The alpha culture is different than an effective culture,” says today’s guest, Scott O’Neil. Scott is the CEO of Harris Blitzer Sports Entertainment (“HBSE”) which owns the Philadelphia 76ers, the New Jersey Devils, and other world-class sports entertainment brands. In today’s episode, Scott talks with our host, Christine McKay, about the importance of leadership and diversity in negotiation, in the supply chain, and embracing a different approach. He shares more about HBSE’s recently launched Buy Black initiative and how it impacts the organization, his people, and the community. Scott shares his wealth of experience gained from his first big business failure to being a leader in the industry and the sport he loves. Scott gets candid about the lessons he learned and how his youngest daughter taught him how to be even more effective in life and business. Whether or not you love the NBA, the NHL, or any other sport, this episode will show you how one CEO moved from being an alpha to being effective. Hold on to your seats because you do not want to miss this one!
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One CEO’s Journey to Impact the NHL, NBA, and the Community with Scott O’Neil
Scott, I am excited to have you on the show. Welcome.
Christine, thank you so much for having me. I’m thrilled to be here and a big fan of yours.
Thank you. For our audience, this is going to be a real treat and a real departure from how we normally do in the show. Scott and I go way back. We met each other over 25 years ago now. Scott and I went to business school together. I’m honored that he’s agreed to join us here on the show where we talk about helping small businesses become more successful in their negotiation especially in what I affectionately call David and Goliath negotiations where smaller companies are trying to compete and get business from or do business with larger organizations.
Scott is the Chief Executive Officer of Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment, an organization with a mission of building passionate, high performing teams that inspire and enhance the communities where its fans live, work, play and win. Scott is responsible for the organization’s leadership, its strategic vision, and global ambitions. He has been a decade–long alternative governor for the NBA and NHL. He is the CEO of all of HBSE’s dynamic global portfolio including more key teams, the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers and the NHL’s New Jersey Devils.
With more than twenty years of experience in the NBA and the NHL, Scott has earned a reputation as a leader of leaders and is one of the most connected, dynamic and driven executives in the industry. His reputation for authentic leadership, unparalleled drive to innovate and emphasis on corporate culture has placed him at the forefront of the industry. He is also the Co-managing Partner and Founding Board Member of Elevate Sports Ventures, a best-in-class sports and entertainment consultancy founded in partnership with HBSC, the San Francisco 49ers, Live Nation Ticketmaster and the Oak View Group. Scott has been married to his wonderful wife, Lisa, for many years and is the proud father of three amazing young women. It’s something that I share with him in terms of having three amazing young women as my own daughters. Scott, thank you so much for being here. I appreciate it.
For better, for worse, I’ve been in big companies, small companies and medium-sized companies. I’ve had leveraged, have been leveraged, have won a few, lost a few and tied a few. I’m excited to dig in and see if I can learn from you, the boss.
I know that you had a startup in the early 2000s as many of us were involved in startups that didn’t quite necessarily go the way that you wanted it to. I want to dive into that a little bit. Especially now in the pandemic environment, I know a lot of businesses that are thriving like crazy. Harris Blitzer is one of those companies that’s thriving in the market for a lot of different reasons. Tell me a little bit about the experience that you had when you were in the startup and how that led you down the journey that you have taken and where you’re at now.A diverse organization makes you stronger, more talented, and more flexible. Click To Tweet
We founded a company called Hoops TV, which was a convergence of basketball and hip–hop culture, music, food and everything in between. We raised money from AND1, one of the top sneaker companies in the world at the time. ESPN, Footaction and a blue–chip venture firm, we raised $15 million. We had an incredible management team. It was a video-heavy platform. There was no Wi–Fi at the time and the bandwidth is slow. We’re still in dial-up. I thought I knew way too much about everything. The world was moving fast. We went through $15 million in 18 months. I was like out of work, out of luck and had no money before you could bat an eye.
