What Got You There with Sean DeLaney

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#242 Scott O'Neil- CEO of Philadelphia 76ers & New Jersey Devils on Being Where Your Feet Are

by Sean DeLaney
April 18th 2021

Scott O'Neil is the CEO of Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment which oversees the Philadelphia 76ers, the New Jersey Devils, and the Prudential Center. More

I'm sean Delaney and you're listening to what got you there. What got you there is a must follow for entrepreneurs, creatives, high achievers and changemakers. Each week I sit down with some of the world's most influential people and focus on the journey behind their success. We uncover the strategy, tactics and routines that help them get there now it's your journey so it's time to learn what's going to get you there. Scott o Neil is the ceo of Harris Blitzer Sports and Entertainment, which oversees the philadelphia 76 ers The New Jersey Devils and the Prudential Center. Scott is one of the most recognized, connected and dynamic executives in the sports and entertainment industry. Today, he has More than 25 years of experience, leading NBA NHL and NFL teams and leagues including the National Basketball Association philadelphia 76 ers new york knicks, new jersey nets, philadelphia eagles, new york rangers and new Jersey devils. His mission to build innovative, inspiring, socially impactful and high performing teams and business organizations has earned him a reputation as a leader of leaders, Get ready to learn more about leadership, learning from your successes and failures and about scott's new book, Be, where your feet are seven principles to keep you present grounded and thriving.

Anyone looking for a new job this year or you a company who's looking to hire great town if so you might want to check out the job hiring platform, culture finders. I'm sure you're thinking what's different about culture finders compared to the other job hiring platforms, Well, Other platforms, only focus on your job skills and trying to match you with as many companies as possible. What culture finders does different is that they uncover the preferences, personalities, unique talents and abilities that make up each job seeker and matches them with the company that these traits best align. It's not about sending 100 jobs, but about connecting you with the right job. We know your value to companies goes beyond your resume and it's time you find a company that sees yours. Job seekers create your free profile to that culture finders dot com. And if your company hiring you get a free job posting today, that's culture finders dot com. Oh yeah, just so you guys know culture finders and what got you there is actually hiring right now, so jump on Culturefinder dot com to create your free profile and hopefully we'll be working together soon, scott. Welcome. What got you there? How you doing today, Sean, it's great to be here.

One thing is for sure, and then as you have the best open of any podcast in the history of time, that song is gonna ring in my head, it's very difficult to shake out. Yeah, it's a catchy tune, we'll definitely last in the head, so I appreciate that, but there's so much I want to dive into with you, you know how much I admired from you learn from you and your book, you have a line in it that I just love and it's find your peace, find your quiet time, find yourself. We have to plan it, schedule it, have the discipline to stick to it. But it is a choice. Our choice. So with that being said, I would love to know how you plan your time each day. What does that time allocation look like? Oh, I love it. Well, first I want to say thank you for having me. Secondly, I want to say that this uh, you know, it's coming at an interesting time to talk. Um, it looks like we're coming out of this pandemic. It looks like vaccine vaccinations are taking off. Um, and I've learned so much from this time. Um, and we've all had to allocate our time differently and audit our time differently and you know, be actually very intentional about what we do and how we do it.

And, and for me that's the one thing I start my day with is just trying to figure out. I need to do something from my body, something from my mind and something for my soul every day And they take different shapes in different forms, but generally from my body. I am one of those political lunatics that you read about. So I do not get 45 minutes. I sweat head to toe. I'm a total animal and I think so, so generally from my body I'm on the Palestine. If when the world opens up, I'll be playing pickup hoop with my, with my crew at work and we got a six am run. It's killer. I get my legs can't work. I cannot go to stop sign anymore. But the mouth keeps going like I'm 25. So from, from a body stents, I feel like everybody's got to do something to get that heart rate up. I know you're a big time last player and I know I'm sure you, you take care of your body extremely well. But for the rest of us we've got to commit and it doesn't have to be 45 minutes. It doesn't have to be two hours, but it does have to be 20 minutes to get that body flowing in terms of the mind. I think that we're so focused on what we do um, from a work work wise and we're so stretched in terms of the world we're in and I think sometimes we forget to go out and learn and for me, um, I think everybody needs to be learning something outside of their core life.

Um, and prefer me right now. I'm really interested in Blockchain. I'm really interested in crypto, I'm really interested in FT So I am like studying and learning and I'm reading research reports and analyst reports and I'm, I'm watching ted talks and I listen to podcasts just because I'm interested in the topic and is that the end all be all for everybody know this will be a little face, let me go on and I'll learn something else. I always have three or four books on my on my bedside, I'm reading different books at different times, some are wonderful, some are not so wonderful. But man am I open to, I'm trying to be intellectually curious and learn and I think it's good for the soul. And the third thing which nobody ever wants to talk about is like taking care of your soul and for some of you, if you're deeply religious you're gonna read scriptures are going to pray. It doesn't have to be that, but others might say well I meditate and some people when I was younger, I had a lot of trouble meditating, like I can't sit still for five minutes now. Um but you do have to find some quiet and some stillness and that could literally be yoga, it could be going for a walk, it could be sitting outside in the morning and listening to the birds trip in this beautiful spring day.

But I had this sense that finding that stillness and quiet, it's just good for the soul. And I think if you take care of those different pieces of your mind, Body and soul um it will help you be more effective for sure, but will also help your mental health and I think that is the next great difficulty this society is going to have to tackle. Yeah, I'm in 100% agreement, tackling those three big buckets, getting those align when those are all operating effectively your energy, what you're putting out in the world is so much better. I love hearing about that voracious love of learning and that cross disciplinary approach of reading outside your, your main expertise or your day job. Do you feel like that outside perspective and even just staying attuned to other things going on that helps you with your day job? Well I will tell you, Yes, I learned, I worked for David Stern, the former commissioner of the NBA and I traveled with him quite a bit through my 7.5 years there. I can tell you we get on a plane and he always traveled private and I was fortunate to jump on everyone every now and again, it was interesting to me at the time was like we would get on and he would have a stack of papers, 8, 9, 10" thick ripped out magazine articles, newspaper.

