What is the best path to sales success? What do you need to do to guarantee it? In this episode, Lance Tyson’s guest is Al Guido, the President of the San Francisco 49ers and Chairman and CEO of Elevate Sports Ventures. Al reviews the ideas and philosophies that have put him on the Forty Under 40 list twice, including his views on the misuse of talent, where successful leaders focus their time building skills, and a leadership philosophy he got from watching Lance coach his team. If you are looking for leadership ideas, you do not want to miss this.
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Leading The Way To Sales Success With Al Guido
I’m excited about this interview. I have a good friend of mine, Al Guido. I have known him for many years. We go way back from different projects and some very tense conversations over the years, especially a lot in San Francisco at the Marriott there. We’ve had a ton of conversations in the lobby there. Al, why don’t you introduce yourself?
Al Guido for everybody reading. I’m bad with timelines, but I do remember when I first met you. I serve two functions from a business perspective. I’m the President of the San Francisco 49ers and the CEO of a company called Elevate Sports Ventures.
The 49ers is one of the top ten most valued franchises in the world. Tell everybody why you and I have an affinity together. Where did you come from because I just introduced you to my boys?
A kid with the last name of Guido comes from New Jersey. I grew up in South Jersey. I was born and raised a Philadelphia sports fan. The fun part is if you grew up where I live, my mother’s side, the Irish Catholic side, my father’s the Italian side where I get my name from. Anybody Irish Catholic generally roots for Notre Dame. We were going through these old pictures of me and I was on a Zoom call with my college teammates and they pulled up a picture of me and my Joe Montana shirt when I was thirteen years old or whatever. You come full circle to the thing.
I love quarterback and I played the position in high school. I went on and played receiver in college because I wasn’t big enough. There was a 6’5” kid who was hell a lot better than me, but I love the quarterback position. I was an Eagle fan but who didn’t root for, at some point, Joe Montana and what they were doing? T now be out here in the Bay Area and working for this family, it’s been a hell of a ride. I’ve been here since about 2010.
That goes back to my premise of doing this. Every single decision-maker I talked to, we know where you are now and you look back, “How the hell did I get here?” Let’s journey back. What is the first sales job you ever got paid for? Most decision-makers sold something somewhere along the way or a lot of way along the way.
If you can sell hockey in the desert, you can sell anything.
There are two ways to answer that. I got paid for my first job when I was probably 13 or 14 bussing tables in a restaurant that my mom was working at. I always say, “A waiter and waitress is a sales job.” Everybody should frankly do it. The second piece when I got out of college, I took a brief little stint in the financial services world. I was going on to pass all my certifications. One day my pops called me up and had a classified ad for a job fair down at Comcast Spectacor.
At that time, Comcast Spectacor owned the Sixers, Flyers, Philadelphia Wings and Philadelphia Phantoms. I went to this job fair and wound up getting a job. The first ticket I ever sold was a Philadelphia Wings ticket, which was indoor lacrosse. I was hooked. My mom was like, “You’re going to leave this financial advisor job to take this $6 an hour temporary part-time gig to sell tickets out of the basement of the Philadelphia Spectrum?” I was like, “Yeah. That’s exactly what I want to do.”
How long on the financial track?
It was six months. You have to take three certifications. There is this health and accident insurance. There’s a Series 7, which everybody talks about in movies. I was studying for that. I was getting ready to go do that and arguably was talking to the people. I wasn’t going to work on Wall Street, but I was working for AmEx at the time. It became Ameriprise, but AmEx had this financial services sector. I was working for a guy that I had met waiting tables when I was in college.
I’d play football, but then I’d wait tables on the side to make a few bucks and everything else. The guy would come in every Friday with his wife and I would sit there and talk with them. He asked me like, “What are you going to school for?” I said, “Business.” He said, “I think I got an opportunity for you when you’re out of here.” I went and did that and then I left him for a $6 an hour job.
I was talking to somebody else in one of these, Jared Dolan. He did the same thing for a year working for Merrill Lynch making cold calls. That’s interesting. Growing up in that area, financial services between Wall Street and everything going on makes sense. I know somebody that knows somebody. They got a guy.
