SBJ/May 13-19, 2013/People and Pop Culture

Jeff Vinik — Tampa Bay Lightning, Storm

The NHL owner made news this month with his decision to shut down his hedge fund. A few weeks earlier, he talked about how he has applied his analytical personality to sports ownership.

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I

t’s
critical as a leader to make people feel included, to allow people to make suggestions, to share their thoughts, share their ideas. … When all the people who work for you or around you, when they all feel part of that process, it invariably leads to a much more successful outcome.

My philosophy is to hire the best people. Pay them a little more if necessary. Give them full authority and hold them accountable.

Photo by: GORT PRODUCTIONS
The first time Tod Leiweke and I got together was for the Winter Olympics. We had a couple of beers. We spent about an hour and a half talking about community and giving back.

In traditional owner-CEO relations, I don’t think equity has been a part of the equation, but it’s critical the person I want to be a partner with has the same objectives and goals that I do. Granting that person a little stake in the business is really a very effective means of having both of us on the same page.

When I left Fidelity (to start Vinik Asset Management), virtually everyone I hired I had known previously. I took the people who had the highest integrity, ethics, intelligence, frankly not yellers. I always thought of our company as nice guys who could work together with others.

I think of myself as an artist. I don’t act like an artist. I have a blank canvas and I want to be able to paint on it. The mutual fund business only lets you have a little piece of that canvas to paint on because it’s 100 percent invested in stock. At a hedge fund with the whole canvas, I can be short, I can buy bonds.

I get asked [for investment advice] a lot, and I have a hard time with it. Diversification is always critical. Trying not to buy at the top of a fad or trend.

The most critical thing you do for your kids is model good behavior. If I treat the waiter well and with respect, hopefully my kids will say please and thank you and if the waiter makes a mistake or is slow, they will treat the waiter with respect. I like to think that helps shape kids. My parents modeled excellent behavior.

I like to see tangible results [when I give money for] helping people. I may be a little bit too literal, but dollars per person. I think the Gates Foundation has done an amazing job, whether it’s malaria or other things, where for $50 a person you save a life.

At Harvard Business School, something like 40 percent of the students were engineers. Out of engineering, half the students go into business. The engineering school [at Duke University] prepared me so well to analyze problems.

In life, you get a ton of data and you have to decide what’s important and not important, put it all together, reach a conclusion and make a decision. That’s almost the purpose of higher education overall.
 
The case method at Harvard Business School is absolutely terrific. You’re learning all these businesses and the way they operate and how they handle marketing and operations and accounting. By seeing dozens if not hundreds of case examples … you learn so much that you don’t know you’re learning.

I’ve hired a number of senior-level people over the last three years. One thing I like to do is go out to dinner with their wives and my wife. Why do I do that? I want to see the way they treat their wife and the way they treat the waiter.

The other part of hiring is you get a lot of views of him. Let a lot of people interview him or her. Let them ask questions and come at the person from different angles and collect everybody’s input.

The Fenway Sports Group and knowing owners of other sports teams in Boston very much gave me confidence in buying the Lightning because I saw that strong management and strong ownership makes a difference.

Our not immodest goal is to be the Green Bay Packers of the NHL. Will we get there? I don’t know. Will it take 60 years? I don’t know. But that’s the direction we’re trying to get to. The people of Green Bay love their team and everything it stands for, and we want our fans to believe in us and what we’re doing in the community.

The financial markets are driven by emotion: greed and fear. If you’re emotional, you’re often going to be doing things backwards and buying high and selling low.

At hockey games, I’m pretty quiet.

The hockey world can be very frustrating. Someone goes down with a knee injury. You lose a few games. But that’s part of the deal and part of the process that happens with sports. I’m not going to get so churned up inside that it’s not good for myself or the franchise, and I like the people who I have working with me to feel the same way.

Sports organizations are jewels of the community, part of the social fabric of the community, and it’s critical that we foster that.

I can’t say I’ve ever had a mentor. I can’t say I’ve had someone say, “Here’s my advice for your career,” and a light bulb went off. I haven’t had that moment.

I’ve learned more from Tod Leiweke as a leader and CEO than any other leader I’ve been around.

Learn everything you can about the opportunity ahead of you. When I decided to buy a hockey team, the next day I bought two or three sports business textbooks and spent the next six months learning everything I could about the business of sports and hockey. I educated myself for six months.

I read about sports and stock markets. I wish I had time to read books.


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