Recruiting, Mentoring, and Growth: Lessons from a Career in Pro Sports
Co-Founder of H3 HR Advisors and Program Chair, HR Technology Conference
CEO and Principal Analyst, H3 HR Advisors
About this episode
Recruiting, Mentoring, and Growth: Lessons from a Career in Pro Sports
Guest: Lou DePaoli, President of the Executive Search and Team Consulting Division at General Sports Worldwide
This episode of At Work in America is sponsored by Paychex, one of the leading providers of HR, payroll, retirement, and insurance solutions for businesses of all sizes. Even the most seasoned professional can easily be overwhelmed by the critical tasks that need to be done during year-end. Download the Paychex Year-End Checklist to get organized. In it you’ll find timely tips, important deadlines, and advice backed by decades of experience to help navigate this time of year, so you don’t lose momentum as you transition to 2024. Visit paychex.com/awia to download your copy, today. That’s paychex.com/awia.
This week on At Work in America, Lou DePaoli from General Sports Worldwide, joined us to discuss the intricate relationship between sports and the corporate world. With a wealth of experience in sports, executive recruiting, and leadership development, he offered profound insights into recruitment strategies, emphasizing the significance of culture fit in fostering successful careers. Our discussion on mentorship and its pivotal role in professional growth within the sports industry ended with an exploration of diversity in hiring and leadership.
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Welcome to At Work in America sponsored by Paychex. At Work in America digs in behind the headlines and trends to the stories of real people making a difference in the world of work. And now here are your hosts, Steve Boese, and Trish Steed.
Hi, everyone, welcome back to the At Work in America show. My name is Steve Boese. I’m with Trish Steed. Trish, how are you today?
I’m fantastic. How are you this morning.
I am very excited for us because we are getting to talk about probably my favorite subject matter in all of HR and all worlds the world of work, which is those connections between the world of sports, which I love, and the world of work in the world of HR, the world of leadership, all the things company culture, you name it, right? Where sports and work collide. There’s no better place to be.
I think, I would agree with you. We’ve kind of skirted the topic on other shows. And this time we’re hitting it head on. And we found a great expert to come in and sort of share those insights. So I’m really pumped about today.
Before we welcome him. Trish, I want to thank our friends at Paychex, of course. This episode of At Work in America is sponsored by Paychex, one of the leading providers of HR, payroll, retirement and insurance solutions for businesses of all sizes. Do you think stress free payroll isn’t possible we’ll think again, whether you need to simplify your tax filing streamline your day to day pay systems, Paychex, makes managing payroll easier and more profitable. From Self Service Employee portals to automated processes, Paychex services save you time and money while giving you peace of mind that everything is up to date, and accurate. Chip, so we need for you to miss out on all the benefits of working with Paychex. That’s why we have a special offer for new clients for a limited time, you can get a year of complimentary digital W2s, so you can focus on growing your business instead of time consuming payroll tasks. To learn more about the software and and everything else our friends at Paychex do go to paychex.com/awia. And Terms and Conditions apply. But thanks to Paychex, as always.
Trish, we shall welcome our guest? Are you ready? Are you ready to talk New York Mets baseball? No, we’re not well, maybe at the end, we’ll talk about that. Our guest today is Lou DePaoli. He’s from General Sports Worldwide. He’s an executive with 30 plus years of senior level leadership experience. And he’s currently the president executive search and team consulting for General Sports Worldwide, which is a global full service sports marketing management and consulting firm. Lou is known for being an innovative and charismatic leader with a proven track record of significantly increasing franchise values across multiple sports leagues, markets and venues while recruiting, training and developing some of the best front office talent in the sports and entertainment industry. Lou, welcome to the show. So great to meet you. Thanks for joining us today,
Lou DePaoli 3:05
I appreciate you having me. I’m looking forward to our conversation today. And I’m glad you’re wearing your Mets shirt for the occasion, Steve?
I sure did. I unlikely to be wearing a Met’s shirt half the time anyway. I’m super excited to be talking sports, the connection between sports and work a little bit of New York Mets as well. And maybe with that said, Lou, maybe you could share with us a little bit your bio, of course, but maybe give our listeners just a little bit of color about, like some of the coolest things you’ve done. What General Sports Worldwide does, you know today?
Lou DePaoli 3:36
Sure. No, I appreciate that. So I mean, you touched on my my bio upfront, but a little bit more in depth is that I’ve spent this is my 30th year of professional sports, which is really kind of amazing, because I still feel pretty young. But I started a help sort of minor league hockey franchise 30 years ago, in Massachusetts, in the American Hockey League called the Western ice cats as the Vice President. And I did that for about two years, we had tremendous success. And as I always joke to people, I got my call up to the big leagues. You know, I was called up to the Florida Marlins. Wow. To go there and run. They’re their ticket sales department at the time. And of course, if you remember, I started there in 96 and 97. We won the World Series. We’d beat the Indians are now the Guardians but then the Indians. And then unfortunately we dismantled the team and all those things that came with it and the struggles that we had. The team was sold then from Wayne Huizenga to John Henry spent a couple years working with John and then I left and I went to the NBA League office. You know, where we created a department that was an in house consultancy, to work with all the NBA all the WNBA and what is now known as the G League, which was back then it was just starting it was known as the NBA DL the national Basketball development league. Right. So I did that for five years at the pleasure of working and meeting with a lot of great people. And then I went from there to the Atlanta Hawks, where I became the Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer for the Hawks. We had a hockey team, the Thrashers and we operated. Well, it was Phillips arena, no, no to State Farm arena and Atlanta. And then from there, I went to the Pittsburgh Pirates. So back to baseball, again, as executive vice president for five years at what is really one of the greatest ballparks.
