Shapiro: On appealing to young professionals, ballpark renovations and leadership as part of #CLEYPWeek
Editor’s note: Indians President Mark Shapiro spoke with a group of Cleveland’s young professionals at the Terrace Club at Progressive Field on Thursday. The event, which was a part of Engage! Cleveland’s “Young Professionals Week,” provided 20- and 30-year-olds with the chance to hear about Progressive Field’s recent Master Plan and its improvements for the young professional audience.
Q: Tell us about the renovation and how it’s geared at young professionals.
A: [Shapiro looked at the view from the Terrace Club.] It’s a great backdrop; it beats any PowerPoint slide. As someone once told me, our scoreboard’s outdated, which I have never seen it next to another scoreboard, so you don’t realize that. If this is the ballpark you’re watching 90% of games in, you don’t always think, ‘Well, it’s 21 years old.’ While it’s still immaculately kept, it’s not the modern way that people interact with entertainment or sports entertainment or baseball games. It certainly didn’t provide that targeted experience for every person. It was kind of like we built it at a time when the real difference was where you sat, not how you watched the game. The reality is, people want to watch games differently. If you look at the ballpark and you’ve got that mezzanine area, the Kids Clubhouse, you’re going to have a real family-targeted area there. As you go below that, the wood fence is going to be taken away. A two-story bar with a rooftop deck in right field is going to have indoor-outdoor capability. If you liked the center field bar on 70-degree days in the middle of July, we’re going to have indoor-outdoor with heating and fan capability, roll-up garage doors and a rooftop deck for when it is that 70-degree, sunny day.
I think the connection to the city, the connection to what’s going on down here, to the fact that so many of you are living downtown now, we wanted to have an experience that was more targeted to different places of the ballpark, to different segments of our fan base. We wanted it to be clear that that opportunity is here to watch the game, yes, to interact with the team, yes, but to do it in a way that’s more consistent with the way we want to do that.
It started with us just getting Wi-Fi throughout the ballpark at the beginning of this year, which is hard to believe. Any of you that understand the magnitude of that effort—that was a huge effort. That wasn’t a small effort. I was shocked how much of an effort that is; it’s not just laying a wire. It’s thousands of antennas that had to get constructed and tested and put in this entire ballpark to ensure that everyone had cellular and Wi-Fi capabilities in the ballpark.
Q: What excites you most about Cleveland? Thinking outside of the ballpark, there is a lot going on; some people think we are in the midst of this renaissance. What excites you most about this city?
A: I would say the thing that makes me most encouraged about the future of the city is you guys [the young professionals]. What is singularly most important for the city to be most successful is growth. The energy moving downtown now is a big positive, but unfortunately, that is just moving downtown. Growth is what we need. Jobs are what we need. New businesses are what we need. You talked about the entrepreneurs; we need more entrepreneurs. We need more people that are excited to start businesses. We need you guys creating more opportunities for young people to move into Cleveland and downtown. To me, engaged, caring young professionals in Cleveland [is what we need]. If you are focused on not just your own development but the development of the city, that’s good.
Mark also discussed his background and leadership during the event.
Q: Tell us your story and about how you rose to this position.
A: I started over at Municipal Stadium when I was 24 years old with the Cleveland Indians. To say that I did a lot a variety of things—I think my first thing was kind of a no title, entry-level, cubicle dweller, outside John Hart and Dan O’Dowd’s office. I did everything from the grunt work of what you’d expect—getting lunch—but back then, it was pulling game reports off of an answering machine or getting facts and distributing it. When we first started doing multi-year deals, guys like Sandy Alomar, Carlos Baerga, and Charlie Nagy, I quickly realized this was stuff that would not classify me as a young professional. Doing a lot of the research and the due diligence that went into the first set of multi-year contracts.
To be as concise as possible, I would just say this to you: I went into it without a clear goal that I need to become the GM or I need to ascend to a certain role. I went into it thinking I [was] going to do every single thing assigned to me with better quality and faster than John and Dan expected. That was really it; I quickly realized that I had made some good decisions to align myself with some people who had a vision that I believed in and that they articulated very quickly. They had a set of values with the way they ran their business that really aligned. I was really quickly doing high-level work because we were in a distressed situation. You’ve all seen that movie Major League; John Hart had a small cubicle, falling ceiling tiles and a space heater by his desk, and he was the GM of a Major League team. We were flowing so rapidly, and I got a chance to do things very quickly. I ran the farm system, ran Latin American operations, was assistant GM, GM. I never really focused on where I was going next, just what I was doing and doing well at that time.
Q: What are your thoughts about leadership?