We did some fun things. We became the number two traffic basketball site in the world very quickly. We had incredible dialogue and relationships. We had found something pretty special in terms of capturing whatever this is of a basketball. It is the center of lifestyle and culture development in society. We couldn’t figure out how to drag a business with it. I made several mistakes along the way. It has a lot to do with negotiation. It was my first time running a company. When you run a company, you oftentimes have a vision or view of what that means. You spend time on a lot of things that don’t matter as opposed to the things that do.
There are a lot of things that went wrong. In hindsight, I was a collaborator in my defeat. That’s what’s the disappointment of it all. Things are going to happen. There’s going to be a pandemic. Your partner will leave. Your funding source will dry up. Your supplier will fail or fall or the people you’re selling to won’t want to buy. That’s the ecosystem we live in. I don’t want to be at the center of my failure. In this particular case, I was at the center of it. Having a lot of hindsight now looking back and thinking, “What would I have done differently?” I would have focused on three things, one, raising money, two, driving revenue and three, driving traffic. I would have had the whole company focused on that instead of all the other stuff in the ether that doesn’t matter.
One of the things that we talk about a lot is that part of every negotiation is the negotiation we have with ourselves, the negotiation that happens in between our ears. What I hear you talking about is, if I may be so bold, we graduated at the same time. All of us had a little bit of ego coming out of business school. Those mistakes over time, humble us. I’ve been watching the press on you and watching the press on Harris Blitzer and it is impressive that one of the things that I admire about you as a leader is you have this very authentic leadership style.
You bring people along for the ride. It’s impressive to see how you’re elevating women within the organization and minorities. Most of our clients are women and minorities in businesses. We’re very passionate about helping them to level the playing field and to ask for more of what they want and not be afraid of that. Tell me a little bit about how some of the lessons you learned from Hoops TV have translated into where you’re at, what you’re doing and if it has impacted your leadership. It does drive how you approach negotiation across the board.
It sure does. I’ve been broke or out of money several times in my life. Once I was born into a family of no means. That’s oftentimes the best way to be broke because you don’t know any different. A couple of times throughout my life and this was one of them, I left Hoops TV. I still had school debt. I didn’t have any money. Anything I had, I’d put into the company. I was emotionally a total train wreck. I was not prepared to get back and work. My wife was a stay-at-home mom at the time and had left her career. It was a fascinating time. I thought a lot about with self-reflection. I had 6,700 people working there.
They were all including my brother and some of my best friends in the world, all joined me at work and left without money. I did not want to go through that experience again. I always had a high compassion or empathy level for people. I have fallen in love since the very early stage in my life in terms of culture, teaching, leadership and development. It’s what gets me out of bed in the morning. A lot of that was very influential in terms of how I lead now. In terms of the diversity front, I was raised by a strong woman. I married a stronger woman. I’m raising hopefully even stronger women. I’ve been surrounded by incredible women my whole life.
As a father of teenage girls, when the boys come knocking and they do, girls are smarter. I got that right away. I truly believe that a diverse organization makes you stronger, more talented and more flexible. I learned a lot of lessons along the way in terms of my style. I’m a Type A loon. I like that in terms of the order of things. I managed a certain way, which was I’d put you on the spot quite a bit. You were up on your feet. You had to be sharp. You had no judgment. You had to be on debate and share your opinion. What I found out about that style is when I had my third daughter who’s introverted and that’s not her style.
I was having a hard time as a father connecting with her and a hard time moving her. You don’t want to talk about negotiation. I read a bunch about introverts and what I discovered was they are a lot more intuitive. They have better ideas. They’re oftentimes more creative. They’re oftentimes better problem solvers but what they couldn’t do is survive an organization I was running. For me, a lot of my reflection was, “The alpha culture is different than an effective culture.” For me, I focused and pivoted at that point and said, “Let’s create a different type of organization.”
I was at the National Basketball Association League Office at the time in New York. I set out to recruit a very diverse team and it was fun. I set up a policy in place quickly. One I’ve had since then. That was in 2001. Half the final candidates had to be diverse. They couldn’t be white men effectively. It was a bias against white men. It takes time. You can’t snap your fingers and create a diverse environment. It doesn’t work. Over time, it does because we’re spending the time with people who look like us. Most of my friends are white men. It’s the case. It doesn’t mean I don’t have diverse friends.
