How do you stay mentally healthy during stressful times? First, be present at the moment and optimize the time you have. Lance Tyson presents Scott O’Neil, co-founder of Elevate Sports Ventures and author. Scott has been named the most innovative executive in sports today by SportTechie magazine. Embedded in his story, you’ll hear advice for getting to the top of your game, a 5-point plan for staying mentally healthy in times of extreme duress (like the past year of the pandemic!), and an exercise in gratitude. After hearing his inspirational and transformational message, you’ll understand why he’s called “the most admired CEO” by the Philadelphia Business Journal. Be sure to check out Scott’s latest book, Be Where Your Feet Are, available on Amazon in June.
Listen to the podcast here:
Against the Sales Odds Reviews the Key To Mental Health With Scott O’Neil
I am so excited about this episode. This is a person I’ve known for years. I got Scott O’Neil on. He’s the CEO of Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment. Scott, welcome to the show. I appreciate you being here.
Lance, I love your work. I love you. We had to acknowledge that we had known each other for years. We still look young. What’s the secret sauce for you?
It’s kids. That’s what it is. It keeps me somewhat young. I’m thinking of getting older as not being on the road as much as I used to be. We met in Philly. You’re still in Philly. You left and you’re home again. My readers always want to know this. You’re the CEO of two major sports and entertainment brands. First of all, talk about your responsibility real quick. Give the lay of the land of what’s underneath you and what you lead.
I run the Philadelphia 76ers, the New Jersey Devils, the Prudential Center, which is now a top ten booked building in America, NME, which is an eSports organization and multi-sport platform, Elevate, which is a sports marketing firm that we’ve founded with Live Nation OVG and the 49ers. We have a real estate arm. We have a venture firm fund of about $50 million, and we have an innovation lab where we invest in early-stage companies. I’m sure I forget something but that’s a big platform. It’s growing and it’s fun. We’ve grown the company about five times in the years I’ve been here. We are not a steady-state type org. We like change, growth and deals. This is one of the most wonderful places to work in the world.
My readers are made up of decision-makers like yourself or people in sales. The question has to be asked, bring us back to a quick, where do you start to get there? Most people are like, “How the heck do you get to that spot?”
I’ll do it quickly. I graduated from Villanova University and went to be a bouncer at the Princeton at the Jersey Shore. I wasn’t very physically intimidating but I could point out and spot sure because that was usually causing the trouble. I could usually point out what was going to happen to the bigger fellows who take care of the dirty work. I went on to be a marketing assistant for the New Jersey Nets after a brutal sales interview that I miserably failed on, which we can touch on later. I spent a lot of my time picking up dry cleaning and making copies. I was promoted to sell sponsorships there at the ripe old age of 23.
I got that promotion from Jon Spoelstra, whose son is now coaching the Miami Heat. Jon’s a legendary figure in this business who found me with my sleeves rolled up knee-deep in toner as I was fixing the copier on a Saturday morning. It was just the two of us in the office at that time. He called me in. He didn’t even know my name and said, “What’s your name, kid?” I was like, “Scott O’Neil.” He’s like, “What do you do? I see you everywhere. What are you doing here?” I was like, “I was fixing the hot copier. He’s like, “Why were you fixing the copier?” I was like, “It was broken.” He was like, “What do you want to do here?” I said, “I’m going to sell sponsorships.”
He’s like, “You just been promoted.” I was like, “Seriously?” He was like, “Do you have any experience?” I’m like, “No.” He goes, “It’s going to be a struggle. You can do it. Take that office over there.” I was like, “I get an office?” He’s like, “Do you want an office? It’s that one right there.” I was like, “When do I start?” He’s like, “How about today?” I was like, “That sounds good.” That was my first entree into sales.
I’ve never heard that story from you.
My start was awful. Your readers are probably way too young to remember what a SIC codebook was. They used to have these thick books that listed every company in the country. I started at A and started dialing. I called every CEO in every company in America. That’s how little I knew about target marketing or who might be a good fit. I couldn’t sell a freaking thing. My first pitch was with this big executive from Sony, which was a big meeting for me at that time. I read a proposal, seventeen pages word for word. That was my first pitch. Can you imagine? I did so many dumb things.
