Ken Kendrick, the owner and general managing partner of Major Leagues Baseball’s Arizona Diamondbacks, talked to a packed house Jan. 22 at the Terry Leadership Speaker Series.
Since 2004, Kendrick has overseen day-to-day operations of the Diamondbacks. He has also helped to change the face of downtown Phoenix, as a principal in the development of CityScape, Arizona's largest commercial/retail real estate development.
Prior to his time with the Diamondbacks, Kendrick worked for IBM, founded Datatel Inc. and served as principal investor for Woodforest National Bank.
At the Terry event, he spoke about the values that guide he decisions, the leadership challenges of professional sports, and why he enjoys entrepreneurship. A video is available online.
“Leadership needs to be different in different settings, and baseball is the most unusual of the settings because it’s both a business and entertainment,” Kendrick said. “So the approach you take there is different from my early days when I was entrepreneur and founded an early technology company. The style you adopt in that kind of setting is a very much more of a hands-on approach to leadership than you take in a large organization like the Diamondbacks.”
During his tenure, the team has twice captured the National League West Division and eliminated more than $200 million of debt. But his successes weren’t always easy, Kendrick said.
“The thing you learn quickly is even though you thought you knew a lot about the sport, even though you were always a fan and you went to all the games and thought you understood it, you really don’t. You have to learn it,” he said. “And in terms of how you operate and how you lead, you really have to lead through others. You have to pick the very best people you can find, you have to give them a lot of freedom and you have to trust what they do.”
For guidance, Kendrick sought the advice of others in his position, such as Jerry Reinsdorf, owner of the Chicago Bulls and the Chicago White Sox. Team owners and managers have a special relationship with one another, he said.
“The nature of all sports is that you’re a partner with all your peers because in much of what you do, you have common interests,” he said. “You share best practices because advancing the revenues of the game and creating more fans for the game is something that we all share and work together on. And then on the field, we’re archenemies. It’s love-hate. You hate the owner of the other team when they beat you, but outside of that you’re good friends. It’s unique to sports, and it’s fun.”
Despite the differences in organizations, Kendrick said his leadership values remained consistent across organizations and industries.
“I think everything you do in business ought be built around integrity,” he said. “That’s a word that’s not absolute in its definition. It’s relative. I think all of us develop sense of right and wrong. In being a leader, you want to think very hard and long about what is right. When you decide what is right, pursue it and be very steadfast about pursuing it. And I would add another element that goes along with good leadership is perseverance. … If you apply integrity to what you do and you persevere in what you do, I think you’ll be successful.”