His name is the old school guy, older guys sadly since passed away, God rest his soul. Um but he, he learned and he wasn't reading about sports or basketball, he always knew. Um and he read business for sure. It was fascinating to me was he was reading geopolitical, he was reading life sciences, I had this story in my head where he, he was, he was very difficult. Socratic method, he would press your test, you, he would be grilling you every time it was like a stress, it was four hours of stress on every trip. And he was saying to me now, this is Uh boy probably like uh early 2000, she was like, you probably don't even know what, which he is now. He was saying Wifi, but it was so early Early, like nobody had ever heard of I five. Okay. He's like, you probably don't know it with you or something. I don't even know what you're talking about. But this is a guy who was studying about HIV and the AIDS virus. So much so and bringing in world experts and knowing who the league doctors were.

That when magic johnson um, contracts HIV, he doesn't shut the lead down. He doesn't throw magic out. He actually works and leverages that to be a global platform to kind of redefine how the world will deal with HIV. And you know, he has, I mean, he put an office in china in the eighties and you know, the other leagues are still kind of fighting to try to catch up and some don't even have leads officers there now. Like this was a guy who just learned and learned and learn and, and, and that sense of, I always think that they're, you know, at least from from my perspective in my business, maybe all I think there are three things that make people successful coming into the business. And one is just, you have to work unreasonably hard and I don't, I don't care what business you're in, I've never found a successful person who doesn't work unreasonably hard. And the second thing is you have to be an extraordinary teammate and that has to do with all the connecting this in the world. Um and so like we inevitably will no 100 people that know each other And when we get to the workplace and we're young and we're just trying to figure it out and we're trying to climb to get ahead.

Like the analogy is all wrong, you're not climbing, you've got to connect because you wake up 20 years later, I'm 51 years old, so I wake up now and people that I worked with all over the world, we were assistance, we were account executives, we were managers, we were directors and now they're running the greatest, greatest businesses and they're my friends. So I think of how easy life is and then the third piece of intellectual curiosity, so it's working reasonably hard, the extraordinary teammate have the intellectual curiosity. Yeah, I love the point you bring up about the organizations in the world, every this is this is a matrix and we're not climbing this hierarchy, this ladder, how connected it is. And and it was fun reliving some of the stories from previously in your career and how they tie together now um years and years later. So people early in their career, I love when they put a focus on that, I would love to know because you've got so much time and attention and focus towards operating at your best. What does it feel like when scott o'neill operating at its best? Oh man, that's a really interesting question.

I would say that I am, when you get, as you go through your career, you're trying to figure out what drives you every day, right? So what, what pops you out of bed in the morning? Get your feet on the ground and you're jumping off to work? I would say when I am at my best, I am fully grounded, I am connected to the executives in particular the young executives that I'm helping developers that pops me out of bed in the morning. It's like how can I help develop the next generation of great talent in this industry and I am doing something to serve somebody else. So whether that is in the community, whether that is doing something for someone in my family or whether that is connecting with someone at work to help lift them or guide them, I'm thinking about that, the talent development and I know within your organization, I think something like 80% is under the age of 27, something like that. So they're young. I'm wondering, what have you found most effective these days to be able to connect with someone that could be half your age.

Sure, well, I, I think I'm 25 at heart, I was going to say, I'm not, I'm not trying to throw you under the bus here. So I, uh I'm, I've been really blessed. I, I love um I love this generation. I do, I love, I love the gens ears, I really do. Um, I love Gin, why I love, I love this next millennials, I love the next to all these younger generations coming through. I think that they're smart, they're driven, they're talented, they're connected, they understand themselves and their brands, um, and and there's an exchange for that and so for that they will work to their, to their bones, okay? But the exchanges, they want access and they want recognition, anyone opportunity. And so as a ceo of a company, you've got to figure out because they're doing the work, they are going to change the world, these next generations coming up through the pipeline, boil boy, brace yourselves, we're going to have a run and it is so exciting and invigorating, but they want to know what the heck is happening.

And so as a leader, I've got to be more transparent and I had to round tables today And so there are round tables are just connect and I literally start the round table by saying that at all Zoom. So it's 12 people and I start and I said, I give a little preamble, here's what's happening in the world, here's what's happening on our business and it takes about 30 seconds and I say, let's talk about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. What do you want to talk about? And Neil asked me about and FTS because we're working on a big project and they're asking about real estate development. They'll ask me about our sports teams, they'll ask me about what does it take to be promoted. They'll talk to ask me about, I heard about this, what's happening? They'll talk about our return to work program and it's, it's my favorite. Our I do about once every other day and it gives me a chance to connect and pressure test the team for sure. But it also gives them access to ask the Ceo anything they want to ask how important and how much thought goes into that openness within the organization. You know, I um, I think I'm a millennial at heart, not by age and so I wanted access when I was young and I had this leader growing up.

His name is john Spoelstra was the president of the nets. His son eric is the head coach of the Miami Heat, one of our hated rivals, but nonetheless, the head basketball coach and a wonderful guy. It's about my, it's known since he was playing basketball college And his dad did that for me. So as a 22 year old, there were seven or eight of us that he would take out to dinner once a month and I think about that and I think, about man, I'm 22 years old and I'm going to dinner with the president of the organization. But what message do you think that sent to me? And so like as a, as a ceo now about john's h Jon Walters age, when, when he was my boss. I think about every new sales class that comes in, I sit with him, every class that comes in and you know, by the way, it's fun for me. But man, what an opportunity to give them a book when they come in and they have to read it and send me a note. It's called leadership and self deception. I think it's the best book ever written and they have to read, write me a note that says, here's how this might impact me at home. Here's how this might impact me at work. And then I respond back and now we have a dialogue.

