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Volume 22 No. 23
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Forum: Jerry Reinsdorf candid about role and reputation

Jerry Reinsdorf is not slowing down. The 83-year-old owner of the Chicago White Sox and Bulls walked swiftly into the Terrace Suite at Guaranteed Rate Field one night last week dressed casually in a brown dress shirt and slacks to speak to a group of sports executives. Still attending every home game, his White Sox had just won their 24th game, and while they are still under .500, he said he was pleased with the rebuilding team’s direction. After grabbing a pretzel and a water, we chatted for more than 30 minutes about his style of leadership and played a game of word association.

WHAT HE DOES AS CEO: “As little as possible. That’s a serious answer. That’s not intended to be funny. The job of any CEO, whether it be a sports team or whether it be IBM or General Motors, is basically limited to several things. Long-range planning, public relations, and hiring the right people to do the various jobs and making sure they talk to each other. So, my goal is to identify the jobs that have to be filled in any business that I’m running and put people in those particular jobs who do those jobs better than I could do those jobs. ... My job is primarily to think about the long term for the organization. Where’s it going? So if I involve myself with minutiae, then I’m wasting my time.”

WHAT HE LOOKS FOR IN CANDIDATES: “You want people that look you in the eye when they talk. That’s important. You want people who act like they really want the job. Of course, I’ll talk to people about where they’ve worked before, and I like to find out why they left any position. Any time I hear somebody say they left because they didn’t like the people they were working for, that’s a deal killer. Even if you hated the place you worked before, you shouldn’t tell anybody.”

ON HOLDING STAFF ACCOUNTABLE: “You have to let people make mistakes. I made plenty of mistakes when I was coming up. What you don’t want to see is people making the same mistake twice, and you don’t want to see people who make mistakes because they’re afraid to ask questions. It’s very, very important to know what you do not know, and if you know what you do not know, you can ask questions and can learn. If you think you know when you don’t know, that’s when you get in trouble.”

ON HIS REPUTATION OF LOYALTY TO EMPLOYEES: “That’s a bad rap I get. People think that I’m blindly loyal. I don’t think it’s a good trait to be loyal to people who don’t deserve loyalty. But I am loyal to people who give loyalty and people who do their job and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.”

WHAT WORD COMES TO MIND: Bud Selig: “Senate majority leader”; Rob Manfred: “Extremely smart”;  David Stern: “Extremely smart, but thinks he’s smarter than everybody else”; Adam Silver: “Brilliant and personable”; Donald Fehr: “Delusional”;  Scott Boras: “Smart.”

SPORTS INDUSTRY NEEDS TO DO A BETTER JOB OF … : “Staying relevant to the young people, and doing a better job of getting kids to play their sports, whether it be baseball, basketball, soccer, but not football. It’s dangerous. When my kids were in high school, if I had known what I know about football today, I never would’ve let them play.”

Finally, if you missed the Sports Business Awards, I wanted to share the remarks made by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver in accepting the award for League of the Year. I felt his comments were a healthy reminder for all of us who work in the sports industry. “This truly is the best business to work in,” Silver said. “And even more importantly, let me say what all of you do truly does matter. I think through sports, we have the ability to bring people together, increasingly people on a global basis together, to frankly do what governments, in many cases, are no longer able or willing to do. We uphold important values, like integrity, and fair play, respect, tolerance and inclusion, that’s our industry. And we stand for health and wellness, and even increasingly for mental health. So just remember, what all of you do truly does matter.”

First Look podcast, with issues Abe is watching this week, at the 28:05 mark:

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