“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