So now they walk in there like, okay, I'm connected, I am connected to the boss at 22. And what I tell them is like I give them my success formula. I tell them it's like they have to lead and that they're responsible for this culture and so they are empowered to go now make this company great. So there are some little things we do, but I will tell you, I have been so blessed and fortunate to work with such incredible people. I'm just named two of them with john and and David Stern, but man, oh man, oh man, you have these lessons in life and they just keep coming. And so it's kind of incumbent upon us. I always say palms up meaning being this as opposed to crossing your arms. You can't see me if you're on this podcast, but I will tell you, I promise you, I'm crossing my arms when I'm crossing my arms, I'm closed off and my palms are up and my hands are out. I am open, I'm willing to listen, I'm engaged in learning and I'm interested in what you have to say versus trying to be interesting and dictate the conversation scott. One of the points I absolutely love because I know this has had a tremendous impact on my life is when someone up in that organization, they even just show they're paying attention and I think leaders oftentimes forget about the impact those little moments that could be the biggest moment and someone young in their careers first half of their career when when they see that the leader of that organization is putting attention to.

So I just want to highlight that, I absolutely love that that element. I would love to know with so much going on and so much nuance around the human side of this, what encapsulates the majority of your thinking with with in terms of the organization and those, those human elements that dynamic. Well, I think, you know, I come from a family of leadership development consultants, so it's it's you know, since I was five years old, I was collating decks for my folks who would go out and consult with Xerox and ADP and Mcdonald's and Texaco all over the world, The little mom and pop doesn't literally mom and pop business, but they had these incredible clients and so on. Are homeless was very much a laboratory, you know, I think um as I, as I look forward there were five of us born in, in six years and and four of the five of us are running companies and my sister who is the smartest of us all, it's just going back to school so I'm sure she'll be running one shortly. So it's definitely, and and those are my best friends in the world and those are the ones I reach out to and I'm looking for thoughts when I need advice and counsel or I need to get my head straight and when I say I get my head straight, that means it's like we have to understand the impact and influence we have and can have and we have to feel some sort of gratitude for the platforms we've been given and certainly take advantage of those we have and so for me, um culturally I want to create the greatest place to work in the world and if you ask me if I've done it yet, I would say sadly, no, but I'm working on it.

Um and as as a leader of an organization, unfortunately it's not up to you. You can, you can set the tone, you can set the vision, you can direct the resources you can encourage. But there's a lot that goes into creating the greatest place to work in the world and it's it's it's next man up or woman up in our case the very diverse workforce. And so I would say that um that I try to spend about a third of my time on the culture and everything related to it. I'm thinking about some of these lessons that that you brought up just now and even in the book and it seems like either you have a fantastic memory for all the years or you were documenting some of these big life lessons throughout the time. Is that it's something you were doing actually documenting them or you wish I wish, I wish, I wish I you know um again, uh some of the gentleman I worked for um have been so impactful and impressionable and and they are all in my life, you know, I don't um a Doctor Bill such as the famous sports market professor um once said about me and my friend told me he was teaching a class and I got a text from my friend was auditing class and he said scott o'neill collects people like other people collect baseball cards.

So I, you know, from, from, from my sense, I've, I've had these, these lessons. Um, and they keep coming back around because I keep having these incredibly influential people in my life. I will tell you another. Um, sadly because I'm getting older people, my mentors have gotten older, but I remember being on this interview that my mother had set up because I was bouncing in a bar when I got out of college instead of going to work like everybody else. Um, and my mother is like, hey, it's time is time is time. And I'm like, hey, I'm playing hooky twice a day, the beaches fantastic. Like leave me alone. And I went on this terrible interview is essentially my car broke down. I had to borrow my friends suit. He's a regular sized guy, He's a big football player, so didn't look so good coming in. And, and this guy paul buckley says to me is like, hey kids, let me, you don't want this job to you. And I was like, no, I don't. And he said, look, when you're ready to do this, like come call me, like you seem like you got some stuff together. They seem like you have your used a curse word, but it together.

And I said, thank you, I appreciate that you say he's got like anybody that we're going to work here would have been at Nordstrom's first thing in the morning, bought a new suit, bought new shoes, bought about and come here and come here and put it together. You know, And what I wanted to say at the time was, you know, I hit like 90 miles to get here, borrow clothes, borrowed a car. Like that's an effort. But he's like, that's not enough. And it was such a great lesson. Was terrible talking to my mother in the next day. But nonetheless after I got through that, you know, they kind of jolted me back and so amazingly. I think most people in the world would have never thought another day about probably. Um, but me, but me, like I got my first job, I sent him a note first. The note said, paul scott o'neill, you probably don't remember me, blah, blah, blah. Hey, you gave me this advice and I followed it the next interview I had was with the new jersey nets for marketing assistant and here's what I did. And I got the job I have you to thank and I just want to say, thank you if you ever need anything from me ever, please call me, here's my phone. And I stayed in touch with him for 25 years and I think about like, this is not to pat myself on the back.