We were talking pre show about some of those experiences. Especially if you ever been to the Pittsburgh baseball field. I think it’s still PNC Park.
I’ve been to so many others, that one still on the list.
A must visit.
Lou DePaoli 5:44
For sure Trish, because it is one of the best. It really is. It just you feel like you’re at a baseball game. It’s really spectacular. But that after spending five years there, I thought it was time to go back home. I’m originally from New York. And I spent almost eight years with the New York Mets as an EVP and head of their business operations, and Chief Revenue Officer. So had a lot on my plate. And I’ve enjoyed my career. But when I left the Mets, I decided to do something a little bit different. And the owner of our firm, Andy Appleby, and I had known each other a long time, we had some communications, and he said, you could build something that you’re passionate about within our company. And I said, Great, I think I have the idea, right? Build something where we could focus on executive recruiting and development of people, which is kind of what my background was about. And it’s how we had some success in the places that I was, was building the right culture and putting the right people and putting the right systems and you know, the whole bit. Now I could do it on a much broader scale, and help other organizations through sports and entertainment. accomplish some of those same things with their personnel so they can build the future leaders of this industry.
What I love Lou, about your career, and the trajectory you’re on continuing on, is that often we hear from young people in college, and they’re trying to figure out sort of how do I get to be this certain job. And what I love about your career is, it’s, um, what I’m hearing is it’s very skills based, right? You have a certain skill set, and you’ve been able to apply that to various sports and now into being able to sort of help in what’s a very personal way in workplaces, right, when you’re talking about culture and recruitment and development. I’d be interested just kind of an aside, before we get too deep into what you’re doing today is, what background did you have before you sort of went out and, you know, created or helped co create the booster ice cats? Like, what, what was your dream job? What were you thinking you were going to be? versus maybe become?
Lou DePaoli 7:49
You know, so the long answer to the question, the short answer to the question is that I always wanted to work in sports, you know, as a kid, you know, you think you’re going to play professional sports. And then when you realize when you’re about 15, that I’m no longer the biggest guy in the basketball court anymore. And that everybody else was six foot seven, I was only six foot two, and you know, like, okay, because I’m not going to be in the pros. So I shifted my thought process to becoming a broadcaster. I wanted to be sportscaster. Right. And Steve, you grew up in New Jersey. So for me, I wanted to be the next Marv Albert. Right.
Marv was a legend. And I was thinking the same thing, Lou, like when my fastball peaked at like 71 miles per hour velocity, time for me to find something else to do.
Lou DePaoli 8:33
We decided to shift, right? But then, you know, life happens, you go to school, you know, you wind up getting married, and all sudden I find myself in the insurance business. And I was in the insurance business. I started my own insurance brokerage when I was 24 years old, up here in Massachusetts, which is where we were living at the time. And you know what, I was successful in the insurance business, but I never was passionate about it. And for those of you who know, like, obviously, growing up in New York, but now working and living in Massachusetts, Massachusetts is a die hard sports state. Right? And I come from enemy territory. So I couldn’t go in and tell people like, Hey, by the way, I’m from New York, and I love to Knicks, that wasn’t going to cut it. So I did the exact opposite. Right? I would tell people on my insurance calls or in my appointments, the first thing I would do is I’d said if I had an hour with somebody, I’d probably spend 45 minutes talking about how great Larry Bird and Kevin McHale and Robert Parish were, how great the Red Sox were, how great the patriots of the Bruins were, and then 15 minutes about actually getting business done. So they would, you know, they would trust me for 45 minutes and then hopefully try to close them. But I always had in my mind, I’d love to work in sports, but it just became a, you know, this is in the late 80s. There’s not opportunities really for people in sports. front offices were relatively small and they were generally staffed with people who were friends with the owner or friends with the manager, right so But I just thought I’ll just take the insurance business and then the owner of this minor league hockey team. I’ve read about it in the paper. He was awarded a franchise to start that year in in Worcester. So I reached out to him to actually sell them their workers compensation insurance. Wow. And this gentleman and Steve growing up in New York, New Jersey, you may recognize his name. His name was Roy Bo, Bo II, Roy was the original owner of the islanders.
There’s some familiarity there. And then he had owned the Mets.