I don’t know if you know Brett Yormark. He was the CEO of the Barclay Center and Brooklyn Nets. Now, he’s CEO of Roc Nation Sports. He’s a few years older than I am. I went to him and I said, “Can I listen to you on the phone?” He’s like, “No.” I’m like, “Brett, I don’t know what I’m doing.” I harassed him enough to take me out on meetings. He’s one of the great salesmen in the history of this business. It was nice of him to give me a little bit of a cushion. I then started selling. I became a lot smoother, better, faster and stronger. If you work hard enough, your pitch gets organically better.
Is that when you went to Philly?
That’s when I went to Philadelphia Eagles, which is an interesting story just in terms of perseverance. It was dumb luck getting promoted the first time by Jon Spoelstra. A friend of mine was consulting with Jeff Lurie when he bought the Philadelphia Eagles team. He said, “You’d be great down there.” I was like, “Can you connect me?” He never did. I cold-called Jeff Lurie over 50 times. I’m not exaggerating. His assistant who answered 30 calls was like, “Scott, you’re not going to see him.” I was like, “That’s okay. We’ll become friends and I’ll get to know you.” I kept calling and she was like, “You have to stop calling.” I’m like, “I’m calling you once a day.” It’s fifteen minutes. It’s not going to kill you.”
I was making 200 calls a day back then. I was good on the phone. I couldn’t present yet but I was good on the phone. I was funny and engaging. I could keep people going. Finally, she’s like, “You need to see Joe Banner. Jeff Lurie is not hiring for this position. I was like, “Great.” Joe Banner, who eventually became the president of the team, hired me as Director of Corporate Sales. I was hired on the spot when I saw him. I worked there for four years and it was amazing. That’s where we connected.
I had some classic stories there about some of my stumbles. What an incredible big platform. You go from the Nets where they’d be like, “The Mets?” I’m like, “No, the Nets.” “The Jets.” I’m like, “No, the New Jersey Nets, we play the Knicks.” I went from that to Philadelphia. It’s like, “You’re calling me from the Eagles.” I’m like, “Yes, I don’t play for the team. I sell for the team.” “No, but you’re going to come here.” They would be like, “Jon, you’re not going to believe this. It’s Scott.” I’m like, “I’m coming to sell you something. Remember?” “That’d be great. Can you come today?” What a difference in terms of the brands and the brand strength. As I can say, even I could sell there.
I was talking to this guy who worked for you for years. He told me because your next move is a roll. Is that when you went to one team if I remember correctly?
I went to Harvard Business School in the middle. I had three years of Eagles, Harvard Business School, back to the Eagles for a year. I left with Seth Berger, who’s a Founder of the AND1 sneaker company, to create HoopsTV, which was incredible. It’s an incredible failure. Whoever is reading out there, if you’ve already made it, good for you. If you haven’t, get ready for a bumpy ride. It’s a bad analogy because I was thinking of life as a mountain range rather than a mountain. Whatever you think the road to the top is and how smooth it’s going to be, and how incredible your run is going to be, and how you’re going to make all the right moves, I’ve fallen, tripped, stumbled, got deep buried in mud, been fired, ran a company into the ground, had all kinds of financial issues along the way because of those things. It’s okay. That’s the messing up that we call life. You look on the outside. You’re like, “This guy’s got it all. Everything is good.” It doesn’t work like that.
I remember when you did that. I remember I was like, “Where is he going?” It was a roll. I was younger then too. I go, “That was a roll.” When I talked to Casarez I can tilt some stories. I didn’t even realize all that was going on. It was AND1 HoopTV.
We went out. We raised $15 million. We became the number two basketball site in the world. Unfortunately, I wasn’t ready to be a president. I didn’t know what I didn’t know. Sometimes you can find your way through that. On my end, my big last one was you’ve got to figure out in your job the three things that are most critical and you’ve got to spend 80% of your time off. That’s what high performers do. I was spending my time and everything else. I left there. I was out of luck, work and money. My wife had retired, by the way. She’d always out-earn me. She was no longer working. We had our first child. It was a foreclosure notice on the house time.
