern can take is after planting that foot in the door they then lay their shoulder into that door by being asked to be the next man/woman up when opportunity shows its face. Several times in the past months I have seen managers stand up for their interns to get them the full-time opportunity they deserve. It’s a right of passage for people who work hard and are committed and nothing makes a manager happier than seeing the gratification on someone’s face whose dreams are coming true due to their passion and devotion.
I recommend several internships while in school, but an internship does not have to stop after graduation. If you want to be fast tracked to a position that could be opening, working diligently under the noses of those who can make that dream become a reality is a perfect way to do it.
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With the summer comes lots of prep for the 2018 season. Strategy, creation, content capture and more. Its the time when teams, if they are properly driven, are gathering food for the winter.
It's also a time to take a break and connect with family, friends and do what many execs do which is get out there and teach. Its a time when we can bring our show "on the road" and evangelize our product, franchise and teams. I have a limited amount of these that I can attack as the job is demanding on all fronts and being away for even a day or two means working on planes, in hotel rooms and until you are simply out of steam. With that, I also try and make each one of these count because as trite as it may sound, I am representing my team and I am a reflection of the brand as well as the leaders who allow us the freedom to create and market the NFL; a blessing that is never taken for granted.
One stop this month was back to my home town from 2010-2013 in Kansas City. Immediately upon landing I headed to my best friend's home to visit with he and his beautiful family and catch up. For those who know me, I spend a great deal of time working alongside of the United States Army and LTC Matt Yandura was the incredible soul who allowed me entry into that elite fraternity by way of an honorary enlistment. Since then, I have paid forward that honor 50 fold in order to assure that Matt's work to get the "Army Stink" on me wasn't done without tremendous benefits to the men and women who serve this great country. This trip was on the outskirts of Fort Leavenworth, however, and was not on post. I drove from the airport to the Yandura's just to connect with my friend and my Kansas fam... the exact juice I needed before stepping on stage and talking to hundreds of hungry and curious marketers from all walks of life.
The Digital Summit in Kansas City was the second that I have attended and was by far the best. I cut my teeth in Salt Lake and the crowd was a bit smaller, however, KC was packed and was one of the best conferences I have been a part of in quite some time. The Digital Summit's depth, speaker list and turnout screamed of big time conferences and when I walked into the room I was going to take the stage in, it was big... daunting... and packed! I rarely get nervous... but I was close until I realized I was the last speaker that day and happy hour was right outside of the room... worst case is I flop and then head for the bar. I still have to hear the speech back to see how I truly did as I am certainly my most ardent critic, but the reviews were great and the social love poured in after only minutes into the speech.
Being on stage is a rush. Speaking from the heart even more so.
The best part, though, is walking off stage and having folks wait to speak to you... some for quite a long while... and I will never leave until the last person's hand is shaken and their questions are answered. That meet and greet then followed to the happy hour where I found a ton of Faithful as well... and made some people Niners fans on the spot. All and all a great trip and one that I was glad that I took. Now time to attack key pieces on the home front.
Before I sign off....here's a gallery of some of my favorite tweets from that speech. Was so very grateful that what I was saying was being truly being heard... bravo to the marketers out there working their tails off to become the best in the business. Until next time!