A: I’ll give you a couple top-line thoughts about talent and the way we look at the organization—in the office and on the field. The coolest thing for me is—I’ve moved, in just 17 years, from player personnel to overseeing the business and the baseball side—how analogous championship player selection and development is to championship development and selection is in the office as well. I always tend to look at things as baselines and separators. Dependability … is controlling the controllable. The championship players and championship talent in an office or on a field are going to be people that control the controllable. They have some talent, they’re dependable/reliable consistently, and they control the controllable. There are going to be a million things we can’t control every day: the Cleveland economy, the weather, the umpires, a sick child, your personal life—a million other things. But there are a million things you can control every day. The other thing that I clearly got when I started in 1992 and I’ve seen it in players that are successful—it’s got to be important to you. It’s got to be meaningful. Is your work meaningful to you? It doesn’t have to define you. It doesn’t have to be the most important thing in your life; family and faith might fit in for you. If your work is not meaningful or if you’re not working with people whose work is meaningful to them, there’s going to be some disengagement. You’re not going to be as good as you can be, and we are not going to be as good of a team as we can be. If you want to be a leader, you need to make sure to form that culture where people feel you value their work, they feel that their work is meaningful. That’s part of leadership.
The separator for me is accountability, ownership, toughness. It’s not making excuses. In our job, we have a thousand excuses built in every day. There’s no salary cap, so that makes us dependent on the Cleveland economy to produce revenue. There are a million excuses, and they’re real; they’re legitimate. People that can lead effectively, people that can achieve optimal performance, instead of focusing on the reasons why they should not succeed, they take accountability and ownership. They’re tough in the right way. Tough doesn’t mean that they’re ready to fight or that they play hurt. Toughness means they take accountability. Toughness means they take ownership. Toughness means they don’t make excuses. Toughness is the one question we ask before we hire, before we draft, before we trade; we want to know how that person performed through adversity.
We want our scouts to dig in. How do we pinpoint when [and how] players face adversity? Why? That’s going to determine whether they will be successful or not. Do they view those setbacks as weaknesses, flaws and limitations or do they want to avoid those situations? Or, do they embrace adversity, embrace challenges, embrace setbacks as opportunities to grow, to develop, to learn, to improve? Impact performers embrace challenges as opportunities. People that will fall short of their potential consistently are going to view those as [weaknesses]. Every single one of us has them; that mindset—how you handle them—that is the ultimate separator for me.
Q: Mentorship is a two-way street. Oftentimes, the mentee thinks about what they are getting from the mentor, but you should be thinking about what you can share. Mark, I’m sure you have had young professionals who have come on your staff and maybe helped you come up with new ideas?
A: None of the ideas are mine; they’re all other people’s. People ask me all the time, what are the moments you’re most proud of? I was here in the mid-90s for all of that, and obviously, knocking the Yankees out of the playoffs in ’07 after turning over an entire roster. Whenever someone asks me, I go, ‘Chris Antonetti, John Farrell, Neal Huntington.’ It’s the people who I’ve played some role in their development and in them achieving the professional fulfillment that they’ve wanted. For me, those are the things that I’m most proud of. I know, definitively, when I reflect back 20-25 years from now, that is what I will remember. The superficial accolades, approval, those are things that are maybe symbolic of success from people who don’t really understand you or know you.
The relationships have played a role in development. It’s just good business. If you have created an environment where you genuinely are compassionate and genuinely care about people’s growth and advancement, you’re going to be a better organization, a better business. If you guys want to lead, care about people, care about your work. It can’t just be lip service; it can’t just be something you delegate out to HR. Everything’s HR. HR is not some area where you delegate hiring; if you’re not hands-on at every level of hiring at your organization, then you’re missing the boat. If you don’t obsess about every hire you make, and once someone is hired, if you don’t genuinely engage in their development and growth and progress, your organization is operating at less than full capacity, guaranteed. I care about people improving, developing, growing, reaching their goals. I take the time to reach that awareness and know who they are, what’s their background, what are their goals and aspirations. Am I actively thinking about the person, or are they just a person sitting across from me and how can they help me? If that’s the way you look at a person, that’s exactly what you’re going to get: a box checked, a task completed. For the Cleveland Indians, we’re not going to get anywhere unless we exceed expectations. Remember, we have a third of the resources of some teams. No one cares. There is no bell curve. We’ve got to achieve the same thing as the New York Yankees or the Los Angeles Dodgers. We had a better record than the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox this year, and both of those teams are outspending us across the board. Not just payroll—in technology, front office staff, analytics, everything. We have to beat them. And we do. We will because we have to have superior performance. That takes mentoring, that engagement in people and every single person understanding how important they are to the progress we make.