It wasn’t like, “This is all amazing.” I still had debt from school. I had no income and I was emotionally not ready to go. Fortunately, we got through that with a few bumps in the road. I then got hired at the NBA by Bernie Mullin, who was a long time in his business and he still is. He’s a wonderful guy and an incredible salesman. It’s with a group called TMBO, Team Marketing and Business Operations. I got to work with the famous Dr. Bill Sutton. We split the teams up in the league. David Stern, at that time, was the commissioner. He told us, “I want the McKinsey of sports. Go tell me what’s working. Go build best practices and share it with the other teams.” We did that. It was a ride and it was fun.
Be present at the moment and optimize the time you have.
Talking about getting a PhD in sports. I got to sit with Tom Wilson or Len Komoroski, Eric Woolworths, all these incredible luminaries that are out there doing incredible work that I could learn from and see what they were doing. All I was doing was taking what I heard. I was packaging it. I hear something from Steve in Chicago, I’ll bring it to Len Komoroski in Cleveland. I hear something from Len in Cleveland, I go to Tom Wilson and bring him what I heard in Chicago and in Cleveland. It was just an incredible education. I love my job and what I did. Bernie left to become the CEO of the Hawks and Thrashers. The commissioner called and after a few curse words, he offered me the job, which was amazing. I’ve been so blessed. I’ve worked for amazing and incredible people.
I seem to have been in the right place at the right time. Running TMBO for eight years was a cool idea. I talked about this in the book. I go to my first board meeting. A day before the board meeting, 8300 comes up on my extension on my phone. I’m like, “That’s the commissioner. He’s going to be yelling something.” I picked up the phone and after a few curse words, he’s like, “You’re speaking of my department, don’t F it up.” He clicks the phone down. My first board presentation was like the bad presentation I gave at the Nets to Sony.
I put my head down for fifteen minutes and read. I walked off the stage. By the way, I was sweating profusely. That’s how nervous I was. I was going to throw up. I was like, “That’s never happening to me again ever. I’m never ever going to go up and give a talk and read it.” I haven’t since. I’ve been studying, giving and teaching presentations from that day on. There is art and science to that. That was a bad failure on a big stage. You’ve got 30 billionaires in a room and a bunch of lawyers. That’s not an area where I want to trip and fall. I did but I recovered. I have no fear. From there, I was there until I was 38 or so.
I went to see David, the commissioner, and said, “I’m ready to run something. I’m at that age where I want to operate.” He said, “What are you looking for?” I said, “I want something big. I want to turn around and be on one of the coasts.” He said, “How about in New York?” I said, “Are you serious?” He’s like, “Madison Square Garden can use some help.” I said, “That would be wonderful.” I got hired three weeks later as President of Madison Square Garden Sports running the Knicks, Rangers, hockey, basketball, tennis. That was a big platform. We spun the company out. This is right in the financial crisis.
I wanted to tie it into your book because I got to read the book, and I got an advance copy, Be Where Your Feet Are. I want you to hit the brakes because you hit the financial crisis. You’re at the biggest brands in the world. When I started to work with you again, I was working with one of your leaders at that time. We’re through a pandemic right now, but that’s where I saw that I got firsthand senior leadership. I want you to thread the book to that time in your life.
Mike is one of the great sales managers and leaders in the history of the business. I used to say the best until I have one now who is a hair better. Don’t tell him. Mike, I’m just kidding. You’re the best. I remember the financial crisis hit. We spun the company out to create a separately traded public company because we had bought a theater for $20 million, The Chicago Theatre, and the stock dropped to $200 million that day. The Dolan family, they’re financial wizards, spin the company out, and then the decision is made, “Can we spend the money on this arena?” The arena was old, Madison Square Garden. We were all intent on keeping it the world’s most famous arena.
We invest $1.2 billion in this arena in the heart of the financial crisis. I remember a speech I gave. I don’t know if Jake has ever told you this but I had all those guys in the room. I used to get some fire and brimstone back then. I’m like, “We’ve got two choices. You can sit in there and cower in the corner, or we can go out and take on the world.” I was like, “I want to do the latter. I’ll sit in the corner with you guys if you want to cry but I want to do this. I want to do it right. We are in New York. We are in Manhattan. It’s the world’s most famous arena, and we can’t do it here? It’s not happening anywhere for us.” They oftentimes made fun of me later on for my big fire and brimstone speech.