It doesn’t mean I don’t have women who are friends. I do. We’re more comfortable with people who look like us. That’s oftentimes where we live and where we congregate. It’s the way it works. It happens in hiring too. When you have a diverse team, it’s easy because the women will hire more women and African–Americans hire more people all the way down, Asian, Hispanic and so and so. Once you have diversity at the top and hiring positions, diversity becomes easy. It’s how you get there. The way we were going to get there at the NBA and then later at Madison Square Garden and now Harris Blitzer Sports Entertainment is that we do that.
When I walked into HBSE, we were 75% white men. At the VP level or above, we were 95% white men. We look now, a few years later and white men are not the majority. That’s progress and it’s not an accident. It is not. I’m not into charity. I’m a capitalist. I‘m not doing this because go team, girl power. I believe in girl power. It’s not my thing. I am a feminist for sure but that’s not why I’m hiring women. I’m hiring women because it makes our organization smarter. I’m hiring African Americans because it brings a diversity of thought and creativity that we didn’t have otherwise.
If you have the same ideas with the same people, with the same mindset, the same framework and the same experience, you are not going to come up with a creative solution to complex problems and guess what this world is, exactly that. We’ve got twelve women SVP or higher in our group, including a woman who runs our building, the chief operating officer and our chief marketing officer. It’s an incredible group of women. I’m proud of it.
I remember going way back, a sales manager that came to see me who was a man. It’s a fun culture. It’s a hardcore sales culture that has a root for each of their quality about it. It’s not a kill or be killed. It’s quite the opposite. Somebody sells something and everybody celebrates. That type of environment invites women to be very successful. Oftentimes our top sellers are women, which is another great source of pride. It’s unusual in the sports business.
Our sales manager came to me and he says, “You’re not going to believe it. This woman wants to leave.” I said, “What?” We have sellers that do $100,000. She was one who was doing $1 million. Losing a top seller, it’s hard. She said, “This is my sixth month on the job. I look up and there’s nobody I want to be.” It was a great quick eye-opener. I met with her the next day and said, “You’ve got to be patient with me.” I’m six months in. Things are going to change here. You’re going to see an incredible slew of talented women here. In many cases, moms and I know that’s not PC to talk about but working moms are a competitive advantage.
By the way, I tell every mom that comes in because I’m a dad. I coach my girls in basketball. I will leave to coach them. If there’s a school play, I’m at the school play. That is what I have decided to do. I’m going to role model the type of organization that I want. It’s up to you to role model it for the people who work for you because they’re looking at you. I’ve got an organization of young twenty-somethings. They’re looking all the time, “What is he wearing? What’s he doing?” How important is this game? Are you bringing your kids to a game or not? Are you working until noon or midnight? Are you out doing things you shouldn’t do? Are you living the way you say you’re going to be living? We all have an opportunity as leaders to represent that. That’s my full-circle story of what I learned along my path of destruction.
One of the things that you talked about in one of the other interviews that I watched was you said at the time you had players on the 76ers from eight different countries.
It’s five continents.
I desired to have your organization reflect both the diversity of your players but also the diversity of your audience is incredible. This goes back to the negotiation that we have with ourselves. A lot of small businesses and entrepreneurs are like, “I’ve got to work seven days a week. I’ve got to work twenty hours a day.” We do this to ourselves. As we bring people into the organization, that negotiation that we’re failing to have with ourselves is also then affecting the people who are working for us. They’re not going to speak out that what you’re doing is out of line with their value system because you’re paying them. They’re going to think that there’s no other alternative. It’s awesome that you do that. I’m curious how you’ve reflected that same level of diversity in your supplier base. Who are some of the companies that smaller organizations that you’ve done business with that have been successful partnerships for you along the way?
It’s a complicated question for Corporate America. We instituted what we call Buy Black Program. What we learned once again are traditional companies that are larger and more experienced. If you look at Corporate America, it’s managed by white men. Our program is designed to level that playing field. What we’ve done is we’ve set targets and offered up things that provide smaller businesses opportunities like different payment terms, different delivery terms.
