Mr. Dennis Kuhl, Chairman of the Los Angeles Angeles

Mr. Dennis Kuhl, Chairman of the Los Angeles Angeles

The Argyros School of Business and Economics at Chapman University regularly hosts the Distinguished Speaker Series.  This event brings a selection of accomplished business leaders to campus to share their varied professional and personal insights.  Beginning with a dinner reception, the students are provided the opportunity to network with fellow attendees from the local business community, Alumni, MBA Mentor Program, faculty and administration.  This event recap is from MBA candidate Ricky Lindwall.

“The Chairman of the Angels We have Heard on High”

It always blows my mind to hear what kind of distinguished speakers Argyros manages to get on the dais, but my interest was particularly piqued to hear that the chairman of the Anaheim…er…Los Angeles Angels was coming to deliver his own particular brand of lecture on, well, his brand.  Having been a lifelong fan of both the sport and the team, I knew that Dennis Kuhl was a man of vision with a wealth of business advice and jumped at the opportunity to attend this event.

The evening began as our events usually do, with drinks and conversation among a healthy blend of fantastically-dressed students, faculty, local entrepreneurs, and whoever else was lucky enough to get the invite.  Once the majority of the attendees had found their seats and a glass of wine or beer was securely fixed to all thirsty hands, dinner was served.  Before I go on, I’d like to make a quick note regarding the whole ‘catered dinner’ thing.  While considering different programs for both undergrad and grad school, I ended up attending a slew of events with ‘dinner included.’  But I’ve got to say, since coming to Chapman I’ve learned a crucial truth regarding these types of events- the best way to ensure that your audience remains captive is to slake their senses.  An onlooker with a sated palette has no need to scrape the orts from his dish or to go back for seconds, forcing chairs to budge out of his path and attentions to be swayed.  The staff behind the scenes of the Distinguished Speaker Series knows this, and never fails to provide a delicious spread in abundance, and even excess, of one’s needs.  By the time I was finished savoring the meal before me, the presentation itself was just about to begin (it was almost eerie how perfect the timing was).

So, full of food and anticipation, we rotated our seats toward the front of the room as the video began to play.  Clips of inspiringly awesome baseball plays, hits, catches, home runs, etc rolled by our eyes, and you could feel a certain vibe of excitement going around the room. From that moment forward I was rapt with anticipation.  The president –turned-chairman of my baseball team.  Right here.  Answering my questions and the questions of my peers.  Fantastic.

After the video and a brief introduction by Dean Reggie Gilyard, Kuhl stepped up to the plate (pun unavoidable).  No one is ever quite sure what to expect from someone who has generated so much success throughout the duration of their career; however, Kuhl proved himself the embodiment of well-humored humility and generosity, and set the tone with a self-effacing joke.

“Ya know, I was a little nervous about coming and speaking here tonight, but my girlfriend just told me ‘Don’t be witty, don’t be intellectual, don’t be charming- just be yourself.’”

Rewarded instantly with laughter, he went on to further introduce himself with a brief summary of his professional history, and then dove right into (dove into…like…a base) the meat of his lecture.  He covered a number of topics relevant to the very classes that we’re taking. It just so happens, and not by coincidence, that our classes focus very much on how to make the exact kind of business decisions that someone at his level of management must make.

One of the primary themes he touched on repeatedly was the importance of thinking in the long-term.  When he signed on as president, only 52 of their 162 seasonal games were being aired on television.  With vision rarely found among even the elite, he actually PAID stations to air their games, despite growing concerns from his peers that increased televising would reduce physical attendance.  His gamble paid off, of course, as the additional marketing opportunities brought about by airing their brand and players to a broader TV-watching market soon ensured that guests began flocking to the stadium for multiple games per week.  This is where the long-term focus comes into play.  Once they had gained a greater consumer following, attendance and television viewers played off one another, each allowing for increases in the other due to an ever-expanding interest in whether or not the team was doing well.  It did not take long for this process to result in different stations fighting for who would get to air which games, and within a matter of years the club stuck a $500 million contract with FOX sports for exclusive airing rights.

Once he had made great strides toward ensuring that more people cared about the team and the outcome of the games, he gradually came to a new realization: the fans tended to care more about the service at the stadium than whether the team won or lost- the Angels themselves could lose by 9 runs, but so long as the customers had a great experience, they would still come back to cheer again (and spend more money).  Thus, he began implementing new training programs for employees to learn how to better interact with the fans who came to the stadium.  He had much to say about this, but seemed to focus more on one of his other primary points: the best way to teach employees how to treat customers well was to lead by example.

Kuhl broke into a number of stories pertaining to opportunities he had to use his position for the sake of great customer service.  In one, he parked his car in his reserved spot by the entrance and found a pair of older women parking their car in a nearby spot, their right to reserve which being questionable at best.  Instead of demanding identification or having security tell them to move their vehicle, Kuhl asked them how they were doing and, upon learning that one of them was disabled, offered to help them carry their belongings inside and get to their seats.  While they entered the seating area, he asked them where they were sitting.  When they pointed to the nose-bleeds, he said ‘Not today, you’re not’ and took them to the diamond club, telling one of the servers there to take care of their every need.

While these little things do not directly affect the entire population of fans, especially when the one behind them is too humble to frequently mention them, Kuhl realizes that there is a trickle-down effect to the customer service cascade, and in more ways than one.  His employees see the way he treats these customers, and are more likely to model their own actions after his.  More importantly, these two women are now life-long Angels fans and will share their story with family and  friends who will likely, in turn, want to find the same experience and give the stadium a shot, turning them into new fans.  These little things make all the difference between a good business model and a great business model, and Dennis Kuhl both understands and advocates that fact.

He spoke further about his business experiences, littering the lecture with a subtext revolving around philosophical life advice and its application to the business world.  What stood out most about this advice, though, was his mention of passion.  He explicitly stated that he truly BELIEVES in the greatness of the sport as an American past time, and if not by his words then by the spark in his eye while he talks about it, you can tell that he truly BELIEVES in the greatness of his team.  Although he didn’t come forthright and say it, you can tell that this very passion is one of the driving forces behind his long term financial success and overall satisfaction with his life.  To make it in the waters of our shark-infested economic world, you really need to BELIEVE in your company and what you are selling, or else you will just….end up like the Expos, I suppose.

All in all, Dennis Kuhl proved to be a man of vision, a man of passion, and a man full of keen insight for the inner workings of the business world.  Before finishing his speech, he recommended that any MBA students interested in breaking into the baseball business should inquire about the Angels business internship program, which takes on students studying fields varying from accounting to finance to operations, and so on.  I extend this advice, and the advice given throughout his lecture, to you the reader, as you explore your options for the future of your career and education.

My name’s Ricky Lindwall, and it’s been a pleasure reporting to you.