I was so passionate about the opportunity and so excited to have brands that big in a city like New York, where you are sitting next to the titans of the universe. It was cool. We did crazy deals there. We priced suites at a price that people had never seen before. We priced tickets at a price that was almost eye-popping. We did sponsorship deals that are record-setting. That’s not me patting myself on the back by any means. It is truly us. I remember Drake and Ronnie, and CA Crew, Paula Dean and Sean Barrett, that whole crew getting together and looking back and saying, “You have the biggest brands in the world. Could you imagine if we could build a world-class team and get after it just like we were a challenger brand?” We did and we got after it. It was so much fun. That team that we have built, I would put it up against anybody.
It was a strong leadership team, top to bottom. To be a leader on that team, with the brand that you were representing in the financial crisis. I remember Drake’s. We couldn’t even go after some of the financial firms because of Sarbanes-Oxley and all of that. They’re going after tier two, anything to make whatever work. He was on that team. I look at that, and to me, that’s where I get the firsthand look at your leadership. Let’s turn this right in. You mentioned something. You had a very close friend, and then you had one of your mentors. I remember David Stern, who you work with for years. What inspired you to write this book, Be Where Your Feet Are, and the title too?
Be Where Your Feet Are is about being present. I had this notion that balance is a myth, and because I have yet to meet anyone successful who doesn’t work unreasonably hard. I hope I do someday. That’d be wonderful. Whatever they do, I’m going to do it. For the rest of the world, your commitment is to work unreasonably hard. The schedule that our children, our partners, our wife or husbands are under is as insane as ours. What I advocate for is to be present. Optimize the time you have. For me, writing this book was a bit of a labor of love, and a bit of release and recovery.
My best friend took his own life. He was wonderful. He has five incredible kids, an amazing wife, successful guy. He suffered from depression, and I didn’t get it. I didn’t understand what depression, mental illness, health and mental wellness were. I was speaking at his funeral, and I was falling apart. I was spiraling down. I came back to the office and somebody would say something. I would just walk out of the room and start crying.
I was in a tailspin and began to write to heal. I was calling friends to try to figure out what they’ve learned in life. What I found, which is no surprise now is that everybody has their time of trouble. Everybody has their stumble or their weakness, or the time when they made a mistake or have a shovel put in their face. That’s the best time to learn. I married that with my love. It’s what gets me out of bed in the morning, which is to try to help develop the next generation of great leaders. I’m married self-healing with a true passion of mine, and that became Be Where Your Feet Are.
I’m a passionate leadership myself, and it starts with your own personal leadership. If you can’t lead you, forget about anything else. To me, it spoke to that. There’s been another book in your past that you’ve given a lot, Leadership and Self-Deception, and that book is being present. Is there a connection there with that theory or process? You have some strong processes in the book that I want to talk about also.
Leadership and Self-Deception is the greatest book ever written. Its concept is very simple. It’s written as a wonderful story. It’s a life book but it’s a business book. It’s a business book but it’s a life book. There are a lot of similarities there in terms of mine. There’s this written fictional story which I love. Mine is non-fiction, so it’s a little more authentic to my real life. The notion that you treat people like people, there’s no better and more powerful message that defines the culture of the last three places I’ve worked than Leadership and Self-Deception. I love the book and the people who wrote it. The Arbinger Institute is one of the great thought leaders of our time.
When you go back to your book, the authenticity of stories that you tell and you start with your family and yourself. When you go to the pandemic, and it’s all been crazy. It’s been crazy, personally. My wife lost her father on Christmas day from COVID. It’s been crazy. Tie the book Be Where Your Feet Are and what you learned from COVID. That’s such another important part because it’s been a lonely game in 2021.
You have to be learning something not related to your day job every day.