What you were talking about there are some small companies that can’t quite hit the benchmarks of the larger companies and we’re trying to eliminate those. What’s interesting is that it will be more expensive for us as a company. That‘s the fact. The risk profile goes up a little bit. One thing that gets me out of bed in the morning is developing talent. The other one is to leave the world a little bit better than I found it. I’m very fortunate. I worked for Josh Harris and David Blitzer. They have wonderful, beautiful hearts, good family guys. They have the same interest in making the world better.An alpha culture is different from an effective culture. Click To Tweet
We’ve invested in a housing community in North Philadelphia, a tough part of the town and a joining community center. We added this Buy Black Program, knowing that there’s going to be a bit of an adjustment for us to get there. It’s a work in progress. Knowing that if we can help lift up minority-owned businesses, the world is better. In the end, it will play out. I hope to our advantage. We hired an incredible chief diversity officer, David Gould, who’s helping shepherd us through how this all is going to work. We also offered five free. We haven’t handled any of that.
If any of you are reading and you’re in and around Philadelphia, New Jersey, New York area, free sponsorships. Five free sponsorships to promote diverse businesses. I don’t know if it will help but it’s not going to hurt. It might give businesses a platform and a lift to not only be part of our Buy Black Vendor Program but also get some promotion in front of a different audience to hopefully drive their business forward.
We have an innovation lab. Thirty-five percent of our businesses are female or minority-owned businesses. We’re investing in businesses that need a bit of a helping hand. We think we’re doing our part. I oftentimes don’t talk about this stuff publicly much because I’m very proud of what we do and who we are. I always know we can do better and we can do more. While we can look back and say, “Yes, but you were doing little and now you’re here.” I was like, “Yeah, I’m here. I want to be here.” We have a long way to go. I don’t like patting ourselves on the back.
By the same token, I have people that are doing incredible work and trying to do our part. The thing about sports entertainment is we have a special place in society. We can influence and impact kids. That’s one of our missions. We can move politicians because the voters come to our games. We have influence. We’d like to use that for good. To an extent, we can make a difference and do our small part and want to do it. We’ve got to move as a society. We have to move to put our money where our mouth is.
You had made a comment that in light of what you explained strikes me. You talked about not being a charity, that you’re a capitalist first and you want to do the right thing. In your relationships, payment terms and delivery, lifecycle, etc., how did you get to the point where you made the decision on what things were going to be different for this pool of suppliers versus your traditional pool of suppliers?
We went back to those that are making the purchasing decisions and asked them to walk us through some different scenarios. We don’t understand why these certain vendors keep winning. David Gould, our chief diversity officer went out and spoke to John Harmon, who runs the African-American Chamber of Commerce in New Jersey. He is a good long–time friend of mine and a good source of the incredible wealth of business and knowledge. He connected us with several small businesses. We started asking questions. It’s a lost art.
We’re all very fond of talking. The lost art with young people I’ve seen come into the business. I remember when I came into the businesses, I used to hear, “No young people can write.” I’m like the old guy now. There are two steps that we missed. One is doing the work. Whether it be in negotiation or otherwise, you have to do the work. David Stern, the former commissioner of the NBA, who I worked for a long time, was great at saying, “Do the work.” I find myself saying that. I’m like, “Do the work.” You have to do the work. You walk into a negotiation.
I don’t care if you have 5, 50 or 5,000 employees. You walk into a negotiation. You better know where you’re going to be trading off. You better understand the person you’re negotiating with, what their perspective is and what’s going to be important to them because it would be very different from what’s important to you. You have to put a financial value on what those are. You are going to be trading off in real time. Do the work. Some of that is we can look at everything because the information is readily available to us. That will never go away doing the work. Information is widely available, why information matters and how are you preparing for it?
The second thing is the art of asking the right questions to the right people at the right time. You have to gain trust. You have to walk on coals to get there. There’s no perfect solution and answer but there’s not sales or negotiation. It’s not like the movies. It’s nothing to do with, like, “I got him.” It’s authentically understanding what the framework is and what they want to accomplish. I don’t believe in not everything is a win-win either. That’s not the way life works.
