Tackling "The Family Business of Sports"

Family business of sports

Tackling the tender, often tenuous, issues of family and business was the focus of the evening as George H. McCaskey, chairman of the Chicago Bears; Tom Ricketts, chairman of the Chicago Cubs; and Michael Alter, owner of the Chicago Sky; came together to discuss “The Family Business of Sports” at the Union League Club on April 3. The event marked the 10th chapter in the Dean’s Speaker Series hosted by Loyola’s Quinlan School of Business and drew a packed crowd of nearly 200.

After a welcome from Dean Kathleen Getz, PhD, the event’s moderator, Keith Lambrecht, PhD, director of Loyola’s Sport Management program, peppered the powerhouse panel with a slew of questions. Here’s how these three titans of team (and industry) fielded his various inquiries.

To McCaskey

What are the family requirements for working in the business?

McCaskey: We have finally nailed that down, with the help of Loyola’s Family Business Center. Our family business policy is that there are five years of outside employment. If there is an opening, and if a family member is qualified, they aren’t given any more consideration, but they also aren’t given any less consideration.

You are the namesake of George Halas, what does it mean to you and for the Bears?

McCaskey: It means a lot to me. Without the H, I wouldn’t be here. Our family wouldn’t be here. George Halas passed his legacy on to us. Our family enterprise is all we have; our goal is to do right by him.

How do you react to customers thinking they own the organizations you run?

McCaskey: George Halas said, “There are no problems, only opportunities.” I like to think of it that way. We consider it a civic trust. We think of it a tremendous responsibility, and a humbling one. When we don’t beat Team Voldemort from Wisconsin, fans feel it, and when fans are disappointed, we are devastated.

To Alter

How much attention do you pay to the press?

Alter: I have a very different problem with the media. There is frustration about minimal coverage. But when women’s sports are covered, the response is great.

How do you fire your family members and still enjoy Thanksgiving?

Alter: Separation between management and family is key because it creates objectivity necessary for business operations.

To Ricketts

How do you maintain your privacy?

Ricketts: No one on planet has more strangers saying, “I am however many years old, and you need to win before I die.” The media does a pretty good job; you set rules, treat them fairly, and they keep your privacy.

What is the most interesting thing about working with professional athletes?

Ricketts: As I get closer to them I see how committed they are: they want to win and are very proud; they take losses harder than you do. They are real family men: most guys are excited go home after the games so they can see their kids.

Ricketts: A ten-year-old boy asked me last week, “What’s it like to work with your brothers and sisters?” That curveball question was the hardest question I’ve ever gotten [laughs]. But in all seriousness, the Cubs are a family business, and have a long-standing relationship with the Loyola Family Business Center. Loyola is a very important institution both to my family and to the city, so on behalf of George, and Michael, and myself we would like to thank Loyola’s Family Business Center and the Business School for hosting us tonight.

 For more images from the event, please click here.