Two days after the Boston Red Sox won the 2018 World Series, executive vice president and chief financial officer Tim Zue paused his luncheon with a group of MIT Sloan students to take a call about the city’s upcoming parade to honor the baseball team.
Managing the finances for one of the country’s most famous teams comes with a unique set of benefits — yes, he gets a championship ring; his fourth — but Zue said his job comes with the same responsibilities and challenges as any mid-size business CFO.
“Even though the brand of the Red Sox is a global brand with really strong recognition, we're a fairly small company,” Zue, SB ’99, said in an interview after the luncheon. “We have 240 full-time employees. That's not a lot of people.”But a smaller workforce does lend itself to an agile company culture.
“We can implement change in a fairly nimble way, because there’s not a lot of layers of management that you have to get through,” Zue said. “Some massive Fortune 500 company with 25,000 or 50,000 people — it’s going to be harder probably to impact change. In our group, if we have an idea, we talk about it; there’s a corps of us that do it. We’ve been fortunate — knock on wood — to have a lot of success over the last 15 years both on and off the field, which has allowed us the flexibility to have trust; develop trust from ownership.”
If someone in the business office makes a recommendation, leadership might want to understand the idea, its pros and cons, and any risks associated with it, but more often than not, Zue said, ownership gets on board.
“I think it starts with the people; not just management, our whole organization, but at the top, leaders that really do a great job of leading in their respective areas,” Zue said.“They support us and trust us to make decisions for the team that we think are best, to create the revenues on the business side that can support the payroll required to put a team together that won the World Series.”
Calculated risk and project prioritization
Just as projection models are used to predict future values of players, Zue’s team is also taking calculated risks and weighing outcomes — like the 2016 Big Air event at Fenway that brought a 140-foot snow ramp to the ballpark.
“We obviously get pitched on a lot of new ideas, from outside people [and] internally,” Zue said. “It's just prioritizing them. We can't do them all; we don't have the resources to do them all, so how do we prioritize? We talk about them; we collaborate; we'll put things in 2-by-2 matrices; think about the upside, downside, and risk; and what's it going to take to implement.”
Zue said the team tries to do a few new things each year, pointing to the recently introduced virtual reality fan experience, and programs for kids and season ticketholders, as examples.
“We might start with a list of 30 but we’re going to pair it down to what we think we can chew off in a manner that we can do well,” Zue said. “The last thing you want to do is do 10 things not well versus three things really well.”