When I was younger, I was confident and aggressive. As I‘ve grown older, I’ve become less and less of one of those guys. I’ve learned more. I had this executive coach named Tricia Naddaff. She was amazing, brilliant and smart. She runs a company called MRG, a great company. She kept saying, “You’re like a warrior.” I’m like, “Yeah, I want to be a warrior.” She’s like, “You’re running a company now. You can’t be a warrior anymore.” I said, “No, that’s exactly what I want to be.” She said, “No, you’ve got to move from warrior to sage.” When you make that transition, your life is going to get better. You’re going to be more effective at your job. You’re going to be able to recruit better people. You’re going to be able to drive performance better.
If you think the way to drive extraordinary performance is for you to kill, for you to do it and I was like, “Yeah, I like to do that.” As I look back and think back now, she was a friend of my mom’s because that’s how I came into contact with her. What great advice in terms of even walking into a negotiation, you go kill. I’m thinking about that 3%. I leave the 3% on the table. It is a long life in a really small world. While I don’t believe in every negotiation is not, I also don’t believe you need to leave that small business halfway in the ground. I don’t think that’s the way that business works.
I don’t believe that’s the way life works but I’m in the business where I’m in a community. I need a lot of businesses. I need relationships with them. We’re going to grow together in different ways. I have different things that I can walk them through if it’s like one of our companies in one of our venture labs or one of our innovation companies, eSports company, marketing company or one of our teams or our venue. It’s about like, “How can I create strong relationships so we can do business together forever?” Part of that is making sure that they’re successful in any deal we do, even if it’s a win–lose situation because those come up.
You think about a bunch of things that when I’m speaking about negotiation I talk a lot about. One is I used to get into arguments with my professor, Jim Sabinas. I adore him. He was amazing but I used to always tell him that I thought the notion of win-win was crap. As I got started working with more and more large companies across the globe, what I saw especially when they were dealing with smaller businesses is that this concept of win-win became, “I‘m going to tell you that I’m a partner but I’m going to take you to the cleaners anyway. If I leave you halfway into the ground, to use your term, that’s okay because my switching costs aren’t that high. I’ll find another supplier.” Large companies do that all the time.
They go through small businesses as they go through Kleenex. It’s frustrating. It’s painful to see. In the smaller businesses, I see them making mistakes where they’ll get a large customer. In the dot-com era, it was always, “We’ve got to have this marquee account.” The marquee account will often drive you into bankruptcy. If you are doing everything to satisfy that one account, you lose sight of what your mission is and what is going to propel you to success. You’re not able to adequately service all the other customers you have. You’ve put everything, all your eggs in this one basket, you’ve convinced yourself that you have to do whatever this big customer tells you to. You don’t and that’s not a win-win nor was it ever the concept of what win-win has talked about in getting to us, the book that was published by Harvard.We generally spend time with people who look like us, but it doesn't mean we don't have diverse friends. Click To Tweet
It’s still considered one of the best vanguard books of all ages on the topic of negotiation. I’m not a win-win. At the end of the day, when you walk away from the proverbial negotiation table, somebody usually wins a little bit more. There’s also this phrase that everybody uses. I want a customer for a lifetime. I talk about renegotiation because it’s like, “That’s great. If you believe in a customer for a lifetime then you need to be willing to renegotiate your relationship over time because I may have one more at the table initially but that deal may stop working for you. If I care about you as a supplier and I care about the longevity of that relationship, I have to be able to meet you part way to make adjustments to that deal if, at the end of the day, it’s not working for you.” I talked about how Keith and I have been married for many years. The deal we entered into when we got married is not entirely the same deal.
It doesn’t even remotely resemble it.
If you don’t allow your business relationships to adjust, grow, and force each other to stay where you’re at, then that doesn’t serve either of you in a negotiation and in a business relationship.
There is a balance. You have to be a fiduciary for your company. The balance is that. That sometimes that part is not lost but how you navigate it and what you take and what you win. It goes back to that course, have you done your work? Do you know what matters to you and to them? Oftentimes, there are deals that are fair. If you have leverage, you’re going to get a better deal. We have this company Hydrant doing business in Walmart now. They came to us, they were doing $5,000 a month and all of a sudden, they’re in Walmart, 2,700 stores. We were like, “Holy moly.”
