SBJ/20101025/SBJ In-Depth

Jordan mingles with staff: ‘Call me MJ’

The Charlotte Bobcats manager of season-ticket sales was raised on the south side of Chicago, then went on to play safety at the University of Illinois. He turned 29 in May, which means he was 2 years old when the Chicago Bulls drafted Michael Jordan and was a college senior when Jordan played his final NBA game.

“Growing up, Michael Jordan was what it was all about,” said Marc Jackson, who is in his fourth year with the team. “So, yeah, this is pretty cool. I work for the greatest basketball player of all time. I gotta call my dad on this one.

“At the end of the day I have to send reports to (upper management), and ultimately they send those to Michael. So eventually, the allure wears off as far as the stardom. But initially — it’s Michael Jordan. I don’t care who you are or where you’re from, that’s Michael Jordan. That makes things different.”

Before the news conference where Bob Johnson
introduced Jordan as the new owner of the Bobcats,
Jordan had already made the rounds to introduce
himself to the team’s employees.

Speak to a few employees and you are sure to hear the story of Jordan’s first day as owner, how all of a sudden he was there, unannounced, introducing himself to ticket sales staffers as they hustled to get off their phones.

When he saw boards tracking sales performance on the wall, he asked what they were and how they worked. Ever the competitor, he told them he loved that they kept score.

In his first meeting with the full staff, he said they all should get used to seeing him. He asked that they not call him sir or mister or boss. “Friends call me MJ,” he said. He invited them to tell him whenever they needed anything, to say hello if they passed in the hallway. He said he’d try to get to know their names, and promised that when he didn’t, he’d at least know their faces and roles.

He told them, “You now represent me.”

Since that day, those inside and out of the organization say they have seen a cultural transformation.

“There can’t be anything more grinding than making 100 telephone calls a day for a brand-new franchise that’s not successful and not embraced by the community,” said Mac Everett, a retired bank executive who serves as a Bobcats adviser. “When Michael Jordan comes to you and says, ‘What can I do to make your job easier? What can I do to help you do your job?’ You say ‘Wow.’”

In a meeting shortly after he took over the team, Jordan asked Bobcats management what he could do to help motivate the sales staff. They suggested that he periodically invite the top performers in ticket and sponsorship sales to his office for lunch, limiting the group to four so they could all feel connected with him. Jordan liked the idea. Those who have earned the lunches say he spends as much time asking questions as he does answering them.

“I am like a head coach now,” Jordan said. “I will demand that everyone throw their hat in the ring and put issues on the table. I don’t want to be an owner that they never see or speak to. I want to interact with them so they respect me and what I do. I am demanding, yes, but they have to understand that you have to expect a lot. Everyone has a role but everyone can’t be the owner. You have to heed my word, but I want people to speak their minds and I don’t want yes people.”

When the team’s chief marketing and sales officer, Pete Guelli, suggested that a contest that rewarded the entire ticket sales staff for reaching a goal would drive sales and build camaraderie, Jordan offered to anchor it.

Over a breakfast meeting, Jordan announced that he would take all 40 members of the sales staff to Las Vegas for a weekend if they combined to sell more than 1,000 new season tickets. They hit their number. On the week of Jordan’s Vegas-based “Flight School” fantasy camp in August, Jordan flew them out and put them up at Aria, where he wrapped up the weekend by hosting a staff dinner.

He thanked them for their hard work, but stressed that they weren’t done, that this was just a taste of the way he intended to show appreciation when they succeeded.

“When he sets a challenge, he doesn’t want to fail, and we don’t want to fail for him,” said Todd Terakedis, an account executive who relocated to Charlotte a year ago to join the Bobcats staff. “Playing sports all your life, you have those personalities where you’d say, ‘I’d do anything for this coach, this boss, this owner.’ That’s how it is with him.”

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