We all think about our skillsets. There is so much that translates this from sports. I played it. Not at a super high level, but I played it. The position I played, whether it was point guard or quarterback, you think you had these leadership traits. The funny part is you’d be in school and you’d have these group presentations. Everybody would pick certain people to present it. You’d have a group of four then somebody would present.
In this one class, you had to do a lot of this work, I would always be the guy like my team was like, “You’re going to do the presentation.” At the end of it, the professor asked me, “What do you want to do?” My father was a truck driver and my mother was an administrator. I wanted to make money and I didn’t know what I wanted to do. He’s like, “You can sell. There is a reason why you keep getting asked to present.” I said, “Maybe I’ll be good at that.”
Going back to that Wings stuff. How long did you do that? Here are two parts. Forget the view of Al now to then. What did you suck at then? I know what I sucked at then. I was horrible to manage. I hated to work. I didn’t work too hard. I worked hard enough, but when I got a chance, I did it. What was the young Al look like then?
I was easy to manage. I would work my tail off. I took that undersize chip-on-your-shoulder type attitude in the environment. Not from an entitlement, but I had to work harder than everybody else to get there. Some of that’s my upbringing but the thing I wasn’t good at is I sucked at closing. I was such a relationship person. I can sit here on the phone with you all day long and talk. I would never hit my call numbers. My talk time would be through the roof. There were always these metrics. They’d send out the call numbers and talk time.
My talk time would be through the roof and my sales would be good. I was good, but I wasn’t as good as everybody else. I didn’t get through the calls. I would be here BS-ing around like Dr. J in sports. Sooner or later, I was like, “Let me get to this package information I need to talk to you about.” In the first 30 minutes, I’ll be talking about hoops. I wasn’t great at the closing aspect.
Everybody remember, when Al was selling lacrosse, it wasn’t popular like it was right now. That was not the high trend of lacrosse line. That’s more now, not then. That was way before your time on that. How long did you stay with the Wings? Did you go to the Flyers? Did you go to other parts of Comcast?
I was with the Wings working for a guy named Brad Sims. He is now with New York City Football Club. I’ll go through the quick chronological order. I was there for a week and then a guy named Jim Van Stone noticed me. He is now the President of Monumental Sports, but he was the VP of Sales and Service for the Flyers and Sixers. The Flyers had made the playoffs. They always make the playoffs. They were hiring temporary staff to sell what they called playoff strips. If you bought a playoff strip, you’d have to buy rounds one through whatever and then sign up for season tickets the next year.
They ramped up the staff for the playoffs. They took me from the Wings and said, “Do you want to go do this temporary playoffs sales job? It’s higher level, higher money.” I said, “Done.” My only guarantee was as long as the Flyers were in the plow. I was already rooting given I was a Flyer fan, but now I’m rooting for my job. About two weeks into Van Stone sees me, I’m doing well. Van Stone was like, “You got to come over to the Sixers. Here’s a full-time job. An inside sales. Go do the Sixer thing.” A month after that, I was promoted to corporate sales to go work with the senior-level team. I was selling both properties at that time because it was dual ownership.
I did that for about eighteen months. I went on to Minor League Baseball with the Lakewood BlueClaws. As relationships happen, Jim Van Stone leaves Philadelphia and goes to the Phoenix Coyotes, now the Arizona Coyotes. I leave Minor League Baseball. I go to the Arizona Coyotes, which I always joked, if you can sell hockey in the desert, you can sell just about anything. I go to the Cowboys, Legends and then 49ers. That’s a quick one. I know you’ll have questions in between, but that’s the chronological order.
Your first management job, is it Arizona or Cowboys?
Technically speaking, it was Minor League Baseball. My title at the time was Director of Business Development. I oversaw the sales and marketing function of the Minor League Baseball team, working for a guy named John Clark, who is now at Fenway Sports Group and a guy named Jeff Brown, who is at the NBA and part of their team. Every time I talked to Clarkie and Jeff Brown, they made my stint shorter and shorter. I’m down to a week and a cup of coffee. When I worked in Philadelphia, we always wore suits. Van Stone was like, “You need to shave. You need to wear a suit and tie.”
