Minor League Baseball is a hub for talent, and that certainly was showcased during the keynote speech to kick off this week’s Baseball Winter Meetings.
The speaker, Vegas Golden Knights President Kerry Bubolz, spent part of his early career in MiLB and credits it for helping shape his life. Following a brief introduction talking about the Golden Knights’ Stanley Cup Final run, he broke into some career advice and then detailed the culture built in the first major professional team in Las Vegas.
He implored those in leadership positions to take the time to help those who seek career advice. He cited two minor league executives who took time when he was young: the Quad City River Bandits’ Mike Tatoian and Tulsa Drillers’ Joe Preseren.
“It’s important as leaders to pay it forward,” Bubolz said. “At some point in your career, someone gave you a shot. I schedule a 30-minute call, most often with no job opportunities available, and talk about my experience and I’ll give guidance and direction. I talk a lot about Minor League Baseball and how it shaped me and the many opportunities I had.”
Bubolz said his career has been driven by people. He repeated he doesn’t have a Harvard MBA and was a “B and C student” in college — but stressed the importance of making connections and how impactful the right ones can be to a career.
At Golden Knights games — like this past Sunday, when plenty of the meeting’s attendees saw the team in action — Bubolz said he’s not sitting in a suite, but mingling with the fans and community.
Following the brief prelude with career advice, he also talked about his core tenets of leadership. Here are some highlights:
“As a leader in our organization, we have a difficult task. We’re looked upon by our entire staff. The team is defined by winning and losing, but it doesn’t define our business. I think it’s important to set the tone and always smile.”
Set the pace of the company
“You set the pace for business. When I go get a cup of coffee, I set the pace. I’m moving; there’s an urgency behind getting a cup of coffee. You’re always on. People are always watching.”
“I meet with every new hire. The door is always open. I want to create an environment where people are comfortable coming in, with hopefully an idea.”
Visibility creates accountability
“We have a quarterly business meeting and we share everything. We share all our revenue numbers, expenses, how we’re performing as a business. From the interns to senior VPs, we want people to understand what they’re playing for — more accountability and more buy-in.”
Get in the weeds of core areas
“I’m not a CEO flying at 30,000 feet. That’s not who I am. Get in the weeds.”
He also talked at length about the building of the culture of the Golden Knights’ business office. Bubolz said he borrowed heavily from his 13 years with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Don’t take bad penalties
“Be smart dealing with customers. Remain cool and collected.”
“Have great respect and understanding of all parts of the business.”
Ignore the goal horn
“In our business with social media, there is a lot of noise. Learn to ignore it and stay focused on the task at hand.”
Smile, even if you’ve had all your teeth knocked out by a high stick
“You can’t fake fun. If your people aren’t having fun, they can’t sell fun. We’re all at our best if we’re all having fun.”
Be different … Ready, aim, fire
He listed a variety of ideas brought out for the Golden Knights inaugural season, like the 51/49 raffle, the extravagant pre-game shows, 24-hour select-a-seat event, and an in-arena castle stage.
A Stanley Cup run in an expansion season could lead to a let-down of a second season. Five weeks after the finals, the business team got together and set its second-season goals. This year, crowds are at 106 percent occupancy (last year was 103 percent) and sponsorship revenues have seen eight-figure growth.
The team came three wins short of hoisting the Stanley Cup in its first season, a rare accomplishment for any team let alone an expansion franchise, but the connection it made with the community was incredible. More than anything, it was a message than can resonate with MiLB teams who are crafting community gatherings.
Bubolz said he felt the Golden Knights helped change the narrative of the tourist-laden city and brought together a city of 2.3 million residents from different parts of the country and hurt by a tragedy. The team’s business operations coined it internally as the Golden Thread.
“I really believe community is a contact sport — and it’s our secret sauce,” he said. “Never forget how important it is to for players and the organization to say ‘yes.’ You get a lot of requests, but don’t lose sight of what got you there. We’re in the business of saying ‘yes.’”