Leading the St. Louis Cardinals

Editor’s note: As evidenced by the popularity of the Business of Sports Club and the intense competition surrounding the SA Cup, many HBS students are passionate about sports. Few HBS grads have had more recent success working in sports management than 1995 HBS graduate William DeWitt III. Not long after graduating from HBS, DeWitt joined the St. Louis Cardinals baseball franchise as Director of Merchandising. He has since risen to lead the Cardinals organization as its president. Known as a capable and cerebral leader, DeWitt saw his Cardinals win their second World Series in six seasons (the eleventh in franchise history). Section I RC Patrick Erker, a proud St. Louisian, recently spoke with Dewitt about his business and how interested HBS students should think about industry careers.


St. Louis Cardinals Celebrate
The St. Louis Cardinals Celebrate winning the World Series

Congratulations. I’m sure you’re still cleaning up the confetti around town after the big recent win. To start things off, what advice would you have for HBS students who are interested in working in sports?

What usually happens is that people work their way up through the process, typically through internships or jobs with minor league clubs – not unlike what happens on the player side of the business.  An MBA entry point into major league sports is a little unusual, but it does happen on occasion. In some areas, like business development, strategy, or projects related to stadiums and adjacent developments, there may be a fit. Having said that, a good portion of club presidents and many vice presidents of marketing and ticketing do have MBAs.

If you’re passionate about going into sports, then you may need to be willing to accept slightly less compensation or responsibility to get in the door. You never know when an opportunity will happen. But there is some mobility within clubs, and people who do a good job tend to rise in the organization. We have a couple of employees who got local MBAs at night while they were advancing in our organization.  You’re talking about companies with only about 150 non-uniformed employees, so people should be aware that there is a limited set of great jobs that would challenge an MBA. If you’re willing to be geographically and sports flexible, the opportunity set increases.

Were there any classes at HBS that you found particularly useful in preparing for your current role?

You have to have a broad range of skills. However, there are certain bread and butter topics that are probably more important than others, such as finance and accounting. Marketing is helpful as well since these are marketing-intensive institutions.

One thing that HBS might have been a little thin on was on the legal side.  Everything you do in a sports team is legal in nature, whether it’s player contracts, sponsorship agreements, HR issues with employees, or other aspects of the business. You can get up to speed on those kinds of issues, but I think that early on, I was playing a little catch up.

How often do you tap into the HBS network through your work? And are any of your section or classmates also working in similar fields/roles?

I have a good friend, Aaron Mobarak, who lived next to me in Gallatin my first year.  He worked for McKinsey, then moved into Private Equity and ran a few companies.  We’ve stayed in touch and he has done some consulting for the Cardinals.  Other classmates have been good sounding boards for personal career advice and as resources for friendly business advice.

How does winning the World Series this year impact the organization?

I think it impacts us in several ways.  One is that it rewards the fans for their loyalty and investment, and creates a memory that helps solidify their affinity for the team.  Everybody who works here or is affiliated with the organization in some way feels a sense of pride, and there is a tangible sense that a common goal has been achieved.

In the short term, there are playoff revenues that help you post a good financial year, but they are short term by their very nature and not enough to create huge payroll increases going forward.  The long-term financial benefits mostly stem from selling more season tickets, which represent customers that can be retained in the future if we do a good job servicing their accounts.