For the hundreds of Angelenos entering business school this fall, I have a terrific case study to cut their teeth on.
You're the head of a large, venerable business that's been operating for more than a century. It has a rich, even legendary heritage. But operations have been in disarray for the past decade.
The recession gives you a terrific opportunity to retool: You could hire great workers for a fraction of what they commanded a year ago. Or you could go with choice No. 2 by trying to retain your top performer, who has in the past threatened to go somewhere else. He's a talented but moody piece of work with a long history of putting his interests above that of his organization. He's been known to physically assault his co-workers when he doesn't get his way. Rumors have swirled about his drug use.
Way too many hands in the air. How about a voice vote? Ow! That was loud. I would say that's unanimous for choice No. 1.
Were this roar to actually exist, it would fall upon the deaf ears inhabiting the office suites at Chavez Ravine. That's despite the fact Dodgers Vice Chairman and Chief Executive Jamie McCourt earned an MBA from the Sloan School at MIT.
Had she dusted off her long-ago coursework, she might realize she and husband Frank have made all the classic mistakes of business owners juggling debt to fulfill a lavish lifestyle. The $53 million they spent at the height of the market for adjoining beachfront homes in Malibu comes to mind. Maximize cash flow, and forget about even two years down the line.
Which begets Manny Ramirez, a supersonic rent-a-player, but the Hindenburg when he sticks around longer than a summer. Which begets General Manager Ned Colletti and his predecessor Paul dePodesta, both got on the cheap because they had never held the post before (Colletti was 50 when he got the job, a warning sign itself). While bona fide and stable stars like Bobby Abreu and Garret Anderson were signed for peanuts in the off-season, Colletti focused exclusively on Ramirez. Another colander to bail out an inexorably sinking ship.
Which begets $15 parking rather than a public-private partnership with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to build a spur off the nearby Gold Line. Which begets thousands of heinously overpriced seats that were installed and then torn out because of even more heinous sightlines. Which begets grandiose plans for shopping malls in the parking lot rather than sober discussions about rehabbing or even replacing a stadium that's years older than Ebbets Field when the Dodgers left Brooklyn.
I can discuss such heresies (tear down Dodger Stadium?!?!) because as an Angels fan who spent 25 years paying my dues, I see the Blue Crew for what they are: a shell of a once great organization that now exists only to exploit the zealous loyalty of their fans.
It's not too late for the McCourts to create an entirely different case study. A good start would be finding some principle to stand on and void Ramirez's contract (any first-year law student could find cause). The nearly $8 million in salary the Dodgers are saving during his 50-game suspension will more than cover the legal fees for them to part ways. Ramirez's agent, Scott Boras, is expert at picking battles, and this is not one he'd be eager to join. That frees up nearly $40 million between this season and next to sign four or five players who would actually improve and stabilize the team.
The McCourts could then replace Colletti with Assistant General Manager Kim Ng, who was mostly responsible for signing home-grown talents like Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp and Jonathan Broxton. Not only does Ng have a stellar reputation, she's one of the few top execs the McCourts haven't driven out, even though they passed her over for Colletti four years ago. Ng's been with the Dodgers for nearly a decade, but won't hang around forever she was a recent finalist for the G.M. job in Seattle.
There's never been a female G.M., the primary reason Ng hasn't yet cracked baseball's triple-paned glass ceiling. But there hadn't been an African-American ballplayer until the greatest G.M. of all, Branch Rickey, had the guts to promote UCLA phenom Jackie Robinson. What team pulled that off? I ask not because I've forgotten, but because the McCourts have not bothered to remember.
Integrity and institutional memory over hucksterism. Some risk-taking over cheaping out. That's how great businesses break out of funks.
Is anyone still taking notes?
Okay, M.B.A. aspirants, class dismissed. Sadly, that phrase still has more than one meaning in Dodger Land. But perhaps one day that can change.
Ron Shinkman is a communications consultant and college instructor in Los Angeles.
For reprint and licensing requests for this article, CLICK HERE.