It's just how my, it's my DNA. But I will say like life is easy now. I'm not the right letters instead of text or send an email or stay connected on facebook or linked in or twitter, like there's so many opportunities and avenues to stay connected to people who influence and impact you in your life. I think one of the missing ingredients is that it's the next step. It's like saying thank you scott. The reason I love that story so much is because it would've been so easy in that moment for you to blame him and say, you know what, none of them, I hitchhike, I did all the work, this, this guy just doesn't know what he's talking about. You could have been young, you could have been arrogant and you didn't, you looked in the mirror and that makes me think of a story you talk about with, with Jeff Robertson and he had this bit of advice of, you have to look in the mirror and stop blaming other people. I would love for you to talk about Jeff Robertson and that story because I think that's just incredibly impactful. Sure, thank you. I will say, you know, I've made a lot of, like I talked about life and success being when I was young, I thought it was so linear and I would read these stories about these executives who were fired or bankrupt a company or had a misstep or mistake and I'd be like, never me, I was going to the moon and straight to the moon and it just doesn't work that way and you have all these opportunities in life to learn and you learn a lot more when things go south.

And so I was a young executive at the NBA extremely confident. So if you think I'm calm, if you, if I sound confident now you just see me at 28. And so I I volunteered, I opted into the W. N. B. A. Meetings. I went to my boss and I said, I want to sit in on the W. N. B. A. And he said scott that you do not want to see what I said, I do. I said, so I was working for this group called tempo that consulted with other teams and I said, well I want to understand what's happening at the league so I can help the teams. So I sit in my first meeting, it's a bunch of incredible women led by Val Ackerman and me and um and they're saying like we want to, we want to market to teen girls. And I was like, I I promised myself I wasn't gonna say anything, you know? So I was almost sitting on my hands just saying, don't say anything, don't say anything, don't say, just just listen, just be a participant. And I said, well, you know, my friend, um he manages in sync and he owes me a favor. So if you want to get to teen girls, like I'll just call him and like this thing is over, you know, it's the hottest band in the world. It's a boy band at the time.

And so we come up with this program. I called my friend. He's like, yeah, I'm definitely and we'll send personalized videos, will launch an album, their autograph stuff shout outs with the radio promotion, bob. Of all this incredible increase. I mean, of all the programs I've ever been a part of creating, this was by far the best and it crashed and burned. Okay. Like any measure, any KPI anything that you would look for to say like this was a success would not have hit any grid. Okay. So this was this was there was a gap between what I thought it was going to happen and what happened and I blamed everybody. So is the reverse. But you said it wasn't with me, you're talking about, I delivered in sync deliver the hottest band in the world. I connected all these teams like me, you know, And so at that time I I've got to see uh Jeff. Robinson was the VP of HR at the NBA and um I went in, it was a six month check in. He's like, how is it going?

Like it's terrible. So scott what are you talking about terrible like it's awful once office like this place is awful. Said the N. B. A. Is awful. Yes. My experience is terrible. I rattled off all these problems and what was wrong and how to fix the on boarding and how to do this and how did that? I said, and here's a program that didn't work and let me tell you why everybody else made a mistake and why I didn't. And he gives me the speech. He's like, you know, have you, have you checked yourself in the mirror? Look in the mirror? What? He said, well, scott, here's the deal, Here's the way this place works, it's Matrix. I don't even know what that means. I don't even know what that means. What does that mean? It's a Matrix? He said, well, you know, you have to know somebody in each box to be effective here. How well do you know the personal marketing? I don't know, do you know Danny missiles? I don't, he's a good friend now. No, I don't know Greg money, no. How about Tom Crowley? No, Carol Albert, nope. I said, who are those people, they run entertainment, marketing, digital and media.

So how could that program work if you don't even know who they are? And and I said, what what do you, I said, I'm on the road, that's what I add value. He said, what does that mean? I said, well, I'm working with the teams, I have 51 team's 25 teams to hit, that means like I try to hit two or three times a week. And he said, well, what do you spend a couple of days here? I'm like in new york, I was like, no, no, no, Jeff, I don't think understand my job, but my jobs out there and he said scott, I don't think you understand what's going to take to be effective here and you have to decide if you're gonna be right or effective. And by the way, I have used that and stolen that, I've used it 1000 times because you can be right, right, right, right, right, you can pound the table, you can be the smartest person in the world, you can be the most driven in the world, but you've got to figure out how to be effective and that is often so different from being right. And so I said, okay, what's it gonna take? He's like, what do you mean? I said, well what do I have to do? And he said scott, I don't even, you mean how do you create relationships?

I said, oh right, so I okay, so I should just go see my colleagues. He's like, yes, go see them, we don't need anything go offer to help him. It was so simple, like this simple little lesson this little nugget is about. And I, you know, and so I did, I came off the road two days a week and I would spend one day in the Secaucus office by the way, at the time, I didn't even know he had a Secaucus office and I would spend one day in new york? And and later, I mean just to fast forward go fast forward. Three years later, my boss, Bernie mullen, who's wonderful guy leads to go run the hawks and thrashers and David Stern, the commissioner met before calls and he's like, I can't believe I'm doing this, but I'm gonna offer you his job. There's only one reason they offered me his job because he asked all his deputies, all the top people in the different places. Who's the guy over there? Like scott another person, you know, because of Jeff Robinson saying, go connect the dots, go spend time with your colleagues, go see if you can be of help to them. And it's like that, that little, that little adage is something I've, I've carried forward to what some people call networking, which I don't I don't love the term and I don't even love the anything around it.

But I do love connecting with people, but my love of connecting with people is about how I can help them. It's not what I can get from them. It's just like a little nuance that helped kind of redefine how I see the world and how I go through the world and how I connect the dots and organizations and how I walked through organizations and um, but yes, no, that was not, not the prettiest sometimes for me. No, that's an unbelievable story. Uh, and yeah, I'm glad you had a context of that because I, I just had no idea how Justin timberlake thing could have failed, but I'm glad you love is there, but what I love so much though is the simplicity and I think geniuses usually in the simplicity there and the simple lessons, I'm wondering now roles reverse where you have people young potentially arrogant in their career, not seeing some of these simple, elegant solutions. How do you teach them? Because sometimes the mentor can say the simple lesson but they're just not ready to see it yet. I'm wondering when you run in that scenario, what does that look like? Yeah, it's a good question. I you know, I we have two forums to have those discussions, so um one is we take our top our leaders and director, if you're managing anybody, you come to the what we call a go forward because we don't retreat, so we have this go forward once a year and it's put on, the content is put on by internally, so it's it's considered like a great honor to be asked to facilitate one of these sessions And then we put, you know, these folks through a pretty intense three months training to get them ready to facilitate in front of 200 people.

