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Volume 23 No. 28
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Forum: ‘Jerks just sap energy’

In 2014, I spent an afternoon with Seth Waugh, who was a few years removed from his leadership role at Deutsche Bank and was rumored to be in line for a future post in golf.

Four years later, he was named CEO of the PGA of America, and during a conversation last week, I revisited our discussion from six years ago. At the time, he was in the midst of reinventing himself, and I wondered — during this global crisis when so many are out of work and looking at what’s next — what advice he’d offer.  

“Take your time. If you’re patient, and you do the right thing, and you have your own personal brand in order, people will knock on your door,” he said. “Patience would be the first thing I’d say.”

When asked what he’s learned most about his business in the past six months, he said, “You can face a crisis and come out of it stronger if you’re smart and, more importantly, human. If you have a brain and a soul, your culture is going to get stronger and your brand’s going to be stronger.”

Finally, I vividly recalled his golden rule at Deutsche Bank to not tolerate assholes, telling me, “If you ask anybody that worked for me, my golden rule was publicly ‘No jerks,’ and privately ‘No assholes.’ … Oftentimes, the better the producer, the bigger the jerk. If you actually take one of them out, particularly if they’re a big producer, people start going, ‘Wow, they’re actually serious about this.’”

He laughed when I reminded him of his comments, but he sticks to his policy. “Jerks just sap energy,” he said. “If you really do adhere to it and have an occasional public execution, it actually sends the right message in a great way. People begin to believe that you believe it. I think it’s absolutely critical in business and, frankly, in life.” I bring this up because I can’t tell you how many organizational leaders have told me they are “using the pandemic” to evaluate their organization and move out people who aren’t all in and consummate team players who support the internal culture.

TOUGH CONVERSATIONS AHEAD: If you speak with anyone on the property or agency side of the business, they will tell you one of the busiest executives they know is Nick Kelly, who has been working around the clock readdressing — and renegotiating — the company’s numerous sports sponsorships and building a strategy for the future. He told me recently that his efforts were boosted when global CEO Carlos Brito said in a May earnings call that the company planned to renegotiate all sponsorships. “That, in and of itself, gave me the air cover to go have a conversation with a team at the highest level.”

He said that while properties and teams are being innovative in trying to deliver value through digital and social executions, it’s not a must-have for A-B. “We are not saying that the value of the assets that our partners are offering us aren’t valuable,” he said. “What we decided is we don’t need them. And that’s the hard part. I don’t need to spend a full year’s sponsorship in two months. So that’s where it’s very much a challenging conversation.” 

He stressed time and again that the conversations will not be easy. “We’re trying to be good partners, but at the same time we have our own problems.” Looking ahead, he acknowledged with a “gluttony of both” league and team deals, it’s about finding the right mix moving forward. “We’re going to have some very challenging conversations over the next 12 months to basically reset our portfolio. It won’t look like it looks today. We won’t have the same league partners, we won’t have the same team partners.” 

He stressed that partners “who are stepping up to provide us what we need in the future, tech, fan engagement, media flexibility” are the properties that will move to the front of the line. He also noted the moves are not financially motivated. “This isn’t a budget cut,” he stressed. “We’re actually going to reinvest the money into new passion points or invest the money into new properties that we currently don’t have. And then, honestly, we want that flexibility in media, not knowing what the media landscape looks like coming out of this.” 

Properties should take notice of Kelly’s pointed comments when considering what A-B is looking for from their relationships and sponsorships in the future.

 

First Look podcast, with Abe's thoughts, at the 35:10 mark:

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