There’s nothing in the world worse than wasted talent.
I get to Minor League Baseball and I come in with my suit on my first day and the alarm thing goes off. I’m like, “What is this?” It’s the rain-out stuff. Everybody starts running into the field and they’re like, “Guido, where is your stuff? Where is your rain gear?” I’m like, “Rain gear? What do you mean?” They’re like, “We got to go pull a tarp.” I didn’t have it on my first day. I pulled a bunch of tarp in Minor League Baseball at one point. Clarkie and I, every time we talked, we were like, “You only worked here for a week,” even though it was probably six months.
You and I got deep when you started in San Francisco. We started talking about talent and stuff like that. You know how you were a salesperson. You know exactly how you behave. You’re a relationship guy and you weren’t tough to manage. What’s always grounded you about salespeople and how that’s formed your philosophy? You run revenue generation units and you have done it for a long time. What pisses you off or grinds you about salespeople?
Laziness. I could bucket them in a number of different ways. I’ll start with a positive. You only can control what you can control, your attitude, effort, energy and how you are as a teammate. Your skills will maybe define whether you’re successful or not. What we do is not rocket science. Honestly, if you have the right attitude, effort, right teammate and are coachable, you’ll be successful. If your attitude and laziness, whether it’s an entitlement, whatever it might be. That to me, I got no time for it.
Honestly, people can’t see it, but behind me, it’s where I walk out of my house. There’s a sign. It’s our family motto, my wife and me. It says, “Work hard and be nice to people.” It’s two simple, easy things. Work as hard as you possibly can. My father always used to say like, “When you come home and you look in the mirror, give it everything you got.” The truth is that probably doesn’t happen every day. Everybody has bad days. I don’t deal well with laziness and entitlement. It’s not something I react to. I can’t imagine anybody reacts to it well.
From a business context because entitlement is one of those that you can crossover in so many different ways. What does an employee do that defines that they’re behaving with some level of entitlement? What do they expect?
In a sales world, some people get into like, “I didn’t get the same leads that this person got. The category that I was given isn’t as good as what the other people were given.” In my day when we were growing up, you were given sectors. You might’ve done a draft. You’re going after sectors or maybe you were given past buyers, but when you were the grunt or the inside salesperson, you got single-game buyers that are five years old. The senior guys got single-game buyers that bought a month ago. We all know the old data is not as good.
If you were my boss, I’d be like, “Lance, whatever you want to give me, I’ll take it. Whatever you don’t give me, I’m going to fetch for myself. I’m not going to ask you for it. I’m going to work as hard as humanly possible to force you to give me better leads. I’m not going to complain about it upfront before I even earned the opportunity to ask for it.” I’ve heard your people and a lot of them I’ve worked for. They’re mentors. I’d stay the latest. I’d work on Saturdays. Before all this hourly work. When the Sixers were on the road, I was in the office, whether I was scheduled or not.
What else am I going to be doing? I’m going to be watching the Sixers game at home anyway. I might as well be here answering the phones and making calls. I’ve never in my life negotiated a contract salary or anything. People have given me what they thought was fair based off how hard I worked. That didn’t change when I was a sales rep. You could have given me zero and I wouldn’t have complained.
I would have worked as hard to create whatever then you feed me. That’s some of the stuff that I see now, which is like, “My rankings aren’t as high or I don’t have this.” I’m not up there because of this. I’m a yes, if, not a no, because person. “Yes, Lance, I can do that. If I have this and this.” Not, “No, I can’t do it because of this and this.” That type of attitude is important in life.
If you look at all these cultures where they’re belonging cultures like, “You’re entitled this.” There’s going to be a wake-up call where if you’re not bringing it to the table, somebody else is going to figure it out. Somebody said to me one time that the wolf climbing the hill is always more hungry than the wolf at the top of the hill. That’s going to come down. In sales, it’s going to be especially true. I love that. That laziness factor means something to everybody else.
You and I also share a favorite movie that I’m bringing up because this doesn’t happen very often. It’s called A Bronx Tale. I know I’ve gotten multiple conversations with you that I know it forms your management philosophy. What’s the quote you love about it? Talk about that as how it ties into how you manage and lead.