And oftentimes you'll have people there that are, you know, afraid of public speaking or anxiety or have never done something like this and so we have to get over like the actual physical delivery and then we actually leverage some content to get them to be experts in content and then we teach them how to, how to build and how to, how to deliver that time. Uh, isn't valuable because I get, we get the leader of the organization and get a lot of time with the up and coming stars organization a lot. So we're meeting at least once a week when we get closer, we'll meet 34 times a week. And so when you build that, that bridge and that bond, um, you get trust and with trust comes the license to deliver feedback. And so that's one way, the second way is I have a lead, a monthly leadership development session and I typically pick an article or podcast or a ted talk or something I've heard and we use that as the basis for discussion. Everybody's got to do it before and then we walk in and I do a little descript little, hey, here's what's going on.

And then we pulled from the group a little bit and then I break them up into groups and they have, and they're, they're broken out. You know, different levels. You could have a president of a team with a marketing manager and groups of eight or so and we talk about real issues. So we have sessions to talk about trust and feedback and communication and um, what that. So it gives us a forum to discuss and debate. This is not, my style is very, it's different. Um, it's not hierarchical or I don't think I have been a good general in the army is very much team based, we manage, you know, So speak. We, I would say like we run the organization for the top five versus the bottom 5%. So how might that show up? For example. So um, vacation policies and I've never, I know some of my biggest frustrations in my world have been growing up and being squeezed by finance, squeezed by legal, squeezed by HR you know, as I've gotten older and hiring organization, I'm like, okay now I understand the value of control functions.

However, um, I just want to make sure that, that when we're setting up policies and procedures that we're setting them up to create this greatest place to work in the world and to do that. I think we have to set it up for the stars. I don't think. You know, for example, um, think about vacation policy. So how frustrating is it? I remember my first job I got, I had no overtime, no benefits, no vacation. I remember going to my boss and saying like, hey, my family always goes to Rambo key for easter can I go and him saying no, I'm like, you've got to be kidding me anyway. So so we don't have a paid time off house as you can take whatever you want. What's interesting is like what you found is like our vacation actually dipped versus increased which like you wouldn't, you would never think do you think it counter like wait a second you tell me I can take all the time I want off but I take a less which I don't subscribe to you by the way. I'm a vacation taker.

I love, I was just in hawaii I love vacation. I think it's like a great healthy thing to do and so I am pushing my group typically my direct to take more vacation because I think you need time to clear your head and clear space. But the point is is that the policy is set for the best of the best because that's why I want to work here. Now the reverse of that is you get two weeks need to sign offs from your manager, one sign off from his manager and then the head of HR will sign off, we need to know uh two weeks in advance where you're going so where are you gonna be accessible and if not and how like I don't know I just want to work in that organization. I want to be part of that organization is not inspiring to me. And so I don't know, I, I guess I guess holistically what I'm saying is is that as a leader you've got to figure out what you want and and sometimes that might look really different if you're starting up an organization and you've got five people ain't trying to change the world with five people in the shoestring budget. Um but maybe not, well, I think you bring up a great point there.

It's about the holistic element and I probably should have asked even a better question because you bring up all these little things about building trust and the time you take with with the people in your organization around these go forward events and it's the little things that become the big things. And so that's a crucial element. I think that's kind of like what, what's what's underneath all of this? And it's those little elements, what I love is, well is you're talking about the style and design and I'm wondering for you when you felt like you designed and you stylistically had a grasp on, on who you were and what your leadership style was all about. It. Was that something earlier that come later for you? You know, I I was I have been a leader for some time, like as early as I can remember, I think I've been a captain on every time I ever played play for it. I'm not an elite athlete like you by any means. Um But I I remember playing this in the summer league and my friend asked me to play sectional basketball player, I was not. Um and I played a cow started for four years, nasty player right through and we came to huddle and you know, we come over and I was just like, he's like, yo and I was like, hey what?

So he pulls me aside like, hey on the start you're the captain was like got it, you know, so so I've had that kind of flow with a lot of people. So I kind of walk and talk like a leaders, you know, for better or for worse for quite some time in terms of style of leadership. Boy, it's still evolving. I don't, I don't think there will ever be a finished product. I certainly hope not. Um I think there's so many things in the world that are changing. Can you imagine taking a style that worked in the 90s and trying to apply it now the whole world is different, like you would be talking a different language to different people who don't understand what you're saying and why you're saying it. And um and I think the, I think the days of command and control are, I don't want to say they're over. I'd say like for a lot of businesses, they'll be very difficult to be extraordinary. Uh because there are too many data points and you need to move and make decisions.

Your organization has to make decisions at too fast a pace for you to be making them more and so therefore I guess, I think that there's an opportunity for us all to take a look and think about how, how we're going to empower our our best people. Um, and how comfortable you are in decision making and making sure that they understand kind of what that scope is and how they get there and why they get there and when they get there. And if not, we should look at ourselves in the mirror for sure. And then we should look at our teams and say, do we have the right people in the right spots? Um, if not changed them, you know? Um, I listen to one of your podcast and I thought that you asked really insightful question about how you move people on. Um, and I do want to touch on that a little bit. I think it's like talk about evolution of as a leader. I've unfortunately, you know, for you call whatever you want turned fired, let go hundreds of people in my life, Hundreds.