Lou DePaoli 10:37
So he would have both back in the 70s, which was unusual for people to own two teams. And that he got out of he got out of business probably a little too early. You know, he sold the nets. And he sold the islanders just before the peak values really started to come off of like the Jordan era and a TV. And he had been in minor league sports for a long time, but I knew his name. So I decided to reach out to him try to sell them workers compensation insurance. And after two or three lunches, he said, Listen, I need someone like you to kind of run the business. I like that. I need someone to run up sales here. So you want to come into the VP of sales. I was like, No, what’s your still had a business and I could just let it run without me. And then let’s give it a shot. And then two weeks later, I called my attorney Mark. And I just said, Hey, I’m out. I’m going to sell. And I got in there. And it was just like, a dream. And it literally the first day in there. I just knew this is where I was supposed to be. And like I said, two years later, I was with the Florida Marlins. And another year later, I was winning the World Series.
Because I think that a lot of times, like I said, people think there is one path to a certain job or career. And it’s when you dig it and you find out that’s actually not it. I had no idea you were an insurance. So and again, I think you know, you’re talking about doing that, you know, in your early 20s. Right. So again, I think a lot of times younger people feel pressured, know what they want to be and know exactly how to get there when they’re 2021 22. And like many of us, we don’t really find ourselves until much later. And that’s okay. So I think it’s really inspirational to find out that you were able to follow your passion. And it just took a minute to really get to that point. So I appreciate you sharing that. That’s great stuff.
Lou DePaoli 12:19
No, I appreciate it. Look, it’s been a fun ride. And it’s advice I give to a lot of other people, you know, over the years, and even now, you know, through our career development platform, the clubhouse or whatever, if I’m not consulting, I’m talking to some of our executive search candidates. It’s just you know, what, you don’t have to draw straight line to everything, right? Sometimes, you know, the best moves, or maybe a sidestep, or to take a little bit of a challenge, you try something different. Sometimes it’s okay to follow your passion, you know, and see where it leads you. And you know what, at the end of the day, you’re a good enough person, you have enough skills, you’ll be able to find something else. If this doesn’t work, it’s okay. There’s plenty of other opportunities. And that’s where we always try to make sure that people understand like, it’s okay to be flexible. There’s no straight line, you never know which way this is going to go. So just do the right things, you know, learn while you’re along the way and then eventually you’ll wind up in the chair you want to be in.
Love it. One of the things about sports has been interesting to me and drink nutrition as well, like in this intersection between sports and the workplace themes and topics a little bit more generally. It’s kind of what happened in I guess, the early 2000s. Right, certainly from baseball, but made popular by the movies and the books, which was the Moneyball era, right? Where a lot of organizations really started to think differently, right about evaluating people rather than talent, assembling teams, and even the business side of it as well. And church and I, you know, been doing the HR and World of Work stuff for a long time. There was a good run of time where I think I saw Billy Beane present about nine times in a two year period at various HR conferences around the country, right? I’m not knocking him at all. He was fascinating. Fantastic. Yes. But my question is a little bit more about how you think about recruiting for executive positions, front office positions. Has Has that changed? You mentioned earlier, like at the beginning, people working in the front office, we’re all friends of the owner, or maybe even former players even right, and those types of really insular kind of connections, has how you approach and as organizations who are with approach finding leaders and developing leaders, is it a little bit more? are you casting a wider net, I guess, maybe then perhaps used to in the past?
Lou DePaoli 14:36
That’s a great question. And the answer is it is a much wider net. It’s a much different front office than you might expect. You know, if you go back to your team, you know, the Mets growing up their front office was probably pretty lean. Now, like on my team when I was there, we had just on my staff a little over 200 full time and people. Wow. Right, you know that we had 80 People in ticket sales, you know, you had, you know, you just had a whole separate events company putting on all those concerts and shows and all the other trade shows and things like that. So what’s what’s happened is with the valuations of the franchise is growing so significantly, right that now you’re talking about almost every single sports franchise is worth at least a billion, if not multiples of billions. So it’s, it’s forced owners to really take a look at this and say, Wow, this is a billion dollar business, I need to run it like a billion dollar business. So we need to bring in different leaders, we need to put in a different culture, we have to have more of a growth mindset. Like there’s a lot at stake here. And there’s a lot of opportunity to capitalize growth, growing revenue or franchise value. So there’s a much different approach that I’ve seen in the 30 years that I’ve been involved in sports, so that now front office’s are much larger, very sophisticated. Even on the business side, there’s a lot more people that come from outside of sport. There’s people who are graduating now with specifically degrees in sports management, sport marketing, right? Who have their master’s in sport, or they got an undergrad in sport, and they did a master’s in finance. And they’re coming in to work in sports, and it’s just making a tremendous difference. Because when you bring that much talent to the table, the results are going to be different. That’s for sure. And that’s why you see these franchise values continue to grow. It’s because the revenue grows, and all the other engagement metrics that they use to value a franchise are all continuing to grow as well, because teams have gotten smarter about putting in better people and better structure and better systems to drive the business forward.
You know, you’re, you’re speaking specifically about teams. But as you’re saying it, I’m thinking like, you could be describing pretty much any organization that’s attempting to grow and scale, right, and some of the challenges and pitfalls they might run into, in terms of, you know, having that more insular sort of recruiting tactics, or that lack of being able to know how to develop and grow their management, you know, in order to expand or continue expansion for the future. You mentioned briefly just a moment ago, the clubhouse I would love if you could maybe talk about specifically some of the things you do and the the tools you’re using with your organization to help these teams and these leadership teams sort of expand their mindset and their actual ability to produce in these cultures?