We’re doing everything that we’re not as human beings cut out to be or do. We’ve been isolated. We’re messed up. Our emotions are hidden. We walk into a store and walk out as quickly as we can and walk at a very fast pace to our car. We don’t see anybody. We’ve become hermits at a time when there’s no more time in the world than we’ve ever needed a connection, which is somewhat the power of sports is doing.
The one thing I’ve learned, going back to my friend and the pandemic, is that there’s a five-point plan that’s simple and will keep you mentally healthy. One, two and three are doing something for your mind, body, and soul every day. Your body’s the simplest. If you’re not working out now, shame on you. Twenty minutes a day, go get that heartbeat going, go for a walk, get on a Peloton, go jog, go swim. Do somebody to get the heart rate going. Eat the right foods. These are simple things that we know we have to do that we’ve been told our entire lives, and yet we’re not great at it.
The way I read that, that was being with yourself. You got to be present with you.
We work and work. The thinning line between work and home completely evaporated because people just worked all the time. I don’t think that’s healthy. I don’t think that makes you productive. It makes you weak. It’s that badge of honor because we didn’t know what else to do. We just worked. It took away a little bit of our creativity. I truly believe that every day, you’ve got to be learning something that’s not relative to your day job.
My hobby right now is blockchain and crypto. I love it. I’ve been studying it and loved it. I invest in it. I studied it, worked on an NFT program. When NFT came to sports, I was like, “Yes, I have a true baseline.” I love technology. Blockchain and 5G are going to transform the world over the next decade. It’s just interesting to me now. I’m not advocating that you study blockchain. You should invest in crypto, but I’m not advocating blockchain.
What is it that you’re passionate about? Listening to a Ted Talk, listening to a podcast, reading an article. What are you interested in? Go get interested outside of work. The soul part is always a little more complicated to talk about with work. People don’t want to talk about religion, prayer, scriptures, and all that stuff. That’s important to me. You have to find some stillness every day.
Especially the greatest salesman in the world, they have to find their own inner peace, and that could be yoga or meditation. It could be just sitting out, listening to the bird’s chirp in the morning. Some runners get that, but you have to find some stillness in your life. The 4th and 5th are a little more simple. You have to sleep. We’ve lost sight of that. It was like a badge of honor. Several years ago, it was like, “I sleep three hours a night. I sleep four hours.” I’m like, “I’m sleeping eight hours.” Everything I read says, “You need to sleep because that’s when your body and mind heal.” It’s like Ben Franklin’s, “Early to bed, early to rise.”
To be more productive, you have to figure out how you’re going to get some sleep. The fifth thing was what my daughters didn’t want to hear. You have to self-regulate your social media. We’re curating our own media, and it’s putting us on the polar edges of reality. You have to figure out what apps you’re going to knock out, what folders you’re going to create to keep them off your main screen, and what processes you’re willing to put in place to make sure that you’re getting a dose of reality. That’s what I learned during the pandemic. What I experienced were family and fun. I hadn’t been home for family dinners for many years. What an incredible opportunity.
I’m talking about not having time and meaningful conversations. You sit down with a teenager and I promise if you ask the question, “How was school?” You’ll get a one-word answer. “What did you learn?” “Nothing.” “How was school?” “Good.” “What are you doing later?” “Nothing.” As parents, what a great opportunity to test ourselves, to engage in real conversations about real things. We had real issues being tackled. What was life going to be like? How about social justice?
How are you seeing our president? Let’s talk about it. We had real issues to talk about with our entire family. We also had a lot of fun. We had different theme nights for dinners, “Dress up in this color. Bring your favorite stuffed animal.” I’m at a house of girls. “Wear your jersey to dinner.” It was fun. I don’t mean to sound glib because there’s a lot of pain and suffering like your father-in-law, and a lot of people lost their lives, a lot went through a lot. In terms of the time I had with my family, I wouldn’t trade that for anything in the world.
Neither would I. We had family dinner every night. Home from college and hockey, and it was great. You said something interesting that I want you to expand on a little bit. Talk about this concept of balance. You said you don’t believe there’s a balance or that’s unachievable. Talk about that because you and I concur on the concept. Go back to that and tie it back.