Um, and in many cases, this is not gonna win an award at the H. R. Of the year banquet. But I do it very differently. I, I truly, um, I use the word love and business. I don't know, no one wants to hear that either. But I love the people I work with is a family. That's how it's said. We spend way too much time with each other. And as I'm fond of saying to my team, you don't have to like each other, but you have to love each other. You know, meaning when they fall, you catch them. You know, it's like you don't have to go to dinner with them, but you better love them. It's like your brother, your sister and when you're a teenager. Um, and so when somebody is struggling, I typically to pull them aside and say to them, you know, hey, you're the same smart, talented, creative person that we hired two years ago. Like you're as wonderful now, better than you were two years ago, Something is not working here, there's not a fit. And so whether that is your manager, me the style, the way the place works circumstance, you, it's just not fitting.

And so you're not going to have much of a future here that is going to carry you in your career. So let's talk about what the next six months looks like. Let's talk about what place you think is going to inspire you to optimize who you are to allow you to be the best person yourself and let me be on that journey with you to help you get there. Think of like Think of that. Okay, now 100 things can go wrong. They don't, but 100 things can go wrong person can go off the grid. They can tell everybody what a terrible person I am. They can cheat the company out of something. They have whatever those hundreds of things that can go wrong. They don't, they don't because they know that I love them and they know that I'm here to help and they know that I'm invested now we have a contract, if you will a physical contract contract and I say like you have to do your job at the highest level, you have to work as hard as you're working, you have to be an extraordinary teammate for that. You got me okay. And let's spend the next six months figure out where you're gonna end up. And so they oftentimes leave and nobody knows that's between me and that person every single time and I get christmas cards from them, you know, and so because I'm not putting their family at risk, I'm not putting them at risk, I'm not giving them reputational risk.

I'm not, you know, you know, putting away, we have a reputation as a really good place to work where talented people work. I don't want like a scarlet letter on them that says they can't hire them because they didn't hack it because it has nothing to do with. It's just the situation and circumstance. So, so I think there are ways to treat people that that apply to work in home and community and family just like just, and I think we've got to surround that, you know, and I think as leaders, especially at a time where we're coming out and we're all isolated and and um distanced and wearing masks and disconnected, it's like now is the time as the leader, we gotta pull everybody together and we've got to go one or two or three steps further and better than we have or will to make sure that, that we are supporting those who are driving the organization scott. That's just an incredible approach there. I feel like a very refreshing approach and you can just see how how deeply connected and rooted you are with your people looking out for their best interests.

And I was going to ask the question around collecting people and I hate that phrase, but it seems like you've had such an impact on so many people throughout their lives and one of these small things, it sounds like that you do is around this element. I'm wondering what else you've done for those people ahead of you that have been mentors for you, where they say, you know what, I really see something in scott or I did see something in scott and I'm going to go to bat for him. What are some of those other elements that, that you've done and put on throughout your career? Uh, good question. Um, you know, it's interesting, like as you come up the ladder, um, sometimes you become like, I've jumped some of them in terms of their, their roles, which is really strange. So someone who mentors you when you're 25 then you walk back 10 years later and you're there, you're there senior in terms of like corporate whatever. Um, so that other than those like strange dynamics, Um, most of the mentors I've worked with are become friends, you know.

Um, and, and in many ways, um, I think the joy, I guess the joy that I received from people who have worked with along the years that are, they would consider me a mentor and they're out, you know, chris, granger runs village and tom Glick runs Carolina panthers and chris heck runs the six years. I don't have some incredible people that worked with that are doing incredible things. They're my best, um, the best reward they can give me as a friendship and I think that's how I, I see the relationships going forward. I mean I have one kind of funny examples of set Berger who founded and one if you know the sneaker company and one, but it was incredible brand and um, and he was the founder, I was the president of hoops TVs failed startup I had, um, but he now runs our innovation lab, so it's kind of like a small world, he was definitely mentor by the deer, one of my best friends in the world and a dear friend back then. But I, I looked at him, I learned, I learned so much from him um, and still do to this day, but that's kind of a fascinating thing has always worked for him and then he technically works for me.

Well, I think everybody works for him, but nonetheless, um, that's kind of a funny one, But I joe banner who, who was President of the Eagles a dear friend to stockton last week, Lynn cameras. He's the ceo of Cleveland Cavaliers for last 20, some odd years. I worked for him. He's a dear friend these days. Adam Silver is now the commissioner of the NBA. So I had these like, I mean it's either just dumb luck or incredible insight or some combination, but I've worked for so many incredible leaders and who now I'm privileged enough to call a friend scott. You mentioned in one, I don't know if you know my age here, but come on and one mixtape tour, I mean I was glued to the tv every day. I get those guys, I, I had the ball bounced off my head, I dribble between my legs. It was infuriating. But at the end, one gym because our office is next door and so, so we would play with them in their off season before their tours and boy, oh boy, quite a lot of good memories in the backyard, trying to impersonate and replicate what we saw.

There was one of the things I love is we're talking about some of these extraordinary people, just some of the people you've listed as far for you being able to look into them. Are there certain commonalities that are just foundational amongst the majority of these people that you consider high performers or just have deep lasting impact with the people that work with them. Yeah, they've all, they all have, I'm trying to get commonality. I think values, values, values, they all know who they are, they know what they stand for and there they're all effective at letting people know. So that that's the one clear, like, you know, their values driven people, they're all really, really smart and I don't mean like you smart or book smart. Um, I mean that they truly have the ability to take an information, be lifelong learners connect the dots and be able to put into action. And I think the third team, third thing would be, is just people, you know, I have not met an incredible leader who didn't love people.