Lou DePaoli 17:42
Well, it’s a great question, you know, and I appreciate that. So the clubhouse is our career development platform. And it’s really geared towards people at the early stage development of their career. So people, matriculating students in college, to the first couple of years in working in the sports and entertainment industry. So it’s really focused at that top end of the funnel, so to speak, right of the younger, or entry level type roles. And what we’ve done is, so I’ll take a step back, a good friend of ours, a gentleman by the name of Bob Hamer, who used to be with the Phoenix Suns for a number of years. He founded the clubhouse years ago and built it up, and really did a great job. We were always supporters of it and fans from afar. And we really loved what he was doing. And then COVID happens, you know, everybody’s businesses, especially a small business owner, like Bob, it just wasn’t working for him anymore. He had let some of his staff go, etc. And we came in and we bought the clubhouse from him, because we were so such believers in it. And just the platform is amazing. So it focuses as I said earlier on early stage people in their career. And in fact, right now with the content we provide, which I’ll go through in a second. It’s used in 12 different colleges right now as part of their curriculum. Oh, that’s great, you know, for them for their sport marketing or Sport Management students, some undergrad and some post grad. Right. So what we do is we try to provide a place where students or in this case, you know, people looking for a career in sports can go, there are jobs, there’s a job board there that lists some more entry level type type roles that are available throughout the industry. We also provide a lot of webinar content, like sharing best practices hearing from leaders like myself, but I think the biggest component that we have on there, and it’s the most valuable piece is there’s a mentorship platform.
Lou DePaoli 19:42
And what we’ve done is we have 100 I think it says of this morning, 162 mentors, all throughout sports and entertainment, who’ve raised their hand to say yes, I would like to mentor other people in this industry, trying to get their foot in the door or People who are looking for career advice, I’m willing to do it for free with no charge. And what we do is we set up an online system using Calendly, where the the mentees can go on and and turn around and just block time on someone’s calendar, depending on their availability. And just in their open, it’s just get a chance to talk to we make sure that we nurture the mentors, we have the right mentors in there, they cover a lot of the different verticals within the sports and entertainment field. But that is the most valuable proposition. Because you get a chance to learn and talk with a mentor. And, you know, some of the mentors are actually professors, right? So you can talk to a professor at a different university, okay, there’s also people like myself or others on my team, or people who’ve been in the business a long time, or someone who might be only seven or eight years out of school who wants to pay it forward. And they might actually be hiring, you know, depending on internship or an entry level role. So, it’s a really nice system, that for us, you know, if someone were to become a pro member, it’s $7 a month. Okay, so that’s not something that’s going to break the bank. But the $7 a month goes to cover some of the overhead and administrative costs. And then that allows you to have access to the mentors, everything else, pretty much is available for free the job board, you can create a profile. But if you want access to the mentors, in some of the other best practice video content we’ve created online, you have to pay $7 a month.
I feel like this is such an unbelievable resource that, you know, I’m so glad you’re sharing it like all this, we have so many students, you know that listen in on the the Gen Z podcast. And so it’s like even the crossover there, you know, for them to be able to hear that. Because one of the things, Steve, I know you hear this, too, I know is that younger people feel like people maybe our age who’ve been in business for 2030 plus years. We don’t have time for them. And it’s it’s the opposite. I tell students all the time like No, no, if you just ask for someone’s time and advice, they will be more than happy to share. So I love that you’re sort of not sort of that you have created, you know, or that Well, Bob has created and you all are continuing the nurturing of it. But what a great resource for students and entry level people because I think there’s just this misconception that maybe those of us who’ve been in business are just too busy. Do you ever? Do you ever get surprised by kind of the fact that students are thinking like, oh, my gosh, I can’t believe you’re talking with me or you.
Lou DePaoli 22:40
You know, it’s interesting. So we were just at a someone on my team, Kayla Lawson and I were both in Tampa, a couple of weeks ago for the SMA conference for the sport Marketing Association Conference, big big conference, there’s a bunch of professors there who teach sport marketing from all over the country. And then a bunch of students come into case competition. So we actually sponsored the clubhouse sponsor, you know, a an address there from the what’s called the president’s address. And we had a presence there for two and a half days. And to have the professor’s know, they’ve gotten to know us because we talked to them quite frequently, them come up to us and talk to us. But then the students to come up and say, I’ve like, I’ve seen you on television before or I, you’re the guy that used to be at the match, or you were the guy at the pirates or like Yeah, and I’m here to help you. They’re like, wow, you know, Kayla, on my team worked for the Phoenix Suns. Like you worked for the sons. How cool is eight worked in the NBA, like, they’re just blown away that we are there on site to talk to them, and try to help them with their careers, because that’s how much we care.
Yeah, it just feels unreachable. Sometimes. You know, when you’re younger, especially even for us, right? If, if I thought I wanted someone’s advice, do you think that oh, my gosh, they’re on this pedestal somewhere. And really, we’re all just real people. And we’re really anxious to share and help and help the younger generation grow. Even now, I’m sorry, I’m like dominating the questions.
