retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

Okay, I can't leave you starting a Monday morning with such a sobering Eye-Opener as the one above.

So I've got another one.

Perhaps you saw that Fortune is out with an issue in which it names the world's greatest leaders.

Number one, as it happens, is Theo Epstein, president of baseball operations for the Chicago Cubs, who engineered the organizational makeover that positioned the team to end a 108-year championship drought with a World Series win. This replicated a feat that Epstein performed in Boston, where as general manager he helped lead the Red Sox to a World Series win after a mere 86 years without a championship.

An excerpt:

"A few weeks before spring training of 2012, in the ballroom of a budget hotel in Mesa, Ariz., Theo Epstein stood before nearly every person connected with the baseball operations of the Chicago Cubs and told them how the Cubs were going to win the World Series.

"Epstein devoted the first three days of the session to on-field strategy: hitting philosophy, pitching philosophy, defense, and baserunning. But the entire last day was devoted to character. The Cubs, Epstein insisted, would acquire only players with outstanding makeup. Even Epstein realized himself how far he had evolved since he put so much faith in numbers when he began as general manager of the Red Sox. Now character did not just matter. It was essential to Epstein’s blueprint to win the World Series."

The story notes that "Epstein gave his scouts very specific marching orders. On every prospect he wanted the area scout to give three examples of how that player responded to adversity on the field and three examples of how that player responded to adversity off the field ... Cubs scouting reports would never look the same again."

This reminded me of an executive I know who likes to take prospective hires out for a meal and watch how they interact with waitresses and waiters; if they are condescending or rude in any way, they don't get hired. And I know a couple of executives who love to recruit employees from restaurants where they have exceptional experiences, because they know that those skills are both exceptional and priceless. (I once had breakfast with New Seasons CEO Wendy Collie in Portland, and watched her work hard to recruit our waiter, who would've been a fabulous addition to any staff. It was enormous fun to watch.)

Character matters. That always is an Eye-Opener.

Character, by the way, also means not taking the credit, even if you deserve it.

Epstein responded to the owner with this statement to ESPN: "I can't even get my dog to stop peeing in the house. That is ridiculous. The whole thing is patently ridiculous. It's baseball—a pastime involving a lot of chance. If [Cubs All-Star Ben] Zobrist's ball is three inches farther off the line, I'm on the hot seat for a failed five-year plan. And I'm not even the best leader in our organization; our players are."

That's character.

Oh, one other note.

In the Fortune ranking, Pope Francis, who "continues to inspire and surprise as he reconciles the conflicting demands of traditionalism and modernity within the Catholic faith," came in third.

When asked about this, Cubs manager Joe Maddon had an easy explanation:

"The Pope didn't have as good a year."

The Fortune rankings are very interesting, and can be read here.
KC's View: