Wright tackles staffing in early days with Washington
Former NFL running back and Mc-Kinsey & Co. partner Jason Wright started Aug. 17 as the president of the Washington Football Team, the first Black person to hold that position with any NFL club. He spoke with Sports Business Journal about his plans for the franchise, which has been beset by controversy under owner Daniel Snyder.
You've been on a listening tour. What have you learned?
Wright: I didn’t know how deeply identified our workforce is with the organization, which is why the culture shift we’re making is more meaningful than just getting to a place where people are excited to work, and see career paths, and feeling empowered. It’s not just about getting anything cleaned up, in terms of hostility, harassment and things like that.
What parts of the business are under-resourced?
Wright: Human resources. That is where we are investing heavily and it’s going to be a big boon to this organization as people feel that they have the trusted infrastructure underneath them so they can raise their voice and they can effect change.
What does a modern HR shop entail?
Wright: You definitely need a strategic leader, someone not just thinking about the blocking and tackling, but the strategy for how you develop people in your organization. That’s what this senior vice president of HR will do. I’m super excited about moving through our interview process, which I actually started before I technically started, because it was so obvious that’s what we needed.
[Editor’s note: Wright also will create a division to set development goals for each part of the franchise, and an employee relations/oversight division to handle complaints, disputes and issues.]
What’s your timeline for building employee relations?
Wright: That’s a critically important one for us for obvious reasons. I’ll know a lot more when we have the independent investigation. The challenge is, I feel between a rock and a hard place — I have the weight of the article [in The Washington Post that detailed allegations of inappropriate behavior by previous executives] that hit everybody very strongly, and pulled on everyone’s emotions, but without the independent investigation to help me sort what’s what, so I can move swiftly. I’m so eager for the investigation to move forward.
Who are you leaning on for help, either at the NFL or other club executives?
Wright: Troy Vincent is someone I’ve known for a long time, and immediately looped me into some of the resources at the NFL that could really help. Peter O’Reilly, Joe Siclare, Jeff Pash, who I’ve known for a few years now, Maryann Turcke, are really great resources. [Packers CEO] Mark Murphy was the AD at Northwestern when I was a player there. We haven’t linked up yet, but he’s been able to give me advice from afar via email, and a handwritten note that was in my first batch of mail.
Are you going to hire a senior communications executive?
You know the recent history of this front office. How did you ultimately conclude taking this job was a good idea?
Wright: I did my due diligence around this role and what people perceive to have happened in the past. … I had very direct questions for Dan and [his wife] Tanya in the interview process, and they asked very direct questions to me. Each of us individually talked about past mistakes. It was a really open and transparent conversation, and at the end of it, I felt as confident as I could about moving forward on this opportunity. [Rebranding, rebuilding a culture and developing a new stadium] are the types of things that you live for as an executive.