Lou DePaoli 24:07
No, no, that’s okay. And I agree with you. Trish, that’s a great point. And it’s a great lesson for people to understand is that even the great leaders, right, especially most great leaders, okay, they’re always gonna be the exception. But they’re people like the rest of us, right? And generally, yes, they’re very busy, but you can approach them. And it’s okay. Like I’ve worked for like Commissioner David Stern, right at the NBA. A lot of people like Well, David, it’s tough. And you know what, David was really tough. But if you want to ask them a question, you know what he gives you his time? He really that’s what we used to call him uncle David, right when he would actually give you some advice and a pat on the back and then a kick in the fanny on the way out the door. But it was okay. And I tell people all the time, you know, and it’s not cliche, but when I was working for a team at At a sea level role, I always said that my door was always open. And I meant it. That if you had a question you had anything at any time, if you saw me walking in the hallways, pick my brain, right? Because I walked around all day long, and it picked everybody else’s brains, right? But I want them to feel comfortable enough to come to a senior leader and say, Hey, I got this question. I’m interested in my future, or how do I go about this? Or how did you do this? Or why are we doing this? So it’s great. And so why assistants who used to sit outside my door at Citi Field, there was always just a line of people. And some of the other executives was like, What is going on? She’s like, she tells people to come and they come. So why not? You know, to me, it’s important that people understand that we’re just in this together, I’m just a little bit more seasoned. And then to give them the guidance, to grow and develop on their own, so that they can be in that office someday.
You I appreciate you giving us some of the insights around the clubhouse and a little bit about your perspective as a leader yourself. You know, we Trish and I both have college students, right? We’re parents of college students, and I have one I’m going to tell like right away like, hey, check out this clubhouse, but he’s the biggest sports fan in the world. He’s gonna be graduating soon from bu up in Boston as matter of fact. Fantastic. Yeah, we’ll hook him up.
My daughter’s in sports marketing. So I’m sitting there like she’s doing really?
Lou DePaoli 26:30
Well, you know what, so it’s called clubhousecareers.com. Okay. So you can go there, they can build a profile. Again, like I said, you know, we joke around, when we address the college students directly about getting a pro membership for $7 a month, will usually say, hey, this less expensive than one of your textbooks for a semester, or maybe one less beer, or one less coffee, you know, depending on what you’re doing with your personal time. So what I mean $7 a month, it’s a small investment to make, to be able to have all this great access to the content and the mentors. Yeah.
One other area I wanted to get dive into just for a few minutes, while we have you is around executive recruiting, leadership recruiting, right, the big part of what you and the firm do in this parts world, admittedly, but certainly, there’s some parallels or some throughputs, to the more general world of leadership and the types of folks you are working with and characteristics, you know, vision strategy, what are some of the things that that you think about, or in the organizations you’re working with, where, hey, we’re going to work with a partner like Gen sports worldwide to fill these really important roles, whether it’s CMO or CFO, or you name the role, right? It doesn’t matter. But other things, you, you’re finding a hey, this is the kinds of people we’re working with. And these are the kinds of characteristics where we’re in need of?
Lou DePaoli 27:57
It’s interesting, you know, so part of what I also do is I spend a lot of time consulting. So I do a lot of consulting work for properties, and leagues, because I’ve got 28 years of experience of running the business side of sports franchises across hockey, baseball, and basketball, including, you know, five years in a league office, right and running an entertainment venue. So people come to me for my experience, and what I try to do is when they come to me asking about maybe a potential senior level role that they want help with, that’s what I kind of put on my consultant hat. And I asked a lot of questions, right? Tell me a little bit about your culture. Right? And then I’ll let them talk. And then what are the desired qualities you want out of this role? But then I’ll ask them like, but it’s what’s the culture that you want? Right? This is your culture. Now? Why don’t we bring in someone who could be a culture changer, if that’s what you’re looking for, or some organizations have phenomenal culture. So you want to make sure that the right culture fit. And then they have to have the prerequisite experience, right. But it’s always about, you know, making sure it’s a sports cliche, but you want to make sure you can find someone who could play on the team. Right, or in some cases, they can manage the team. So you’ve got to be able to find people who have the right skill sets, and generally sports, especially on the front office side, they seem to be a little bit more in tune to the culture piece. You know, because when you work in sports, it’s not just hanging around the office talking about making trades all day.
