The World Champion Chicago Cubs: Success Principles Every Business Executive Can Use

Cubs success principles
World Series Champion Cubs

On November 2, 2016, the Chicago Cubs won the Baseball World Series – a monumental feat. It was the first series victory in 108 years.

The Chicago Cubs team has been in existence since the 1870’s.  Until 1945 they had been a very competitive team. After that the team fell on hard times. They very rarely made it to the post season.  They had a tradition of finishing last or almost last in their division most years. Yet their fan base stuck with them throughout the years. The team became known as the “lovable Losers.”

What Was Instrumental in the Cubs Winning the World Series Last Year?

It was not luck – rather a very strategic plan put in place by the team’s leadership. A plan any business can learn from and use.

Tom Ricketts, a successful businessman, was instrumental in getting his family to purchase the team in 2009. He loved the Cubs and saw the value the team could bring to him and his family.

The Cubs’ Three Guiding Principles

After the purchase, Tom became the chairman. He let it be known the team had three guiding principles:

  • Be a good neighbor
  • Preserve Wrigley
  • Win the World Series.

While a great fan of the Cubs, Tom knew he did not have the skills or knowledge of baseball to win the World Series nor even turn the team into winners. So his main priority was to get a baseball executive who had the skills.

The Hiring of Theo Epstein

That culminated in October of 2011 when he hired Theo Epstein. During his search, Tom asked 20 baseball people for their recommendation. 19 named Theo as the ideal person.

Theo Epstein was a premier baseball executive prior to joining the Cubs.  He spent time honing his skills and learning baseball while working for the Baltimore Orioles, the San Diego Padres and the Boston Red Sox.

Theo had risen to general manager with the Red Sox.  There he was instrumental in building the team which won the 2004 World Series – the first World Series win for Boston since 1918. Boston repeated as World Series champions again in 2007.

When Theo became president of the Cubs in 2011, he announced that he was going to rebuild the organization into the best one he could.  The culture of the organization was going to change. A short-term fix was not on the table.  It was going to take time. He saw the Cubs becoming a winning team for the long term playing in the play-offs regularly with a good chance of winning the World Series.

When Theo came to the Cubs, he brought 2 people with him – Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod.  Both had the same beliefs as Theo. You draft and develop your own players and build a long-term organization. Culture is key.

The “Cubs Way: 2012 Player Development Manual”

In early 2012, Theo met with all of the key people in the Cubs organization in Mesa, AZ. There they decided what they wanted their players to look like. They spent one day each on hitting, pitching, and defense and base running. They also spent one day on character. On that day, their focus was on the types of players they wanted on their team, how they wanted them to behave and what their expectations of them would be. The “Cubs Way: 2012 Player Development Manual” came out of those meetings.

Key Components of Great Baseball Teams

Personally, Theo is a great judge of baseball players and their abilities. While most executives merely look at physical abilities, Theo also is a great judge of a player’s character, passion and heart.

All three, Theo, Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod, excel at building a team through players they bring up through their own organization. They like to recruit these players out of high school or college. They also get some in the draft.

Once these players are in the organization they develop their skills in the minor leagues. Kyle Schwarber is a great example.

They also brought over some players they had in the Boston Red Sox organization. Anthony Rizzo and Jake Arrieta are two.

Theo is also known for his empathy. He regularly meets with players to find out how they’re doing and to see where he can make improvements. He knows players are not at their best when they have issues in their personal lives. So he also has programs to improve the quality of life for players’ wives and their families.

One key component was still missing from making the Cubs the winning team Tom and Theo desired. A great manager – the field boss necessary to get the players to perform up to their abilities.

That was Joe Maddon. Theo hired him to manage the Chicago Cubs after the 2014 season.

What Joe Maddon Brings to The Table

There are certain keys to Joe’s Management style which help him excel in his position:

  • He is humble and doesn’t want to be the focus of attention. He cares for each of his players and he serves and takes care of them. They know they can approach him and he will really listen to them. This builds their respect for him.
  • His main focus is on his players. He works with them to help them be the best they can be. Opposing teams are not a main concern of his.
  • He helps them prepare mentally for each game. This keeps mistakes to a minimum.
  • Joe is an upbeat, positive person and works to create an upbeat positive atmosphere in his team.

How Joe Keeps His Players Loose and Relaxed

The baseball season is long – 162 games and then the post season. During that time, there is much pressure to succeed.  Players can make mistakes which can result in losses.  Maddon has become known for some out of the box stuff that keeps his players loose and relaxed:

  • He had a petting zoo set up in the outfield for his players and their families before one game.
  • After Jake Arrieta pitched a no hitter Joe and his team wore onesies pajamas on the air flight back to Chicago.
  • After every victory the team has a 30 minute dance party with a disco ball and a fog machine.
  • After a loss, the players are only allowed to sulk for 30 minutes. They then have to move on.

Joe has 3 principles he stresses to his players:

“Never let the pressure exceed the pleasure.”

 “Do simple better.”

 “Try not to suck.”

All 3 are designed to relieve tensions before they build up.

The Precise Plan to Build the Championship Team

To summarize, the Cubs had a very precise plan on how they were going to build a team to win the World Series:

Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod were going to get the best players they could find.

They were going to develop their skills.

The character of each player was key. How well did they handle setbacks? Did they bounce back from them or did they allow them to hold them back for a prolonged period of time?

Were they team players or did they allow their egos to get in the way? Players with oversized ego have been poison to the teams they played on.

The addition of Joe Maddon as manager was the final thing they needed to take the Cubs to the top.

Joe got the players to focus on their strengths and to develop them fully.

Joe created an atmosphere for each player to do their best and thrive.

He realized at times they would make mistakes. He would not let them focus on them. His objective was for his players to put those behind them as quickly as possible.

the chicago cubs wrigley field sign with the "Cubs Win!" message displayed

Any Company Can Follow It for Greater Success

Any company can take what the Cubs have done and apply it to their own business to achieve greater success.

Some might say the Cubs’ strategic plan was fulfilled when they won the 2016 World Series.  To the Cubs organization that was just the start. They look forward to continuing the winning tradition for years to come.

Following the Cubs’ World Series victory the city of Chicago had a great celebration for them.  The number of people who turned out was the largest ever for such a celebration in the history of Chicago.

About Andrew Clarke

Andrew Clarke is President of Ground Floor Partners. Over the past twenty years he has advised hundreds of small businesses on strategy, marketing, real estate and finance. He is passionate about small business, social and environmental justice, and is a proud member of the American Sustainable Business Council, Food and Water Watch, Green America, Food Consultants Group, and the American Planning Association.

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