It’s a myth. If you have aspirations of being great either at work or at home, I’m just not sure how you get there with a focus on balance and not one of being present or being where your feet are. That’s my delineation. I sometimes envy someone who wants to work a 9:00 to 5:00 job and come home. I don’t have a judgmental bone in my body. People have to figure out what gets them, where they want to be, and at what point. If you want to achieve career success, though, good luck working 9:00 to 5:00.
I haven’t seen it. You come home, and I go through this. Think about your house with your kids. You wake up in the morning, it’s chaos. You got to get them off to school, get them on Zooms. We’re hoping that we don’t have World War III in our house. I’m like, “Let’s keep them on the rails and let’s go.” I’m working. They are at school. They are playing sports. They got homework. They got their friends. How much time do you have? I’m going to 150 nights a year. I’m working at night. I get 45 minutes a night. Do you want to spend that time watching The Office with them? Sometimes I do that. I’m tired and beaten. Can I engage in meaningful conversation for 45 minutes a night?
That’s it. That’s all I’m asking for. That’s being present for that time because you recognize how precious that time is. You don’t have Saturday. Teenagers are sleeping until noon. I got to shake them out of bed, shake my middle one when I want to play hoop. I drag her out of bed. How are we finding meaning? What are you willing to say? When I give talks, I often start the talk by saying, “Take your phones out. I want you to text your mom. I want you to tell her what you appreciate about her, how much you love her, what you learned from her. Take two minutes and do it. If she responds back during this time, just drop in to chat.”
It’s simple. How many times have you told your mother how much you appreciate her? Not enough. How simple are our moms? All they want is a little appreciation. The most underappreciated class of people in the history of time are mothers. You take that example and say, “How does that apply to a salesman that works for me? How does it apply to my director of activation? How does it apply to my service director? How does it apply to my office? How does it apply? What are we doing to tell people how much we love them and appreciate them? Not enough. It’s so simple, and not everybody needs and wants that. Some people want to go play for Bobby Knight, and I totally get it. For the most part, the human soul craves appreciation.
Figure out the three most critical tasks in your job, the tasks you need to spend 80% of your time on because that’s what high-performers do.
Nobody has died from over appreciation.
No. It’s so simple. It’s the cheapest raise you can ever give.
Dale Carnegie said, “Give a few words of sincere appreciation to somebody who is lonely or discouraged. You may forget the words that you say, but the recipient would cherish it for a lifetime.”
That’s very rich.
I agree with the balance thing. It’s almost this achievable journey. When I read the book, if you get those 45 minutes, be there. I’m out there with my wife, “Let’s put our phones down.”
My wife roughs me up. She’s like, “I’ll wait.” I was like, “No.” “I’ll wait.” I was like, “I just had this going.” “Okay. How important is that text?” I’m like, “No.” She’s like, “I’ll wait.” You have to think about that. I’m not here. I’m not patting myself on the back. I’m not crawling from the top of the hill. This is a journey that you’re on, and we’ve got to figure it out. How are we going to live this life? I lost my dad, Stern, my best friend in a snap. Maybe that was a trigger, maybe it wasn’t but for me, it felt like it. I felt mortality for the first time.
Some people would call it a midlife crisis. My friend was like, “This isn’t a midlife crisis.” I’m like, “It is.” You get to that point, you’re like, “Where am I finding meaning? Where is my purpose? How am I going to leave this world better than I found it? What does my legacy look like? How does the work I do? How are the hours I put in? How does that manifest itself into whatever fulfillment is?” For me, it’s simple. I want to help develop the next great generation of leaders. I want to leave the world better than I found it. Whatever platform I have, wherever I’m working, whoever I’m with, I’m focused on those things.
At home, at work, at church, in the community, those are the two things that get me going. It took me a long time to get there because I couldn’t figure it out. Why are you taking this job? Is it ego? Why are you doing this other deal? Why are you working so hard? Why aren’t you flying to LA for a meeting and back? By the way, I’ll never do that again. Think about that. That’s a COVID blessing. How many cities you’ve gone to now? We’re all asking ourselves. COVID helped us. It gave us a dose of reality and said like, “What’s this all for?” We all have to answer that question for ourselves. What are you doing this for? For money? No, it’s shallow and hollow. For prestige? Too hollow, too shallow. Go one level deeper and say like, “What’s going to get me out of bed, pop at work and pop at home?”