There is pressure on their business. There’s pressure on their supply chains. They wouldn’t trade that opportunity. Is it great for them? It’s an unbelievable opportunity. They have to adjust, stretch and learn. I did this with a very smart group. They’ll grow and they’ll figure out how to optimize it. Who has leveraged that? It’s 100% Walmart and zero to Hydrant. Walmart is smart enough to understand, “If we crush our upstart suppliers, we’re not going to ever have any innovation.” They’ve done a good job of making sure that they’re working with them so that they have innovative products coming up from small startup companies and emerging companies.
That’s hard for some of us as we’re going through and most of us are in an ecosystem. An ecosystem could be your industry or your community or your city, depends on what ecosystem matters to you and the world is swirling around you. It’s more interconnected than ever before. It would be different if I were a private equity guy and I bought a chemical company in Texas. I have no connection. I’m never going to buy another chemical company. I’m completely removed. I can make different decisions. In our business, it’s different. Every decision we make because of our business could end up in the media. Every decision we make has ramifications to the next person we’ll do a deal with.
Every decision we make with a partner, a client or a supplier will impact other partners, suppliers and customers. You have all these other businesses that we have to work across and hopefully, they’re working across with us. As the world gets more and more complex, those with the hammer or the 300–pound gorillas need to work more effectively with the companies or what will stop in the end is there will be no more mainstream for sure. There will be a lot fewer innovative ideas and innovative companies. That’s what this world needs whenever.
I want to go back a little bit to what you were talking about in terms of your style as a negotiator and as a manager because managing is a lot of negotiation. Whenever you’re trying to influence people to do something that’s in your interest, you’re negotiating. We call that a champion style. We call it a champion style because champions like to win at all costs and they’re warriors. They go into the negotiation ready for battle. They’re armed and armored. They want to win at all costs. I was talking to somebody the other week. I could tell that this man had encountered a lot of people with that negotiation style because he clenched a fist and he closed his whole body off.
He’s like, “How can you talk about negotiation? It’s so combative.” For me, negotiation is the fame is what it is for you, which is about the relationship. At the end of the day, a business relationship ends up not being fiduciary. Fiduciary responsibility is huge. You would love to make a profit and you would have to acknowledge that your counterpart also deserves to make a profit. I have a client that I closed a deal on. It’s a real estate deal. They made the small retail company $1.25 million in revenue. This woman owns a kid’s clothing store on the main street and in a small city in the southeast.
Her landlord is a $12 billion market company. These guys don’t want a deal. They’re being difficult. They don’t have that same view because they have these big-box retailers that occupy huge amounts of their space. My client, this little reseller who has a single store, $1.25 million a year in revenue, they don’t care about her. That relationship is not important because they see her business as disposable. They can find a replacement for it even in the current market. I love that you talk about relationships and the work that you’re doing around the Black Buy Program. I commend you for that. Thank you very much as a vanguard in leading some of those things in your industry. Do you have any negotiation story that you can tell of a negotiation where you think you didn’t like how it turned out? It was not a good negotiation for you. What were some of the things that you learned from that and how could that benefit some of our readers?
I’ve had many that have gone south. I’ve been spending some time in China before COVID. I’ve got an incredible team of dealmakers. Adam Davis is one and Sunshine Rogers is another. Allan Qi works for Sunshine. They’re Chinese born. They both live in the US and work with us. They had teed up a deal. It was a company called The Fung, which won’t mean anything to any of your readers. It’s the top arena stadium, seat, stage and lighting manufacturer in China, which a big company. They do some business internationally but would like to break into North America and saw us as a conduit to do that.Once you have diversity at the top and hiring positions, diversity becomes easy. Click To Tweet
We spent quite a bit of time with them. I spent time with Mr. Fung and his family, daughter and wife. We went to dinner. I went to his house. I spent time in his office and even visit us and showed places in Beijing and Shanghai. He came to Philadelphia and we did spend quite a bit of time together. Through translators, he speaks better English than I speak Mandarin. Even that was a learning experience, the delay. It’s exhausting because you’re thinking through everything. Everything takes twice as long but a wonderful experience, wonderful family, a brilliant businessman and good business. We have a president that evaporated relationships with China and the US. They took our games off the air and things went south in a hurry.
