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Directing success

By Jana Paniccia | October 31, 2012
Directing success
Paul Beeston

In order to be successful, you need to have the right team.

No one knows that better than Paul Beeston, President and CEO of the Toronto Blue Jays. During his first tenure as CEO of Toronto’s major league baseball team (from 1989 to 1997), he helped the Jays achieve two World Series titles. He’s now focused on building that kind of team again: one that will win for years to come.

“We want to win the World Series, and then repeat. That’s the vision,” Beeston explains.

But what does it take to build a competitive team? It takes talent both on and off the field. “You want to surround yourself with smart people...with good people,” suggests Beeston.

That doesn’t mean you need to have a team of superstars. While superstars are nice to have, they aren’t going to get the job done alone. “Superstars eventually all want to move to the top,” says Beeston. “You need a few to be sure, but you also need people who are going to get the work done...whether it’s on the accounting side, on the baseball side or in management.”

Finding the right talent means valuing the skills people have, regardless of their background, and then putting them to good use. For the Blue Jays, this means hiring general managers that other teams have let go and GMs who have decided to end their contracts. Individuals who know the game, how it’s played on and off the field, and what it takes to win. Their destination within the organization: scouting.

“We have three former general managers that are scouts for us. They’re very instrumental in what we do: for drafting, for trading and those types of things,” Beeston says.

No matter what an employee is doing, he needs to be given the right tools to succeed and the opportunity to make mistakes. Beeston knows how important every individual is to the organization. He has big aspirations on the human resources front. “We have as our mantra to be the best place in the world to work,” Beeston says. And he means it. “Not just in Toronto, not just in Canada – but in the world.”

The scorecard: not losing anybody.

Looking back to the team’s first World Series run, Beeston recalls: “From the beginning, it was a group of people...from 1976 when we started until the team kind of split up in 1995. 19 years and no one left [the organization]. And you’d feel bad because you’d bring people in and they’d say ‘I want to work for you’...and you’d say, ‘Look, here’s what we do. We play hard. We pay well. We have fun and this is the place you want to work. Regrettably, we don’t have any openings.’ And I’m not counting on any if I do my job.”

Keeping people together is critically important. This is especially true in an industry where knowing each other’s strengths and weaknesses can be a major competitive advantage. “It’s not lost on people who follow sports that the teams that play together for a long time have always got a better chance [to win],” Beeston says.

Bringing together the right team also means playing the long game. Not that it’s easy to balance short and long-term business objectives in a sport that forgets what happened last year every time spring training rolls around. Building a team slowly takes a lot of courage when the pressure is always on to win.

“There’s no question at the start of spring training that everyone thinks you can win,” says Beeston. “But some have a better chance of fulfilling that promise than others.”

So how does Beeston and his team do it? By being open. By being honest.

At the start of his new tenure, Beeston was candid about cutting salaries. He told Jays’ stakeholders that he’d be reinvesting the money in the farm system and in signing free agents so that he could build the team from the ground up.

Some detractors weren’t happy with the decisions being made or where the money was being invested. Beeston cautions that as a CEO, you can’t let that stop you. “You’re going to make unpopular decisions. You can’t keep 100% of the people happy 100% of the time.”

But you need to take risks to reap rewards. And in baseball, where decisions involve high dollars, every risk is a big risk. “When we sign a new player,” Beeston says. “We say [to the owners], we have this guy who hit 54 home runs and we want to give him $64 million. And by the way, we’ve got 15 minutes to do this or else it’s going to arbitration.”

Not that risks should be taken lightly, but sometimes they require that split second decision. Beeston stresses a need to measure risk and to mitigate it. As a former accountant, he understands the implications of making bad decisions. But in the end, he also knows the truth: If you want to win, you’ve got to take some risk.

He’s feeling good right now about the work he’s done so far. “This is a good team. It’s close to being a very good team,” he believes. “And the run – the run will be a ten year run.”

About Paul Beeston

Paul Beeston is the current president and CEO of the Toronto Blue Jays, coming back to a role he held from 1989 until 1997. During his first tenure, he helped the Blue Jays achieve two World Series titles. Paul got his start as an accountant with McDonald Currie and earned his CA designation with Coopers and Lybrand before joining the Blue Jays as their first employee in 1976. From 1997 until 2002, Paul served as President and Chief Operating Officer of Major League Baseball. Outside of the Blue Jays, Paul also serves an Independent Director of Loblaw Companies Ltd., President’s Choice Bank, and Gluskin Sheff & Associates, Inc.

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