90 Ideas in 90 Minutes: Rick Schlesinger

Chief operating officer, Milwaukee Brewers


The following are the ideas presented by Rick Schlesinger, chief operating officer of the Milwaukee Brewers, at the BizTimes Media 90 Ideas in 90 Minutes event:

1. Culture is key
“At the Milwaukee Brewers, we are very intentional about creating a company culture where employees thrive. Our highest priority is to create an environment where people want to work as we believe we bring the best out of our colleagues when they are passionate about their careers. We have an inherent advantage in that we work in sports; after all, who wouldn’t want to be paid to watch a ballgame? But our philosophy can translate to most any company. We provide the resources for our employees to perform. We reward creativity, whether that comes from the lowest or highest levels in our org chart. We trust our colleagues to deliver, and we do not watch over their shoulders. We laugh together, we collaborate and we all row in the same direction.”

Rick Schlesinger

2. Finding the right mix
“We have an ideal for our company culture, but it’s the personalities who ultimately create that environment. When we are looking to hire for new positions, one of the most important questions we ask ourselves is how this person would ‘fit’ into the Milwaukee Brewers culture. We are not looking for clones. We value diversity, but we know that there are certain attributes that do and do not work well in promoting our mission to create an optimal workplace environment. Along these lines, we often make non-traditional hires. We may start with a resume, but just as often we begin with an existing relationship. If we’re hiring, the best reference we have is a personal relationship with a candidate that already exists.”

3. A daily walk
“At least once per day, I leave my desk and tour our offices. I try not to have an agenda or a specific destination. Instead, I want to talk with our staff. I have found that some of our best ideas come from informal interactions. These daily walks put me in touch with our most senior staff, but also with those who are early in their career paths. Like any business, we need creativity to come from everywhere. If we don’t circulate, I believe we stifle that process. I encourage all of our senior staff to be open to ideas from atypical sources. That can be junior staff, members of other departments, customers or next door neighbors. And I encourage them to go make those conversations happen. Don’t wait for them to appear in your office.”

4. Don’t sit on decisions
“We make decisions very quickly. We empower our employees not only with resources to make things happen, but also with the ability to make decisions. I believe in making decisions at the lowest level possible. If something comes across my desk and needs my input, I trust our staff that it’s important – but I don’t allow that to slow down our process. Let’s make a decision quickly and get working on it. Admittedly there are times when a pause in the process might have led to a different path, but overall this approach has yielded far more benefits than missteps.”

5. Work and life
“We don’t watch the clock in our organization. People work long hours for a sports team, and it’s not productive for me or any of our leadership to require rigid hours where everyone needs to be at their desks. We want our employees to have the flexibility to live their lives, and we know that they will be accountable in accomplishing what we need to do for the Milwaukee Brewers. However, I do ask everyone to be flexible and available. Being out of the office does not mean being unavailable. I admit that I often over-communicate, but if someone calls or sends me a message, I typically respond quickly no matter the time of day or circumstances. If an item has escalated to where it needs my input, I trust that it’s important and deserves a quick response. The flip side is that I do look for the same courtesy from our colleagues. It may have been a simpler time when “work” was 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and ‘life’ was the rest of the day. I believe there’s a healthy balance where people need to have the freedom to address life’s daily issues during the workday, but also realize that work often requires communication at off hours.”

6. Find and implement best practices
“There are 30 Major League Baseball teams, and there are many commonalities among them. I think it’s important to know what other teams have done to succeed, how they have handled issues and how they operate on any number of levels. I challenge our staff to always be aware of those commonalities and what we can learn from the other 29 teams. This works especially well in baseball as we aren’t competing for the same customers; we’re all looking to grow our business and everyone is typically willing to share their best practices. But even in an industry where there is direct competition for business, you can still learn much from how others operate and what they do to be successful. You probably just have to work a little harder in getting the information.”

7. Know your customer
“Communication and behavior are two areas where we look to understand our customers. This has become much more sophisticated over the years, especially in recent times. We look to communicate directly with our customers, and we do it on both granular and macro levels. Whether our sales reps are simply talking with their account holders, or we are doing a major survey to understand what our fans want in the Miller Park experience, it’s all valuable. And in the last couple of years we have invested heavily in building a business analytics group. We have so much data now but without the analytics tools, that data is useless. Used correctly, this information can tell us so much about our customer preferences and behaviors, and it leads to endless opportunities to grow and solidify our fan base.”

8. Develop and retain employees
“David Stearns, our general manager, has a famous line about how to build a championship-caliber team: ‘We are going to acquire, develop and retain the best talent.’ As much as we tease David about how often he uses that line, I use it on the business side as well. If we find good talent, develop them and lose them, where are we? We’re stuck in neutral. Turnover is always going to happen, but I think we have been very good at bringing some very talented people on board, creating advancement opportunities, and keeping them here for the long term.”

9. Cherish our customers
“Our Brewers mantra is ‘Cherish Our Fans,’ and I think that applies to any business in terms of their customers. If we expect our fans to support our organization blindly, we’ll lose. We have to understand their changing tastes, identify and address their concerns, and constantly improve the customer experience.”

10. Get out of Miller Park
“Somewhere between 2.5 and 3 million customers support the Brewers every year, and we think it’s critical to reverse that flow of traffic and head back out into the community. Every one of our players and front office staff members will participate in multiple outreach opportunities in 2018 through our community relations and Brewers Community Foundation events. We don’t want the support to be a one-way street; we’re looking to continue building our efforts in the community by visiting locals where they work, learn and play. We have a responsibility to give back that is the highest of priorities for (Brewers principal owner) Mark Attanasio and our ownership group, and we look to grow that support every year. I see that as a critical element in building a long-term bond with your local community, and also creating rewarding experiences for our players and staff.”

Click here to see a video of Schlesinger’s remarks at the 90 Ideas in 90 Minutes event.

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Andrew is the editor of BizTimes Milwaukee. He joined BizTimes in 2003, serving as managing editor and real estate reporter for 11 years. A University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate, he is a lifelong resident of the state. He lives in Muskego with his wife, Seng, their son, Zach, and their dog, Hokey. He is an avid sports fan and is a member of the Muskego Athletic Association board of directors.

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