Um, and, and it all comes in different shapes and sizes and the styles are all different. Doesn't mean some of these guys are very tough. You know, Director David Stern was one of the top this path I've ever been around. He said some things that were not great, but, but I will tell you, But I know that when I had a tough personal thing going on in my life, there was one person, he was the first person to reach out, anything you need anytime. I mean, so they don't know they had a sense of all these incredible people in my life. I feel like today I could call any one of them and say, Hey, I'm struggling, I need X and I will get it. And I hope they would say the same thing about me. And so I think, I think those are the three things you bring up values there first and you know how much I admire you for, for the foundational values that you live off of. And I remember the first time I read a great piece by you, which was about being able to get out of the office every day at 5 30 to coach your daughter's basketball team. And I'm thinking here, you are one of the most elite high performing executives ceos on the planet with responsibilities and you're able to get out of the office every day.

And this is even when I was young, starting my family and I said, wait if scott can do this then like why aren't more people doing this? And that, that really was one of those like ah ha wake up moments for you, I'm wondering for you, what was that? Ah ha, moment where it's, you know what, I've got extreme clarity on how I'm going to live my life moving forward here. Yeah. You know, I, I married a very, very strong woman in a very fortunate, you know, I married way over my head and we were so young, I mean holy moly. Um but we married 25 years now. So I have a great and she grew up in the sports business. So she's a great, a great grounding force, which is wonderful. Um and and we blessed with three daughters is a gift that keeps on giving. Um I'm not sure if there is a moment. Um you know, we both come from really strong family, so we kind of get the family thing for one real insight for me growing up in the business, because I'm working 100 100 and 50 nights a year, you've got to, you got to figure it out, like, you have to figure out like, where you're going to, we're going to trade off, because your life is gonna get swallowed up, and you have to figure out what's uh w M I and what's most important, like, you have to figure out what's your w m I s you have to figure out what you're going to prioritize, and you have to figure out what you're gonna give up, like, what are you willing not to do, because you can't do it all?

It's like, I don't care what anybody says, you can't be great at everything you do, it just doesn't work. And so, I know for me it's like, work is that I am passionate about work. You know, I am really passionate about my family, and I'm passionate about my faith, and, like, and so what drops off, you know, well, my friends dropped off a bit, you know, and so if I want to see my friends, I haven't come to a game, like, that's not great, like, I've missed a lot of weddings, you know, I missed uh you know, I missed a lot of birthdays, I missed a lot of parties and like I can't do it all, and that's that's what part of my life I just took out and so, you know, there's some other, you know, again, it's like life is about, if you just think about life as being about trade offs, and once you understand what's really critically important to you, then decisions become um simple decisions never become easy because you don't want to tell your your friend, you're not going to his wedding. Your friend grew up together, it's like, sorry man, I can't make it.

Um and that stuff stuff I will say like um coaching and sports and you know, again, you know, that's giving your lead background um and the clinics and can't you put on and you know, like there's something really special About sports uh in particular, girls and boys have had a competitive advantage for 50 years and here's the advantage we all play sports growing up and whether you were good or bad, you learned some really, really valuable lessons, you learned how to win and lose. Hopefully graciously, I didn't lose so graciously when I was young, but I got better at it, still not great, learn how to lead and follow, you, learn how to sweat and give give for somebody else, you learn how to compete, all that stuff, you can translate the business every single of those things now girls and girls sports now are exploding or have exploded. Um And and I thought that my opportunity with my daughter's um you figure it out like you have kids you know like you don't have much time with them.

Like our morning in our house still I've got teenagers now it's chaos in the morning. Like you don't have any quality time in the morning. Like where's my wife and I were trying to survive in advance? It's like the N. C. A. A. Tournament for us every morning. Like okay we did it like nobody killed anybody, let's go, you know so survived advance in the morning and then they got school, let's talk non pandemic school. Then they got sports, then I got homework. So how much time are you getting like real time during the week? I don't know, an hour Family dinner. You hope pandemic. At least we have family dinner and we have this little connect but without without the pandemic. I hope for a family dinner. If not I'm hoping for 15 freaking minutes a day. So I better figure out how I optimizes 15 minutes now weekends. You gotta carve now my kids are teenagers. They got boyfriends, you're driving all over the place they got their friends about. So I'm like get him here, that's my thing while I'm here. Um I play who for them Girls and boys on saturday morning. You know why I love to play hoop. I'll play any time. But it's my connect time with my daughter sometimes she's the only girl that shows up and she can, I mean like real like young man big boys plan, but I don't know.

I love it in terms of coaching. I never coached good teams, only rec teams. And so like what I loved about it was I was saying get your friends and she's gonna play basketball. I don't care for the wrong team. And so even when there was a draft of these crazy leads with the crazy coaches, I would just take her friends because like I wanted to know their friends and this was a way for me to know them and I like our first practice and I just was this one from age 5-7 days created when I got my last year as my one, my youngest. Um, and then they're up to high school to do this thing. But like we sit down the first time we're talking about favorite ice cream, favorite movies, favorite friend, favorite place to eat, favorite place to vacation. That's the first practice just getting to know each other. And so it's like in our teams, I mean, I think I want one championship in like 50 seasons. Okay. So this is not like I am not John Wooden, but I will tell you that my girls all played the next year every time and that's what that was my measures like I want them to fall in love with the sport. I want them to fall in love with each other. I want them to learn how to compete like hard, like actually want to win more than anything else at that moment because I think those little little lessons you have are, those are the ones you're gonna carry with you and those are the ones that, and those notes I get from their different parents are the, I mean I cherish those as much as any business deal I've ever done those success metrics and coaching.