I want you to land on this concept because if any organizations in the world have been negatively affected by the pandemic, we’ve got a lot of things going on here. We’ve got the pandemic. New York City restaurants and sports teams, probably are the hardest to hit. On top of that are social justice, diversity and inclusion. That is also slammed into things. The platforms that athletes and teams have, it’s come to the forefront. It’s this collision of things. When I was reading your book, I started to recognize something as an EQ move, an emotional intelligence move. You talked about this four-step process to be more present.
I’m interviewing a good friend for years who owns a large privately-held employee benefits firm. His name is Scott McLaughlin. He does a lot of community work. He always says, “Lance, sometimes your mind is like a bad neighbor. It’s not good to be alone in it.” That’s the one thing that you said about being with yourself. I think this emotional intelligence piece in this four-step process is how you have to deal with that perspective. Emotional intelligence is dealing with you. Also, being able to read and respond, not react to other people, and be at a level that you can interact. Talk about that four-step process.
I’d say a story that kicks it all off. I work with this credible communications guy, Dave Sholler. He’s worked for Dana White before of the UFC. He’s had to handle his fair share of controversy and action. He has this easy style and it’s hard. We live in a rollercoaster world of ups and downs. Having gone through the trust of process phase, it was choppy there with the media and fans. He kept going. One day, we had our go-forward. That’s our offsite because we don’t do retreats. Oftentimes we pick our best, most talented up and comers who have not yet facilitated the session, and they were selected to facilitate a session.
We spent three months training them. For me, I get to be with our stars for three months, which is cool. We pushed them on how to build a topic that’s meaningful, how to create an exercise to drive the team. We oftentimes strongly encourage them to be sharing a vulnerable personal story to make sure that they connect with the audience to start. It was a simple formula. We’ve had an audience of hard-charging. We’re mostly salespeople but we work in tiers during some days. They are powerful talks.
Dave talked about growing up in a trailer park, not having anything, having a dad who struggles with drug addiction, and routinely comes in and out from shelters. He talks about one time coming home from school and the police cars being there. His mom finally had enough of his addiction. He took off and he was living under the boardwalk. They live near Atlantic City, and then they got a call late at night. He was at a shelter. The mom had gotten her old beat-up minivan, four kids strapped in the back. They rolled to the shelter to pick up their dad.
He’s young but he’s pissed already. He knows his dad is trouble. He knows his mom is going to try to save him. He knows it’s going to go South again. It’s embarrassing for him. Cops are there. He’s on a school bus and all the kids from school see where his crappy house is. It’s like a combination of pissed and feeling sorry for himself.
He rolls up to the shelter to pick the dad up. He sees a mom with three kids. She had a blue duffle bag, and it hit him at age ten. He’s like, “At least we have a trailer. This car may be rattling but we’re getting the car back. We’ve got somewhere to go. These four are here to stay and they got nothing except that blue duffel bag.” He’s like, “That perspective will stay with you.” You think about the things you’ve experienced in life in different ways and at different times. We have had some of those moments that teach you such powerful lessons. The first and most powerful step is to make sure that you have some perspectives.
That’s the part of EQ, whether it’s being sympathetic to people’s ideas or desires because they gave birth to them, having that experience to see it. I looked at that as a launching pad for that.
I totally agree. Who do you have in your life that gives you authentic feedback?
I’m fortunate to have my wife, who I trust and who I’m sorry to. Many times, I didn’t want to hear what she had early on. I’m like, “You don’t get the experience yet.” All the damn time, she was right about it. I’m like, “This is the person that sees things.” I’m the guy that gives all the trust to everybody. You can get it all. She is the type of person you got to earn it with her. I don’t think either way is right. It’s important and gives a different perspective to it.
For the most part, the human soul craves appreciation.
I’m more like you. I forgive quickly. I trust, not forgive. In the end, I love people. I want them to love me in the end. Take away everything else. That’s me and she does not. She has a long memory. She loves me to death and will fight to the death to protect me. She will give me the hardest dose of reality than anybody in my life.