It’s not just a movie for me. It brings up a lot of personality in my own life and upbringing. There is nothing in the world worse than wasted talent, is the quote that you’re looking for. It’s one of the truest statements out there. I’ve been blessed with certain things and I haven’t been. Financially, my parents are very blue-collar. They made it by. They did what they could. They worked their tails off. I didn’t know anybody in this industry. I’ve worked hard and earned it, but I’ve also been unbelievably grateful and humbled by those who have taken good care of me.
The truth is, I wouldn’t be here without both my work ethic and who saw something in me that I might not have seen at that time. What bothers me more than anything, maybe laziness wasn’t the right answer. When I see a gym or someone with all the parts, I feel like they’re wasting it. This is a conversation that you and I would have around whether it’s reps or management. It’s like, “This person has it all. Even maybe more than what I have. Their ceiling is way higher.” If they waste it by thinking about the wrong things and I’ve been there in my life.
I’ve made my mistakes. I used to think I would take a job for responsibility and money. I did that at times and I was like, “Why did I do that? I should be taking it for whom I’m going to work for. Do they have my best interest? Are they going to give me all the tools I need to do my job?” If I do my job, hopefully, money, title and all other things will come with it if I do my job. Wasted talent is something that stays on my wall.
This is interesting because I’m probably the most emotional I ever saw in my life off of this somebody you thought was hugely talented. We don’t name that person, but what pissed you off about that person was the fact that you knew how good they were. They knew how good they were and they didn’t put it out.
If you yourself aren’t willing to do something, how can you ask other people to do it?
You’ve talked about this with the people you’ve had around Millennials or Gen Z. There’s like, “They don’t want to be coached.” They want to be coached. People want to be coached. Not all of them are easily coachable. Some of them are harder, you may need to invest in them. For some of them, it’s going to take you ten conversations as opposed to two conversations to see what’s important. What I would say is people want transparency in their coaching, but they want to be coached.
They want to know the reason why maybe you’re asking them. Before where I grew up, it’s like, “Do this.” There was no like, “Why am I doing that?” It was, “I’ll do it.” Now they might want to say like, “What’s the purpose behind it? What’s the vision and goal?” That’s fine. I’m happy. If I don’t know that answer, why are they going to go do it? Once you give them that, you can coach them.
I’ve talked about this before and talked a lot about clients. People want to know what it is, how it works, why it’s important. Who says so, besides you but that’s transparency at the end of the day. They want to know that you have their best interest in mind. They want to be coached. I remember my middle son playing soccer one time, I said to one of the parents, I go. “What’s the score?” The guy goes, “We don’t keep score.” They take a break and I get my middle one a shot of Gatorade. He was like five years old.
I go, “What’s the score?” He goes, “We’re up by nine.” People like to know what their score is. They want to be coached. They want to know where they stand. It’s that piece of it that is so critical. We’ve got to be willing to do it. I know you do. That’s important. What would you say in a nutshell? If you get too cliché, I’m going to say, “Come on. Let’s talk regularly.” What’s your leadership philosophy at the end of the day? Give them an example or tell me what that is. You run two big organizations. I’ve watched you go from a sales manager to this. What’s your leadership philosophy?
The simple answer is the cliché, you hire good people and you let them do their job. That’s the simple part of it. I like to think that I’m hopefully the greatest point guard that ever lived. I’m not, but I like to think that I try to be. Some folks say, “Let me shoot my way out of a slump.” I always say, “Stop shooting and start throwing dimes.” To me, that gets to the people part. My job is to try and sit as best I can the strategic vision for our company. What’s important to us? Where we’re going? What’s our just cause? What’s our why?
What are the things that we believe in as an organization? Hire the right people with the right strategic goals and let them do it. That’s the reality that I live in. Arguably, it’s not a cliché. I spend a lot of my time on the things that I do well and don’t spend any time on the things I don’t do well. The things I don’t do well, I try to hire people much smarter and better than I am in those areas. I don’t call them weaknesses, I call them blind spots. We’ve been able to create a pretty good organization by filling in some of those blind spots with talented people.