Lou DePaoli 29:33
I tell people I spent 16 years in baseball, now 81 games a year, plus spring training, plus some road games plus playoff games. I’ve probably been to in person, a couple 1000 baseball games. I can’t tell you too much of a how much I actually watched. You know, because you’re working. You know, like during the baseball season or basketball or hockey when you have a game at night, you You work all day. And then there’s a game at seven o’clock at night, or 730. And you’re there until 1010 30. And in my case, maybe later, you know, as you’re doing postgame, wrap up with PR or whatever. So there’s a lot that happens. And you’re putting in a lot of hours, you want to make sure that the people that you’re working with, have the right culture, the right fit. Because if you start having, you know, people that don’t fit in the culture is broken. It makes it for a very, very long day, and very long weekends, because you’re also at the arena or facility on weekends. So it just becomes a toughen existence. And that’s why in the last probably 20 or so years, since we started our department at the NBA League office known as Team Bo, it’s an acronym for Team marketing and business operations, where we really started honing in on the culture component across the league and making sure that teams understood how important culture was. And then as I got into my career, I made sure that culture was always extremely important as well, because you have to have that and that’s the one thing that I asked our clients about, we want to make sure that we’re enhancing your, your current culture, or maybe we’re helping bring in someone who could be a culture changer, skills, great, we can go through the skills or we can go through the background. But a lot of times, it’s a real focus on primarily on cultural fit.
I’m so glad you mentioned culture fit sort of a separate from skills, because I think right now, especially in you know, the workplace and future of work industry, it’s all about skills. If I am maybe a mid level to senior leader, and I’m even having any aspiration, whether it’s to go into a front office of a sports franchise, or or just another organization, if I feel like I’m a little lighter when it comes to my knowledge or my exposure, maybe to working in really solid cultures. I don’t know, do you have any tips or tricks for people maybe on sort of that being the recruiter at? What can they be doing to prepare themselves? Because maybe, you know, there’s lots of times we work good jobs, and we don’t? It’s not in a good culture, right? But that’s where we kind of cut our teeth. I don’t know, Can you flip that and sort of think about, like, if I’m finding the one looking should I be doing to to improve that myself?
Lou DePaoli 32:19
What’s the one thing about the sports and entertainment industry, it’s very transient, right? A lot of people know that when you get in, you’re not going to work for this organization, in all likelihood, you’re probably not going to be there the next 40 or 50 years, right, you’re probably going to go in for two or three years and look for the next opportunity. So I always tell people, while you’re there, if there’s a culture issue, don’t be afraid to raise your hand, I don’t care if your entry level or mid level, like raise your hand and try to make the difference. If you realize it’s just not going anywhere, you know, then you have to look at extricating yourself and moving on to somewhere else where you can impact a culture or be a part of a better culture. So on that component, that’s where you need to leverage relationships with recruiters like myself, and knowing what jobs are available in the sports industry. But also, probably more importantly, is building your own network outside of your current employer. So when you’re working for one of the clubs, let’s say you work for a baseball club, you should know all of your counterparts, and then some at every other club, you should know everybody in the minor leagues, you should probably get to know the people in your market who work in the other sports like basketball, hockey, or football, or soccer or whatever else is in your marketplace, and build your network. Because eventually, that’s where almost all your jobs come from, or at least ideas of like, hey, the grass isn’t greener, or maybe the grass is a lot greener. And you’re in a tough spot. We’d love to hire you. You’re a wonderful person, you have the right culture and the right skills. Let’s bring you on board.
Lou DePaoli 33:51
So we always tell people sports is a massively large business. But in the front office side, comparative to most major corporations. They’re small. There’s not a lot of people in this business. And when people say to me, you know, everybody, I do have been in the business 30 years. There’s not that much turnover. Two fellows in baseball, quite honestly, this year just retired, a guy named Mario Alioto. From the Giants. Who was their head of business operations. Been there. 50 years. Wow. started off as a Bat Boy, great guy. And then Dan Farrell from the Cardinals. There you go. retire this year after 40 years. That’s rare. That’s those guys are rarities today. You know, most people are more like myself. Every four to five years, you’re going to be in a different market in different roles as you continue to move up in your career. And that’s just become commonplace. So you need to make sure you have a really good network. And then just make sure you have a really good reputation. Because the business is so small. If you burn bridges if you’re someone who is a culture issue, right or a lack of performance, people are going to know pretty quickly in this business. So if you’re doing all the right things and have a level talent and a level attitude, opportunities are going to come your way. But if you’re on the other end of the spectrum, it people are going to find out quickly, you’re gonna have trouble getting getting work. And that’s the sad part. You know, because it is such a small business.
Yeah, I love that I’m writing down so many notes. But I think one that might stick with other people, too, is don’t be a culture issue. I don’t think of it in that way. But often, I think what we do in organizations is we’ll hire an executive without thinking about that culture fit to begin with, we just know their their skills, their background, right? Maybe they’re a producer of great sales or whatever. Right? You bring them in, and they think they’re there to kind of tear everything down. Right? So it’s almost a misconception there, they’re there to read, like, restructure everything. And really, they become a culture issue. And it doesn’t work. So I just love thinking about it that way. So even if I’m, you know, out there hiring today, I’d be thinking, Oh, are they a culture issue?
Lou DePaoli 36:08
I’ve always been very focused on the culture, you know, for, you know, from my earliest days, in the insurance business, I knew that that culture was not something that was conducive to me. And I never thought I always said, I learned a lot about what not to do when I was in the insurance business. And I always felt like the culture just means so much. And we all played sports growing up, we all knew that. There were times when you, you played on a team, where you had less talent than everybody else. But because everybody got along. And everybody knew how to pull their weight, that team got punched there their talent. But conversely, you also saw these teams that had a load of talent. And they couldn’t win because they didn’t get along. And they couldn’t know. Nobody knew their role. Everybody wanted to be the hero. And it’s just the culture is what defines your success. And then you can fill it in with skills, and training and development, but you have to have the right culture. So for my teams required reading, in the last 20 years, it’s probably at least 20 years since I first read this book. And I will keep it clean. It’s called the No aihole rule. Oh, sure. Yeah. Right. famous book written by oh my gosh, forgot to bend something I believe it is. Because it’s great it look, it tells you what a bad culture people do to a business and how they impact it. But it also has a good section in there of how to identify who the bad culture people are, but also how to identify if you’re the bad culture person. So it’s good because you know what it finally makes people self reflect and say, oh, you know what, maybe I’m the a hole in this case. And I need to change. So it’s it’s powerful book that I made pretty much every single employee read, if I could, and we had a massive library in my office, at Citi Field or in Pittsburgh, and I’d loan it out constantly to people, and ask them to read it and share with me their thoughts. And because it’s important amongst a probably 150 other books I would recommend, that was usually number one, because it was all about culture.
Good. But I’m gonna ask you one final question, because I think it’s important that we least touch upon is particularly in the sports world, right? For people who are fans of sports, or just fans of the world of work, probably are familiar with something called the Rooney Rule, which the NFL implemented a number of years ago and efforts to reach better diversity, meet diversity goals and hiring in coaching and in front offices as well. Do I have I don’t know if the other leagues have done similar official rules like that, as the NFL has or not, you would know better than me. But I’d love for you to come in just a little bit more generally, about, you know, you talked, you know, at length very eloquently about the importance of culture and building culture and adding to culture, perhaps even changing culture, as organizations are looking to fill or promote into executive or leadership positions. I’d love for you to maybe just give us a thought or two, on diversity in hiring, especially in leadership, hiring, how it’s either changed at all in the world of sports, your your area of expertise, or more broadly, and just how you think about, hey, let’s, let’s also think about these issues as we’re working to help our organization succeed.
Lou DePaoli 39:33
Yeah, that is a great question. It’s something that I’m also very passionate about. Because I spent a lot of time on my career hiring a ton of diversity. It’s important for people to understand that, you know, you need diversity of people for diversity of thought, you know, it’s okay to think differently. But that said, you know, sports is still predominantly mostly white males, you know, on the on the front office side where, you know, when you look at the product of the court, or on the field in, let’s say basketball and football, it’s predominantly not white. Hockey is predominantly Caucasian. And then baseball is mostly Caucasian, Latino, very little African American. So but my whole point always has been that teams and leagues need to look a little bit more like their demographics. So as an example, you know, when I went to the Marlins, in 1996, we had very, very few people who actually spoke Spanish in our front office, and nobody on the sales team. And I just How can that be? We’re in South Florida. So I wound up getting rid of everybody, and rebuilding the sales team. And I made sure that I think there was at least five or six out of the, like 18 people we hired, were all native Spanish speakers. So that way, you could converse with people in their native tongue, they’re more comfortable. But that’s only make sense. It’s logical. You know, what I got to Atlanta, I made sure that our staff was we had the appropriate amount of African Americans to Caucasians because the marketplace is pretty close. Well, you can’t have it be one way or the other. And then when I got to Queens, you know, Stevie being from New York, the big melting pot, right? Queens, again, we had to make sure that we had the most diverse staff, because Queens County is the most diverse place in the country.
I was gonna say Queens is the most diverse place in the world, probably, honestly, with the number of languages that are spoken in Queens natively. It’s incredible.
Lou DePaoli 41:46
That’s just probably a little bit micro. But going back to the bigger picture, or the bigger question, I like the Rooney Rule and things like that. What’s happened is, I think there was some unintended unintended consequences of the Rooney Rule. And it probably hasn’t quite worked the way they wanted it to, to this point, were other leagues a little more of a progressive approach to say, let’s train our leaders, let’s train our people, let’s make sure that we have a pipeline of people who are diverse, we put diversity training programs in there, we put diversity probe, let’s make sure that we have people ready to step into these head coaching roles, or in the senior leadership roles. Now, the NBA has done a fantastic job with diversity. Right? When you look at the coaching, when you look around the league office, when you look around the front office of a lot of teams, there’s a lot more diversity there. Yeah. Still a long way to go. Right. But I think the key is, you know, one of the things that happens on the business side, right. So that’s, that’s where I’m more familiar, because I spent most of my career, a lot of the employees when they come in the door, right. So when you start your career in sports, they’re more heavily skewed towards non diverse, right, you’ve come from a certain school, the hiring have always been from certain schools. So you need to make sure that there’s a broader audience at the beginning part of the funnel. So we always spend, that’s why we always spend a lot of time on the clubhouse, talking to the schools that have more diverse populations. Because we want them to come in to sports. And historically they’ve been not shut off, but they probably never thought it was something for them. So we talk about that a lot. And make sure that we’re hiring diverse at the beginning part of the stages of the career of the funnel. So that longer term, we’ll have more diverse executives available. Because right now, there are certain roles within sports, that there’s very on a business side, again, on the front office, where there’s very, very light in terms of diversity.
