The following is an excerpt from an interview with Forbes contributor Robert Reiss, published on Forbes.com in November 2015. Find the full article here.
What CEOs Can Learn From The Royals: Kansas City CEO Dan Hesse Explains
Robert Reiss: The Royals had something very special going on. What makes this Royals team unique?
Dan Hesse: The Royals, the ones you see and the ones you don’t see, are a true team in every sense of the word. It’s said there’s no “I” in team. This team is a special combination on the field, where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. To compare the Royals with other businesses, I think of owner David Glass as the non-executive Chair, GM Dayton Moore as the CEO, Manager Ned Yost as the COO, the players as the front-line employees, and the rest of the Royals organization as the behind-the-scenes staff support. The off-the-field support and culture played as important a role as the talent on the field. What struck me was the way that seemingly, in every interview, the players began by talking about the team’s leadership — Dayton Moore, David Glass and Ned Yost, then mentioned their teammates. The respect the players have for the leadership, the front office and the coaching staff is palpable. When the leadership is asked about the team’s success, they talk about the players, then about others throughout the organization. Humility pervades. Every element of the organization had a contributing role in the collective success of the Royals, and perhaps uniquely, every part of the organization appreciated and valued the contributions that those in different roles played in the team’s success.
It’s been said that Dayton Moore crafted a team for the post-steroid era. The Royals are not a power team who win via the long ball. The Royals play great defense, the batters make contact and put the ball in play, they run and “keep the line moving.” Every batter, 1-9 can hit. They have great pitching, especially their bullpen which is arguably the best in baseball. As Ned Yost has said, if the Royals can be within two runs late in the game, with the Royals bullpen and the confidence and attitude of his offense, they feel they can win. If they’re ahead after 7 innings, they’re almost invincible (their 111-game winning streak when leading after seven innings was finally broken in August). They have no big stars (but a few All-Stars partly due to their incredible fan support), but no weaknesses on offense or on defense. The Royals are a beautiful mosaic, filled with diversity of many kinds, akin to a great company, where each person plays a different but important role, where the cement keeping the people together is a common goal and a strong culture.
As Moore will tell you, many great people contributed to building this mosaic – scouts, player development personnel and minor league coaches. But few teams invested in development like the Royals. Many players, like Gordon, Perez, Moustakas, and Hosmer to name just a few, came up through their farm system. The Royals also invested in academies in Latin America. They also were willing to trade great players in order to fill in needed pieces of the mosaic. One key trade was trading star pitcher, Zach Greinke, who may win a Cy Young this year, but the Royals got Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar in return. (The Royals remind me in some way of the 2001 Seattle Mariners who won 116 regular season games with no superstars, but no weaknesses, having traded away Ken Griffey, Jr., Alex Rodriguez and Randy Johnson to get a number of key mosaic pieces).
But even with the talent that the Royals had in 2014, they came up “90 feet short” in Game 7 of the World Series. “90 feet short” became the team’s mantra to describe 2015’s overarching goal of a World Series championship. Like in business, experience can make all the difference. Because of their experience on the “Big Stage” in 2014, they were better prepared for what it would take to win it all in 2015. Leadership knew keeping continuity was key, so they retained the nucleus of the 2014 team, but knew the team needed more to win it all, so during 2015 they picked up key experienced players like Johnny Cueto who pitched terrifically in Game 5 against Houston and Game 2 of the Series against the Mets, and Ben Zobrist, who’s bat and defensive flexibility were huge assets (and Ben had played on the Big Stage before as well). And Ned Yost was prepared, as 2015 was his eighth World Series (and first victory).