Theo Epstein, the president of baseball operations for the Chicago Cubs, discussed leadership qualities, his life experiences and baseball on Jan. 16 in his Florida Forum address/discussion, which was moderated by Jacksonville University President Tim Cost.
Produced by the Women’s Board of the Wolfson Children’s Hospital to support the efforts of the hospital, the event drew 1,300 people to the Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts. Following the discussion, guests ate, drank and posed for photographs with the Cubs president at a post-show reception across the street at the Omni.
According to Cost, no sports executive has ever been rated the No. 1 leader in the world, before Epstein. The Cubs leader, who was the youngest general manager in Major League Baseball (MLB) history when he signed with the Boston Red Sox in 2002, was ranked No. 1 on Fortune Magazine's 2017 World’s Greatest Leader list and named one of Time Magazine's 100 Most Influential People in the World.
"What did you make of that when you heard what they were seeing in you?" Cost asked Epstein during their discussion.
"My wife never let me hear the end of it," Epstein joked.
The Cubs president went on to say he doesn't pay much attention to individual recognitions, because he prefers to see his team succeed and be recognized as a winning organization, rather than accolades for himself.
"When you're part of a great team and part of a great organization, and you see so many people sacrifice," Epstein said, "that's really the greatest reward there is. And then when we win, these recognitions follow. I love when the team is recognized."
As for leadership, Epstein said he prefers leaders who can empathize with others. The Cubs president highlighted the importance of connecting with people because every business, he asserted, is a "people business."
"Baseball is too," he added. "You can have all the stats in the world and get the most detailed metrics you want, but that's not going to win you baseball games. What wins you baseball games are 25 human beings out there with their own personal histories, with their own way of thinking, with their own ambitions."
Epstein concluded that the winning formula for baseball is getting the best performance out of his personnel. According to Epstein, Cubs Manager Joe Maddon is adept at maximizing talent. The Cubs president described the veteran manager as a perfect fit for his young team.
"We all want to feel valued as people and nobody does that better than Joe Maddon," he said, "who is the perfect guy for us at a moment in time when we have acquired a lot of young talented players who are not yet established in the big leagues."
Epstein noted that player progression in baseball comes with many ups and downs, which explains why he thinks it takes a long time to rebuild. When the Cubs signed Maddon, Epstein said, the manager was able to "almost instantly" establish an environment that made young players feel like they could be themselves.
"Instead of feeling like they better not screw up and they better play not to lose," Epstein said, "[Maddon] created an environment where in order to fit in they just had to be themselves, have fun and care about winning."
The Florida Forum Speaker Series is presented by Wells Fargo, Florida Blue and Landstar, as well as many other supporters of the Women's Board. The 2017-2018 series concludes on March 5 with Ambassador Caroline Kennedy. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit www.womensboardwolfsonchildrenshospital.com.