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Volume 22 No. 23

Opinion

Tim Finchem’s love for the game of golf began when he was a young boy and it continues today. Growing up in Virginia the son of a Marine and the oldest of six children, Finchem would play all summer as a child. Then, when Finchem was 10, his father took him to see Arnold Palmer win a tournament in North Carolina, which solidified the boy’s love of the sport, as well as his admiration for Palmer, with whom he later developed a deep friendship.

 

Golf, along with politics and the debate team, were staples of Finchem’s youth, and his path took him to the University of Richmond and then to law school at the University of Virginia. From there, he went to Washington, D.C., where in 1978 he joined President Jimmy Carter’s staff in the Office of Economic Affairs.

 

His time in the Carter administration was brief, and afterward Finchem opened his own consulting firm, taking on the PGA Tour as a client. In 1987, he joined the tour as vice president of business affairs, working closely with — and prospering under — former Commissioner Deane Beman. The two were like-minded in their efforts to grow the game, and Finchem was named to replace Beman when he retired as commissioner in 1994.

 

When you look at the modern tour today, Finchem’s fingerprints are all over it. Few commissioners changed a sport as much as he did during an extraordinarily productive and positive tenure. Finchem stepped down after 22 years as commissioner on Jan. 1, 2017, at the age of 69, and he will receive SBJ’s Lifetime Achievement Award this spring at the Sports Business Awards for his lasting and valuable contributions to the PGA Tour and the game of golf.

 

Finchem’s legacy is clear and unquestioned. An expert negotiator and tactical business mind, he expanded and grew the tour through the creation of lucrative events, oversaw massive increases in media rights and player purses, implemented a major global expansion and helped return golf to the Olympics after a century of absence.

 

His relentless work ethic and vision led to these groundbreaking initiatives during an aggressive and progressive tenure that impressively transformed the tour to a thriving, dynamic, global enterprise. It’s not hard to see the accomplishments under Finchem’s watch — there was the creation of the FedEx Cup Playoffs, the Presidents Cup, the World Golf Championships and The First Tee program. His expansion efforts helped player prize money skyrocket from $90 million on three tours in 1994 to more than $400 million across six tours today. His efforts also included a massive increase in the tour’s international footprint.

 

But perhaps most impressive was Finchem’s focus on the PGA Tour’s exemplary, yet largely unnoticed, charitable efforts. Likely one of the most under-appreciated elements in sports, Finchem helped drive the tour’s charitable giving in event communities to more than $2 billion. And it was all accomplished in an understated, deliberate style built on a bedrock of drive and ambition that he learned from his parents. Indeed, if you speak to anyone who worked for Finchem or those who negotiated with him, they will all marvel at the intellect, steely focus, preparation and work ethic that he brought to the office every day.

 

His energy and passion for the job was clearly apparent when he retired, leaving the PGA Tour’s robust business to his colleague, Jay Monahan. The same ambition that drove Finchem on the golf course as a youngster also forever changed the landscape of the game and cemented his legacy as one of the most effective commissioners in all of sports.

 

Since retiring, Finchem has remained active — playing golf, growing The First Tee and simply enjoying life and his family. Finchem’s career will be profiled in the May 20 issue of Sports Business Journal and he will be honored during the Sports Business Awards on May 22 at a ceremony at the Marriott Marquis Times Square.

Abraham Madkour can be reached at amadkour@sportsbusinessjournal.com.

We say it all the time in the sports industry: “This is a people and relationship business.” People are a company’s key strategic advantage. Your competitors can build similar products, but they can’t clone your people. Your talent and culture are everything. It is humans who forge new markets, develop clients and score game-winning touchdowns. Products do not create themselves — people create those products.

 

As the sports business continues to modernize and institutionalize, pre-eminent brands and properties recognize the importance of valuing human capital properly. This is leading to an overdue shift of elevating human resources into an executive position. Chelsea FC, the Oakland A’s, Liverpool FC and Endeavor all recently hired senior HR leaders. These organizations acknowledge the fierce competition for talent both on and off the field. They find it essential to build employer brands where the best talent wants to work. The talent agenda is the primary role of these executive HR positions.

 

I know many visionary and capable chief executives in sports. There is no shortage of talent at the helm of our industry. CEOs set a strategic outlook for the business and then lead the various departments in executing their composite parts of the mission. However, a senior HR leader provides the connective tissue that enables the internal talent to develop, calibrate and grow the CEO’s vision. Loren I. Shuster, chief people officer of The Lego Group, framed it to me this way in a recent conversation: “The human resources team is the architect of culture, leadership and talent. The CEO, with the leadership team, sets the vision; it is our responsibility, as HR, to make it a reality by building the architecture that makes it come to life.” In this sense, HR is scaffolding to the organization, an appropriate analogy as teams look to truly build a high-performing team.

 

Turning to the media and entertainment industry, the current chief human resources officer (CHRO) of Lionsgate, Ross Pollack, has evenly divided his career between senior international TV licensing roles and increasingly complex HR positions. Lionsgate brought Pollack into the organization in 2014 with hopes of leveraging both skill sets in service of the company’s accelerated growth plans. As a member of Lionsgate’s executive committee, Pollack helped spearhead the merger with Starz in 2016 and orchestrated the company’s diversity initiatives, employee resource group development and Project Enterprise, focused on developing pathways for star female executives to rise rapidly in the organization. “Both [administrative and business] toolsets are critical to long-term success in a rapidly changing and increasingly complex entertainment sector,” Pollack said. “I’m privileged to serve in an organization that values my hands-on business experience and HR expertise. Those credentials give me the credibility to work alongside business leaders and my amazing HR team.” This is also a key point for sports properties looking to add this senior HR element: It’s not about simply promoting an internal HR leader to the executive table. An effective CHRO has a deep understanding of leading business verticals as well as how to apply a talent development model in promotion of the broader corporate goals.

 

Pollack also noted that “HR has become far more complex — particularly in Hollywood — as critical issues such as diversity, inclusion and M&A activity add to the CHRO’s daily challenges.” The line between sports and entertainment has been erased in the past decade, which means that we should look to glean the best of our shared industries.

 

Another way to frame HR empowerment is through resource allocation and talent mapping. Lisa Chang, former senior vice president and chief people officer at AMB Group (holding company for the Atlanta Falcons, Atlanta United and Mercedes-Benz Stadium), shared: “People costs are generally the highest line item in an organization’s expenses. In some cases, the costs can be upward of 70 percent of overall expenses once you include wages, benefits, payroll and other taxes. HR should take the lead in helping to quantify the ROI on people investments because these metrics are not only meaningful to the business but have a direct impact on the bottom line. Being able to speak intelligently about these metrics will make you a meaningful partner to your CEO.” Chang’s point drives home Lionsgate’s foresight in finding a versatile HR executive: You need someone who speaks the languages of economics, analytics, strategy and corporate development. A marketing budget, typically only 5 to 10 percent of overall expenses, would not be approved without a detailed, itemized, forecasted plan for ROI to validate the spend. So why would a 70 percent people spend not be managed with even more rigor?

 

In progressive organizations, executives visit HR when seeking to drive the organization forward and to create new platforms for success. Chang continued: “At [AMB] we knew that to deal with the rapid growth of our organization, we would need an innovative and sustainable people strategy. We were opening a new stadium where we planned to hire thousands of associates in a short amount of time, and in order to do so effectively, efficiently and in keeping with our business objectives, HR needed to take a lead in architecting the strategy in partnership with operations.”

 

Sports franchises can be valued in the billions of dollars. The sales, marketing and communications territories have moved from regional to international. As teams look to add floors to their company empire, they need to ensure they establish stable HR scaffolding to protect and empower the growth.

 

Chad Biagini is partner and global head of sport at Nolan Partners.