The other thing is she’s Sicilian. That whole thing is going on. I love talking about leadership. I love your perspective. Give some closing thoughts. Before you do that, I want to land the audience on something. This is what I think about reading the book. I’m claiming this. I’ve heard this and been saying this, “Slow is smooth, smooth is fast.” If somebody else said it, I’m claiming it right now, at least with my audience. When I think of that process and what the process you’re talking about with being where your feet are, that’s what it is. It’s that perspective. I feel strongly about that. Scott, give some closing thoughts and then talk about where people could go to get the book.
My brother, Michael, has a saying, “A dose of gratitude and an ounce of humility will go a long way.” That is probably the most instructive thing that I’ve ever been told and tried to live. If you’re struggling to figure out what that means or how that might impact you, do a two-week test and jot down three things you’re grateful for every day. Make them different every day for two weeks. Secondly, take care of yourself because you’ve got to take care of the person in the mirror first.
Oftentimes you might say, “Isn’t that selfish?” No. My bias is to take care of yourself. You get yourself healthy, cooking and comfortable, confident and fresh and ready to go, then you can take care of your family. After you take care of yourself and your family, then take care of your job, in that order. If you don’t take care of the center of who you are and who you aspire to be and who you want to be and keep yourself going healthy in mind, body, soul, you’re no good to be at work.
The book, by the way, I would love for you to buy it. It’s called Be Where Your Feet Are. You can get it at Barnes and Noble, Amazon, or Audible. You can also check out a local indie bookstore. Small business has been slaughtered during the pandemic. The more you can do to help small businesses on Main Street is good for the soul and America.
Where can people follow you at? You’re on LinkedIn, Scott O’Neil. Any other spots you want?
You can hit me on Twitter @ScottONeil and on LinkedIn. I’m active. I write quite a bit some long-form. I have some things to say about topics that are relevant. I’d love to engage. If you want to get me, that’s the place to get me.
Scott, I want to say one thing too. I’ve been saving this to the end. I haven’t seen you in a long time. In 2020, we were talking about this in the pregame. I was giving a talk at Sixers headquarters. The time you spent with me beforehand, we hadn’t seen each other in a long time. We embraced. We talked for a few minutes. You were with me and it made me feel good. I delivered greatly that day. I appreciate it. My dad used to say, “You take care of the little things. The big things take care of themselves.” I appreciate you being on the show.
Anything, anytime. You are world-class. You are probably the only one who does what you do, and you do it the best. I appreciate you, my friend. Thank you.
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About Scott O’Neil
Scott O’Neil is one of the most recognized, connected and dynamic executives in the sports and entertainment industry today. He has more than 25 years of experience leading NBA, NHL and NFL teams and leagues, including the National Basketball Association, Philadelphia 76ers, New York Knicks, New Jersey Nets, Philadelphia Eagles, New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils. His mission to build innovative, inspiring, socially impactful and high-performing teams and business organizations has earned him a reputation as a “leader of leaders.”
A Harvard Business School-educated CEO, O’Neil contends that fostering a corporate culture founded in respect, diversity, employee development and corporate social responsibility is what drives the success of the award-winning sports teams and businesses he oversees. These awards include Fast Company’s “Most Innovative Company,” Entrepreneur Magazine’s “Top 50 Cultures,” Sports Innovation Lab’s “Top 25 Most Innovative Professional Teams in the World” and many others. The “Most Innovative Executive in Sports” (SportTechie) and “Most Admired CEO” (Philadelphia Business Journal) has been named to lists that include the “100 People of Power and Influence” (#37, The Hockey News/Sports Illustrated), multiple “Power 100” lists (NJ Biz, Philadelphia Business Journal, Philadelphia Magazine) and more.
A decade-long Member of the NBA and NHL Board of Governors, O’Neil’s insights on the sports industry’s ability to move the global market has made him a prominent, regular voice Bloomberg, FOX Business, CNBC, CNN and across global business media. A man of faith and father of three, O’Neil’s conviction to lead a perpetually present life as he famously “runs to work” and “runs home,” guides his commitment to helping others realize their full potential.