Bobby Valentine Shares Business Experience with SHU Students
At Sacred Heart University, former New York Mets manager, ESPN baseball analyst and restaurateur Bobby Valentine was the featured speaker on Thursday, February 24, as part of the John F. Welch College of Business’ ‘Conversations’ Lecture Series. The event was moderated by Dr. Joshua Shuart, chair of SHU’s Department of Marketing and Sport Management, and organized by Michael Larobina, professor of management and associate dean for program development and corporate relations.
A native of Stamford, Conn., Valentine followed a 10-year major league baseball career as a utility player by becoming the only manager to take a National League, American League and Japanese Pacific League team to the World Series. He also has been a successful restaurateur. He is currently employed as a baseball analyst by ESPN and was recently appointed Stamford’s director of public health and safety by that city’s mayor.
He attributed his successful career to talent, hard work, leadership skills and a lot of luck. Valentine, 60, told the audience of business students, SHU staff and sports fans that he was “lucky” when his three-year junior high school closed before his freshman year, allowing him to spend ninth grade in high school. That provided him an opportunity to play high school sports as a freshman and gave him a head start, he said. Other instances of luck, according to Valentine, were an invitation to a charity event honoring Howard Cosell, which led to meeting his future partner in the restaurant business and even the timing of current job with ESPN. And, he said he was lucky to have wonderful parents who always wanted what was best for his brother and him.
He advised students looking for jobs without experience to have passion for what they do. “You can’t teach experience; you have to learn by doing. But if I were hiring someone without experience, I would look for a passion for what they are doing and commitment to it. Success in life is about passion and commitment,” he said. “Skill is not necessarily the main thing you are looking for. A manager isn’t always looking for the homerun, but for the little successes that add up to a big success – the passion and commitment that doesn’t show up in a box score.”
He told the management students that a good manager is also a leader. “Not all managers are leaders and not all leaders are managers. I believe I am a manager who can lead,” he said. “In Japan, the word manager translates to director. A manager of a team – in baseball and in business – is more of a director once the game starts. You have to raise the volume and bring it down as appropriate, cue the violins and bring in the lefthander,” he added to laughter.
He advised the students to find every opportunity to lead. “If you like to lead, you can do it from your neighborhood or from the mayor’s office. You have to know where you are and where you want to go. Then, if you’re a good manager and leader, you direct your team on how to get there,” he said.
Valentine also emphasized the importance of knowing right from wrong and the three Rs, which he said are responsibility, respect and reality. In the end, though, he always came back to passion, commitment and luck. “You can’t find luck if you are sitting in a corner or you’re in jail or you’re snorting cocaine,” he told those gathered.
During the audience Q&A, there was naturally a lot of discussion about baseball. He told the group that he fell in love with the Japanese culture – and learned to speak Japanese – during his tenure with the Japanese Pacific League. “Ninety percent of the people there are baseball fans. Grandmas keep score; kids keep a baseball glove in their bike basket; and everyone knows the history of the game,” he said. He predicted that Major League Baseball will eventually have a division in Asia. “The infrastructure is all set there. There are stadiums and fans, and it will provide an opportunity for a new generation of fans here in the United States. There will be televised games at 6 a.m. here because of the time difference. Kids and moms will watch before school.”
He spoke emotionally about baseball in New York after September 11, 2001. “There was no baseball from September 11-17 and there was talk of not playing games in New York. I was against that,” he said. “The terrorists and the world were looking at our reaction, and our reaction was timid and fearful. I thought we needed to come together and defy them.”
He recalled Mike Piazza’s game-winning home run in that first home Mets game after the attack. “When the ball went over the fence, there was silence. Nobody knew how they were supposed to react or if they could show emotion. Then suddenly the place went bonkers,” he said. “After that, people told me they began to heal.”
Eddie Kennedy, ’12, a marketing and sport management major, described the event as “inspirational. I loved his correlation between leading as a manager and leading in business,” he said.
Larobina said he was inspired to invite Valentine to SHU after numerous conversations about leadership and management. “I though his experiences would be helpful to the students. He has often conveyed that the skills needed to lead others were the same in baseball and in business,” he said. “The things we are teaching the students could change in five years, because the business world is always changing. But Bobby’s message that the important things are hard work, respect, commitment and knowing the difference between right and wrong are the same lifelong learning skills that the faculty and the college are teaching the students.”