Ya know, it’s hard for students because I think that, you know, I’ve done recruiting for many years before kind of going off into the business we’re in, but one of the things it’s almost like, businesses have to seek out organizations that will help get you in front of students, whether they’re high school or Gosh, even junior high, you know, before they even hit college. And so I think it’s it’s still a disconnect, unfortunately, on how do you even give them those networking opportunities? Because often it’s when they meet someone, right? When you’re young and you see someone who’s really passionate about whatever it is they do, you’re like, I want to be like them. You know, I want to do that job because blues really awesome and right. And so, what I like about the clubhouse though, and seeking out schools that are specifically trying to have diverse populations in the school is that you’re then giving that opportunity. Right, and I think that’s maybe the missing piece, right? That connective, that connective tissue is the opportunity so we definitely need more of that, I think for sure.
Lou DePaoli 44:54
And look, a lot of it too is just awareness knowing that this is available. Like yeah, As you can work on the business side of sports, you don’t have to be an athlete like we all want to be, there are choices. And here’s kind of how that works and what that flow likes. And by the way, here’s someone who’s actually a product of what we’ve done and what we’ve built. You know, and I have, I can’t even tell you, someone asked me recently, probably about six months ago, how many executives have worked for me in my career, or that I started that are now at senior levels, and it was a staggering number. And then when I broke it down into diversity, it was even more impressive. So I think that’s the key is like, but most of those people we hired early on in their career. And then now, because I’ve been doing this for 30 years, you’re starting to see people from 20 years ago, are now heading up into these other roles in senior levels and saying, okay, like, Now, guess what? It can be done. And here’s how we did it. So it’s really rewarding. But it’s also it’s the right thing to do. You know, you have to make sure that you’re offering, you know, diverse people the same opportunity as everybody else. Because I said earlier, diversity is going to help diversity of thought, and help organizations run better.
There’s no doubt about it.
Great recruiting question, don’t you think? I mean, if you’re recruiting someone at a senior level, ask them that question that you were posed? Because even if you’re surprised about it, I bet many leaders would be surprised either positively or negatively, right about how many people we’ve impacted.
Yeah, it’s one of the great, it’s one of those great throughputs between sports and the broader world of workload, because in sports, we you know, this, they talk about coaching trees, or coaching families all the time. So you might take a long tenured coach and a sport, I would say like a Bill Belichick or a Gregg Popovich in basketball. And so we’re all the folks that worked under those coaches right along the way, as assistant coaches saying, Where did they go, and they develop their own kind of branches off the tree? And it’s a good way to think about legacies, but also think about those people as nurturers of talent, right, which is just as important perhaps, as what they bring to the table themselves. Right? What are you really trying to bring out the best and other people? Well, we could go on forever, and I want to be conscious of your time. And then one final question, I promise and this is gonna be an easy one. Okay, tell people to check out General Sports Worldwide. Which is the greatest mascot in Major League Baseball, the best mascot is in your opinion.
Lou DePaoli 47:40
Let me have it. Hands down. Mr. Met.
Correct. That is the correct answer.
Lou DePaoli 47:50
I’m a little bit biased. Obviously, having spent almost eight years there being part of Mr. Metz crew, and then bringing back Mrs. Met. It’s fantastic. Two goes to again, diversifying your audience, etc. Right. We brought back Mrs. Met from the 70s. You know, so just little things like that. But Mr. Matt, he’s ubiquitous. He’s, you know, everybody knows, Mr. Matt. It’s hard to say anything bad about him. He’s just really, but he’s got a big head, you know, so it’s hard to fit them in a room sometimes.
He’s just everything about Mr. Met. That was my favorite question and answer of the podcast in 2023. Lou, this has been so much fun. I really appreciate you spending some time with us today. sharing your insight, your expertise, we don’t get to talk about these topics, which I’m so passionate about. I know Tricia is such a huge sports person herself. But to get into some of these intersections between the world of sports and leadership and diversity and mentorship and training and kind of the next generation of leaders. That’s all there. And it’s been a fantastic conversation. I want to say thanks again for for spending some time with us today.
Lou DePaoli 49:01
Well, I appreciate it. You know, I could see both of you have the passion for this. And hopefully you can see as it relates to the sports and entertainment, I have the same passion. So I appreciate you having me on.
Thanks so much. Trish great stuff. I love this. We my favorite shows of the year. Absolutely.
You too. I feel like not only have I learned I know for sure our audience will be writing tons of notes and doing things differently. So one thing Lou I want to clarify So is it theclubhouse careers.com Did I get that right?
Lou DePaoli 49:30
Yes, theclubhouse careers.com I think Steve had it right. It’s general sports worldwide.com For our primary.
We’ll get those links in the show notes. Lou Depaoli from General Sports Worldwide. Great stuff Trish. Loved it. Thanks to our friends at Paychex of course for all their wonderful support. And thanks everybody for listening and remember to get all the show archives each our happy hour.net or wherever you get your podcasts. For our guest, Lou, for Trish. My name is Steve Boese. Thanks so much for listening. We’ll see you next time and bye for now.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai
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