Q & A with Vince Gennaro

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We recently asked Vince Gennaro a few questions regarding his business career, interests, and the business of baseball. Here’s what he had to say:

Q: What are the two most important business lessons you have learned in life?

When a business is performing well, we need to overcome the tendency to be content. Of course it is important to celebrate successes, but it is very easy to overlook further opportunities to grow or improve the business.

Building a successful business can be exciting, but doing it while developing the talents of people in the organization is even more rewarding.

Q: What was your first job, and what did you like or dislike about it?

My first job was working in my father’s neighborhood delicatessen in New Jersey. I had a lot of pride representing my family. Even when I was a teenager, my Dad often relied on my advice about what items to offer, how to merchandise and price them. I taught me the importance of valuing your employees and empowering them to feel personally vested in a business. At the time, I didn’t like getting up at 6am every Sunday morning to open the Deli, or listening to Superbowl on the radio because I was working, when all of my friends were sitting in front of a TV watching the game.

Q: Who was a mentor to you in your career and why?

In many ways my father was my mentor. Although his background and experiences did not overlap with my pursuits, he often encouraged me to challenge the status quo and his advice on a wide range of topics was consistently on-the-mark.

Q: Over your career, what position you have held was the most challenging and why?

Early in my career I raised capital to buy and operate a women’s pro basketball franchise. Trying to put a women’s pro team sport on the map in 1979, just seven years after Title IX, proved to be an enormous challenge. In fact, it wasn’t until nearly two decades later that the WNBA finally proved the viability of the sport.

Q: Over your career you have had corporate roles, sports jobs, you are a teacher, you have had entrepreneurial ventures and you are an author — did you prefer one or two of the those to the others?

I’ve really enjoyed all of my experiences. My career track was not necessarily something you design, on paper, when you enter the workforce following college. It was more of a career “adventure”, which enabled me to have a wonderful diversity of experiences. My entrepreneurial venture came early in my career, when I had a more aggressive attitude towards risk. My corporate career at PepsiCo was enormously rewarding as it gave me the opportunity to hone my leadership skills by running large, complex businesses and it gave me an appreciation for the importance of developing people. Teaching and writing seemed like natural extensions of my business and sports career. If I had to pick one “favorite” role, it would be my consulting work with MLB teams. For a baseball fanatic, it’s tough to top having a “seat at the table” when important decisions are being made—roster moves, contract signings, etc.

Q: What drove you to becoming an author?

I’ve always enjoyed writing, particularly when I feel I’ve got an interesting story to tell. My motivation in writing Diamond Dollars was to communicate ideas which drew on my business experience, but translated it to the business of baseball. The most rewarding aspect of writing is when sports industry leaders tell you what they learned from reading your book.

Q: Talk to us about the Business of Baseball—what do you feel are the three most critical factors for a baseball team to be successful in today’s climate?

On the business side (i.e., sales, marketing, etc.) one of the most important aspects is to truly know and understand your fan base. Having sophisticated consumer insights that allow a team to understand the true makeup and psyche of their fans is the platform on which teams can build their relationships with their fans. Today the Red Sox “talk” to their fan base in a very different way than prior to their 2004 World Championship.

On the baseball side, it’s important to have the discipline to make data-driven decisions, not just gut-feel, instinctive ones. The baseball business has gotten far too complex to make seat of the pants player personnel decisions. Projecting player performance in a way that accounts for the player’s “aging curve”, or evaluating how their tendencies fit your ballpark are critical decision factors. Finally, I would say the best baseball operations organizations bring in talented front office people that challenge the status quo and resist the temptation to do things “the way we’ve always done them”. The industry is ripe for fresh thinking. There has never been a more favorable climate for young people to enter the business of baseball.

Q: What do you feel has changed most in the Business of Baseball in the past 10-15 years?

With the escalation of revenues and salaries, every decision in baseball places significantly more dollars at risk than it did 15 years ago. The stakes are higher, which is why we see more sophisticated analysis and decision processes being adopted within the baseball industry today. On another level, one of the most profound changes has been the emergence of the team-owned regional sports networks, such as NESN, the YES Network, and MASN, just to mention a few. These entities are more than just a vehicle to transmit telecasts of games to fans. They are brand building vehicles—even propaganda machines—which go a long way to shaping the fans perception of the team brand and its players. These regional networks also provide a tremendous source of revenue for some teams, which has served to turn the economics of baseball on its head. The Yankees—the most valuable sports franchise in North America—has a financial stake in its regional sports network that is valued at twice the value of their historic baseball franchise. And the YES Network did not even exist 10 years ago.

Q: What is your favorite sports moment as a fan?

I’ve had many, although I was a Cub fan for the years I was living in Chicago, so that experience tended to provide enough low points to even out my Yankee years. I would say being at Yankee Stadium for the clinching game of the 1996 World Series was my favorite moment, along with attending the Masters for the first time in 1992, the year that Fred Couples won the green jacket. In terms of a surreal experience—attending the 1997 Ryder Cup in Valderamma Spain and flying over on the Concord with the US team was truly unforgettable.

Q: What are your favorite passions outside of work?

I’m fortunate to have one of my passions blend into my work — my love for baseball. I also enjoy reading (usually American History and current affairs books), playing golf and cooking.

Q: Why would you encourage someone to enter sports as a career?

Over my 30+ year business career, I’ve come to learn that whatever career path we choose, we are likely to invest a large portion of our time in it. Since we all have a degree of “pride”, we also want to do well, or even excel at what we do professionally. All of that energy and effort we put into our careers will flow a little bit easier if we are following our passion. So it you are passionate about sports—if it’s something that is a part of who you are—then having a career in sports gives you the opportunity to blend your work life with your passion. That’s a combination that is likely to provide more personal satisfaction, as well as give you the best chance of having a successful, fulfilling career.

"There is no substitute for Excellence – not even success. Success is tricky, perishable and often outside our control; the pursuit of success makes a poor cornerstone, especially for a whole personality. Excellence is dependable, lasting and largely an issue within our own control; pursuit of excellence, in and for itself, is the best of foundations,” The Heart of the Order, by Thomas Boswell (Doubleday, 1989).