To be effective in China as a big business, you need to make sure that you respect the government’s wishes and their direction and the deal evaporated. This was nine months of work. I was excited. I liked him a lot and we aligned on values, direction and vision. I thought we could help him launch his business here at a pretty high level. I learned a ton through it. There are things we could’ve done differently in terms of pace and moving quicker. I could have done more upfront and learning about the cultural difference of negotiation, which was an adventure.
The big learning is sometimes it’s out of your control. The world is moving quickly. You have to do the best you can with what you have. Sometimes deals go south. I had one friend of mine whose name will remain nameless because it’s not a great story for him. He was talking about a mutual friend of ours and he said, “I don’t talk to him anymore. He doesn’t do any business with me.” I raised an eyebrow. He said, “Why would I spend time with him?” I’m thinking, “I’m a long life, small world guy. I’m going to stay friends with them forever.” I’m sure if I had his philosophy, I would not have stayed connected to Mr. Fung. As the world is opening back up shortly, I imagine we’ll have another interesting conversation to see. No deal might happen but it gives us an opportunity for that type of thing.
You’re only one person away from something great. It’s that you never know what that relationship is going to bring in terms of personal growth or professional growth. I agree that if we discard people because they don’t meet a certain need for us, we’ve robbed ourselves of the opportunity to be better people. I’ve worked and negotiated in 53 countries. One of the things that I love about international negotiation is that people are people. We care about the same things. I don’t care what government somebody’s part of or lives under or anything like that. People are people. When we approach in our negotiation, when we approach people knowing that, that we care about the same things, we want a roof over our head and we want our family to be safe, healthy and happy. We want to contribute to society. We want to be seen as contributing to society. Once we acknowledge that, a lot of our differences go away.
I have to tell you a funny story. The first time I met Mr. Fung, we were at his office. It’s an outer province. I noticed his daughter looked about my daughter’s age. I said, “Is that your daughter?” He said, “Yes. She goes to school in the US.” I said, “Where?” He said in Brooklyn. I didn’t remember doing this but he brought it up six months later. I took out my card and I wrote my cell phone on the back and I said, “Could you hand this to your daughter? I’m an hour from her. If she ever needs anything like medical, school, scape, a homemade meal, a secondary mom to come see, take this, whether we do a deal or not.”
I forgot I did it but I would want someone to do that for my daughter. It’s one of those stories that we talked about breaking down. He came back six months later and was telling a story that my translator was telling me while he was telling a group of his board, his investors, that’s the story he uses. He said in Chinese he is one of us, which is exactly what you want to hear about yourself as you’re building your relationship. I’ve forgotten the story. That’s the thing that makes your point.
A lot of small businesses who do business overseas especially if you’re somebody who’s starting to expand internationally, that’s something that oftentimes especially Americans, we sometimes forget. We set ourselves up on a pedestal as a society. We forget that other people are like us because we pass judgment on them for some reason. They didn’t live there. They didn’t grow up here. Don’t do that.
I’m speaking at this conference called Leaders. I was speaking with my brother and my brother is incredibly creative. We’re very different. He’s one of my best friends in the world. Matt is his name. He was speaking on Philly brands used to run the brands for the Cowboys. The guy who runs a conference was introducing us, who I’ve known for a long time. He’s my brother like, “Matt O’Neil is one of the most creative minds in the world. He’s incredible. He’s built this and done that and does this.” He said, “His brother Scott is very American.” I was like, “What an intro? Thank you for that one.”The world is moving really quickly. You have to do the best you can with what you have. Click To Tweet
We learn over time. That goes back to that negotiating with ourselves as we grow. If we allow ourselves to grow and we allow ourselves to be influenced by the things outside of the world that we live in and that we see, it makes our lives much richer and it makes us better business people. That’s what’s across the board. Scott, I want to be respectful of your time. This has been wonderful. I have loved having you as a guest here on the show. Thank you very much. How can people follow you?