It’s probably a trail that’s followed you all the way through. Somebody said I should read The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker. He said, “Don’t focus on the weaknesses. Focus on the strengths because that’s all you got. Anybody can look at the weaknesses than what you got. Let’s focus on the strengths.” That’s where you’re at. You’ve got to focus on strengths at some level.
The leadership style changes. There are principles that we all have. When you look at a time like now, we weren’t supposed to have a COVID to a degree. There is the Ben Horowitz book. It’s like wartime CEO. I’m involved in every single decision that happens in both of our companies, presentation or meeting. For me, I learned from the best that rolled up their sleeve. I’ve always loved you as a trainer more importantly, as a person. The minute I was like, “I’m going to continue to use Lance.”
At first, I met you through chat. You came in, we didn’t have a relationship prior to that, but I’ll never forget it because a lot of sales trainers and they’re all great. They come in, train and have these principles. You pulled out a conference room, put a speaker in the middle and you started making sales calls. You didn’t know the product and who you were calling. You had no CRM background. You’re like, “Why do you guys need all of this?” Follow the principles and do your job. For me, it was example number one of what quality training would be.
It’s also example number one of quality leadership. If you aren’t willing to do it, how can you ask other people to do it? I try to involve myself in the business no different than you try to involve yourself in saying, “I am preaching what I preach. I practice.” If that’s the case, I’ll follow all day long. I still listen to your calls. I know the objection, green eggs and ham because I listened to Lance’s training call that he did with Elevate. For me, you practice what you preach. That is the crux of what it takes to be a great leader, the people I want to follow because I respect the way they go about it.
That’s a big thing that causes the connectivity. When you get that deep, that’s what frustrates you so much. When you put that much in people, it fucking frustrates you so much. We did the kid thing. You got some young ones and you’ve heard me ask this question, so you probably thought about it. They were all pulling you and say, “Dad, what’s it mean to be successful?” What do you say? What’s Al’s answer to the 7 or 8-year-old?
The definition of success is local for everyone. My wife calls me a tortured soul for a reason because if I get to the top of a mountain, instead of going down one completely, I go create another one and I go to climb back up it. That’s exactly right. I speak to my daughters every single night about that. Every single day, their definition of a good day is different. What I would say is to follow whatever your career and dream paths are. Their only job is to go to school and be a good daughter, good sister, good cousin, good kid and good teammate when they’re on the field of play and do those jobs well.
At some point, their dreams will become bigger. The question is then, “How am I as a parent trying to help them fulfill their dreams and what do I tell them they need to do that?” I had big lofty dreams. The crazy part of my world is I never let my dreams go as far as I’ve gotten. I never in a million years thought I’d be a president of the NFL team.
What I knew is what I wanted to aspire to be and more importantly, who I aspire to be, which led to our success. I’ll tell them, it’s not about what right now. It’s about the who and the how. How you go about doing everything? How you go about being a student, teammate or sister? Those are the important morals in life. Let the career stuff handle itself based off who you are and how you go about whatever it is you’re trying to achieve.
Last two questions. You get to the end of your days. They’re at your Irish wake. It’s a celebration because you’re Irish. The Italian side was crap, the Irish side, we’re going to have a party. What song do you want them to play for you? The song they’re playing for Al.
There is a song that my daughter sings to me somehow or another. I’m biased. She was born with a gift of singing, I was not. I would say, Sinatra’s My Way if you asked me this a few months ago. If you ask me now because I would want to hear her voice. We have a song from Kodaline called All I Want. That’s one of them, but it’s either My Way. Hopefully, I don’t go before my dad, but if I did, my dad would sing that to me and my daughter would sing the other one.
This is the last question and I appreciate your time. I’m a big fan of Tim Ferriss. I listen to his podcast. He’s written a lot of books. I’m not going to do a podcast, I’m just doing a series, but he always asks this one question. It’s fascinating. If you’re going to gift one book, what would it be?
I’ve been a big Simon Sinek fan in my life. I’ve struggled along my personal journey around what my why is. Purpose is important in life. Start With Why is a good book for everybody.
It’s a great book and he’s a great thinker. Al, I appreciate your time. Thanks.