You bring up such a value, valuable and often overlooked one. How many kids play the next year, What we've all, we've all had those coaches that the last thing you want to do is go out the next season. So I love the big approach there. I'm wondering for you because you have so much clarity around this. I'm wondering when the thoughts just started to bubble up for you to write the book, to really put down a lot of this thinking a lot of the lessons you've learned throughout the years into book form. I've read about you talking about a life changing moment with your father in law passing by and and minds a similar story. Like I am my best friend um took his own life and best friend for 20 years names will carton five amazing kids, incredible wife, successful guy, um suffering from depression and shot himself and it's really like I had never experienced grief before. Um, and my dad had passed away about a year earlier and he was suffering from dementia and Parkinson's and a bunch of stuff so in agony.

So I was praying that he would pass him but he didn't, I was sad and I felt mortality, but it wasn't different was, it wasn't grief when will pass away. I, I would like be in a meeting and start crying and just walk out or I would like not to be able to get out of bed. Like it was like I couldn't even function at a high level and I began to write, um, as my healing and I began to talk to people I knew in my network to talk about times, they struggled and and what they did to overcome it unless you say learned and what I found was, and so this book that I wrote where your feet are, is not a victory lap. You know that there's no victory lap in here. This is about, hey, I got kicked in the face and here's what I learned and here's another guy got kicked his face and this what he learned. This is what she learned when she got kicked in the face and I, I, you know, as FDR said, um, rough seas make the best sailors. It's like I, I, so I had this, this event happened in my life and I started writing and then Randall right, a good friend of mine can co author of the book said to me like, scott, you need to publish this.

And I was like, I don't know, it's personal, like there's personal stuff in here I guess about my life, you know, it's about my friends and where they had their darkest moments and you know, it's a, it's a hardcore, hardcore um topic for me. And he said, well, what are you interested in that? So I'm interested in helping people I'm interested in to help change lives. I'm interested, I want to move the world, I want to like, I want to leave it better. And I found it make my dent like where am I making my dental? But it's like, then do this. And so so I did it, you know, and ST martin's published it Tim Barlett and I had it was incredible editor and I had to, everything just came together. It felt like, you know, the world like opened up before me and it was nice and I um, you'd be hard pressed if you knew me well to call me a writer. You know, I, I did get a writer, someone help me Michel Banda who's wonderful, who took my like, you know, I was like, you know, like, I don't know if you ever saw the movie forrest gump, but like, like forest was running, I was writing so I just wrote, wrote and she made it a book.

So I'm like, strange, like I'm proud of it. Like I'm, it sounds like a strange thing to say, but I'm proud of doing it and accomplishing it and, and then I wanted to, I wanted to, I wanted to get wide, I want people to see it and read it because I think it can help and um, I've given talks, I needed to like, I, you know, I've been up on stage in front of a, you know, hundreds of audiences and some have been not great and some have been really good, but I always think about like, can I move one person today, You know, that's what I want. Like give me up a stage, give me a microphone, give me a little, you know, get some slides up there and can I get to one and you move one person today and I think it's a good day scott. Yeah, I'm in agreement that you should be incredibly proud. I feel like a lot of times we read these books that a lot of them have foundational principles, but we don't hear the depth and authenticity that you went to where I'm reading this and I'm like being moved viscerally at an emotional level with, with some of the stories and the depth you go to of what it's really like during this journey that we're all on and so I just, I, I appreciate the hell out of it.

I loved it. I learned so much from it. So it was really cool for me to get to read that and hear more about this. Uh so I know we're gonna close up here in a minute. I know you've mentioned a couple of books and of course we're gonna have your book be where your feet are linked up. What are some of the other things that have left the most lasting impression on you? Because this book for me really hit me hard. So I just want to go for you. What have been some of the ones for you? Oh thank you. Yeah. Leadership and self deception by the Harbinger group is one of my all time favorites. Um The magic of bleeding by Claude bristol is a book john Spoelstra made me read when I was 22 I had a real impact in my life. Um Anything by Chester Elton and Adrian got sick on appreciation and you heard me, you probably heard me say gratitude appreciation. I don't, I don't even remember saying it. I'm sure I said it a dozen times on this on this podcast because um and and there he is the Apostle appreciation and his his work is brilliant. Um Patrick Franchione E52 functional dysfunctions of a team. Everybody should read, it should be required reading. Um but yeah, I have a ton of books I'm at my disposal and read quite a bit and I just encourage everybody just pick up a book and read it.

And by the way, please, this is my only only request is like whether you buy my book or someone else's book, um consider doing that one of the indie bookstores, small businesses getting slaughtered right now. And I mean I love amazon, I love the company, I think they're doing incredible work and they're doing great. But in terms of helping those um in our neighborhood, whether you know, it's it's a you know, an auto going inaudible and you know, I'm not buying inaudible, it's great or kindle fantastic. If you can walk into an indie bookstore and buy thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Awesome. So lifelong learning people, authenticity, so many amazing themes. Final question here. If you could sit down with anyone, do something like this long form interview with anyone dead or alive, just not a family member or friend who would you love to sit down and interview martin Luther King Jr I have studied him, I have watched movies about him, I have read books about him. I've seen all his speeches and I would love an hour with him.

Fantastic answer. Well scott o'neill, I cannot thank you enough for joining us on what Got you there, You're amazing. I wish you continued success can keep doing what you're doing. This makes a difference, it makes an impact and I will keep being one of your biggest consumers. Thanks, john you guys made it to the end of another episode of What Got You there. I hope you guys enjoyed it. I really do appreciate you taking the time to listen all the way through. If you found value in this, the best way you can support the show is giving us a review, rating it, sharing it with your friends and also sharing on social. I can't tell you how much I appreciate it. Looking forward to you guys listening to another episode.

#242 Scott O'Neil- CEO of Philadelphia 76ers & New Jersey Devils on Being Where Your Feet Are
#242 Scott O'Neil- CEO of Philadelphia 76ers & New Jersey Devils on Being Where Your Feet Are
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