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Volume 20 No. 41
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Michael Williamson, COO and CFO, D.C. United

Michael Williamson wanted to be an astronomer but was told he looked more like a banker. Lucky for him, he liked numbers — and that’s lucky for D.C. United, too. As the club’s COO and CFO, Williamson helped lock down the team’s term sheet with District of Columbia officials to build a new stadium, an endeavor arguably in the making since D.C. United first took to the turf 17 years ago.

You only get one shot at building a stadium. We want to make sure we get the right partners and team together — make sure we have people who are innovative and outside-the-box thinkers.

A turning point for the deal: It all started with the change in ownership group last July. Having that partnership, especially with the expertise Jason [Levien] brings to the table, we were able to sit down with the District. We identified all the challenges and, piece by piece, started to develop solutions together. It was that approach that really made the change. The ability to privately finance the stadium, that’s something that would not have likely been possible without the addition of Jason and Erick [Thohir].

About the early discussions: There’s a lot of stops and starts, different administrations, different municipalities. There were real conversations happening with different locations, but that’s something the new ownership made very clear: Their focus was building the soccer stadium in the District of Columbia. We are D.C. United, not Baltimore United. They made very clear that was their priority, so we focused on that. Definitely, there was a lot of different levels of progress over the years, but at no point did we have what we have today: a term sheet signed in the mayor’s office.

A memorable moment: The night before the announcement — up to that point, we had to keep everything pretty much under wraps, including with our staff — I brought in the digital team and informed them there was going to be a press conference the next day, and we basically have eight hours to put together an entire website redesign. There was shock, definitely.

A mentor’s lesson: From my mentor, John Koskinen, recently nominated by President Obama to be the IRS commissioner: You don’t need consensus in decision-making, but you do need buy-in from people. You want to make sure everyone at the table has their voice heard.

— By correspondent Vandana Sinha