You can follow me on Twitter @ScottONeil. I’m on Facebook. LinkedIn is an easy one for me too @ScottONeil. I have a book coming out called Be Where Your Feet Are. It’s a life leadership book about being present and some things I’ve learned along the way. If you’re interested, a copy is coming to you very soon.
I cannot wait to see that. I have many friends who are authors that I’m always buying books. My husband is like, “Please stop buying books.” I’m like, “I read every one of them.”
I’m rooting for you more than you can imagine. Keep doing your incredible work. It makes a total difference.
Thank you very much, Scott. I appreciate it. Have a great day. Give my best to the family.
Thanks. You too.
- Scott O’Neil
- Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment
- Elevate Sports Ventures
- @ScottONeil – Twitter
- Facebook – Scott O’Neil
- Be Where Your Feet Are
About Scott O’Neil
CEO, Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment. Scott O’Neil is the Chief Executive Officer of Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment, an organization with the mission of building passionate, high-performing teams that inspire people to enhance the communities where its teams live, work, play and win.
O’Neil is responsible for the organization’s leadership, strategic vision, operations and global ambitions, including the pursuit and acquisition of sports, entertainment and consumer-facing properties. He is the acting Chief Executive Officer over all properties within the organization’s portfolio and under the ownership of Founders Josh Harris and David Blitzer, including: the Philadelphia 76ers (NBA), the New Jersey Devils (NHL), Prudential Center, a top ten-ranked performance venue in the U.S. located in Newark, New Jersey; Dignitas, an internationally renowned esports organization which includes Clutch Gaming, the NBA 2K League’s 76ers Gaming Club, the Sixers Innovation Lab, the GRAMMY Museum Experience Prudential Center, the Delaware Blue Coats (NBA G League), and the Binghamton Devils (AHL). He is an acting Co-Managing partner for Elevate Sports Ventures a sports and entertainment agency created in partnership between HBSE, Live Nation Entertainment | Ticketmaster, the San Francisco 49ers and Oak View Group.
With more than 20 years of experience in the NBA, NHL and NFL, O’Neil has earned a reputation as a leader of leaders and is one of the most connected, dynamic and driven executives in the industry today. Previous executives whom he has mentored and managed run many of the top organizations in sports and entertainment today; those he currently manages are poised to lead the industry into the next generation.
O’Neil’s reputation for authentic leadership, unparalleled drive to innovate, and emphasis on the importance of corporate culture has placed him at the forefront of the industry vanguard. In merely six years overseeing operations for the properties in HBSE’s portfolio, O’Neil led the Philadelphia 76ers to sign the first jersey patch sponsorship in “Big Four” sports history; construct the most technically advanced training complex in professional sports, the Philadelphia 76ers Training Complex; establish an industry-leading Innovation Lab, and become the first U.S. professional sports franchise to acquire a world-renowned esports team. In that same period, under O’Neil’s ambitious and aggressive leadership, Prudential Center has become a top seven and top five most-played venue in the U.S. and the world by Billboard and Pollstar, respectively, and welcomes over 1.75 million fans and event attendees through its doors annually.
Of his professional accomplishments, O’Neil considers his organizations’ corporate culture and dedication to community service his greatest successes and future legacy. The Philadelphia 76ers have been named one of the “Most Innovative Companies” in the world by Fast Company magazine (2018), one of the “Top 50 Cultures” in the U.S. by Entrepreneur (2017), three-times named a “Best Place to Work in Philadelphia” (2016, 2015, 2014) and “Heathiest Employer” (2019) by the Philadelphia Business Journal, twice named a “Best Place to Work in Pennsylvania by the Central Penn Business Journal (2018, 2017) and twice named one of the “50 Best Companies to Sell For” by internationally-renowned Selling Power Magazine (2019, 2018). Prudential Center was named a “Best Business” by NJBiz (2016). O’Neil’s belief that those who steward iconic sports and entertainment brands have the responsibility and privilege to use those platforms to mentor the next generation of leaders and make the world a better place is the driving force behind HBSE’s community engagement initiatives.