Company: The Great Western Forum
Born: September 26, 1961
Education: University of Southern California, business administration, 1985
Hobbies: Collecting comic books, working out, running.
Career turning point: Being named president of the Forum.
By JOE BEL BRUNO
When she took over management of the Great Western Forum in 1995, Jeannie Buss had a tall order to fill: Bring down expenditures, raise revenues and come up with new events to entertain the crowds.
And as the daughter of Lakers and Forum owner Jerry Buss, she had something else to prove: That she didn’t get the job just because she was the boss’s daughter.
Today, Jeannie Buss can point to a series of accomplishments from the implementation of roller hockey to the sale of advertising on usher uniforms to defray their costs. But her biggest challenge lies ahead.
Kings owners Philip Anschutz and Edward P. Roski Jr. plan to build a new arena for the Lakers and Kings in downtown Los Angeles. Buss is now mulling her own future as well as that of the Forum.
Question: How did you get your start working for the Lakers?
Answer: I was 17, a senior in high school. My Dad owned the Lakers, the Kings and the Forum. It was before Magic Johnson, and the Lakers certainly had their reputation. But it wasn’t the sports at the time that I was most excited about the best thing was being able to sit front row at a concert. Growing up, I had always talked about going into the family business. When I was young, my Dad’s main business focus was real estate and I have a deep love for that too. He got involved in sports, and during the summers in high school I was an intern they used to call me an ‘arena rat.’
Q: It’s been two years now since being named president. What have you learned?
A: Just like any good business person, you increase revenues and decrease expenses. So this building has obviously been extremely successful. It wasn’t like I was going to come in here and reinvent the wheel. But certainly there were some things that we looked at creatively and tried to bring new ideas to. For example, my favorite story is that, in our business, you replace usher uniforms every three to four years. Our’s hadn’t been replaced in like eight years. The amount of capital expense for new uniforms was a lot. So we turned it around and sold a patch on the usher uniform to Office Depot so that actually getting new uniforms became a revenue source. (Office Depot patches are placed on usher uniforms as a form of advertising.) It’s a trend in the industry now.
Q: What is an average day like for you?
A: There are no average days. I think that’s why a lot of people gravitate towards this business because it is always interesting and challenging. Certainly, right now in this market, it’s very interesting because of the new arena.
Q: With talk of a new arena in downtown Los Angeles, do you feel your position is uncertain?
A: Yeah, in some ways I feel like a lame duck, not knowing where I will fit in at the new building or if the Forum will be around. I think that the Forum is extremely viable. I think that any person involved in business in this market worries about what the future is. In Southern California, we’ve gone through some tough years and certainly everything is changing so quickly. Do I let it keep me up at night? No. Am I looking for other opportunities? Absolutely.
Q: Have you spoken with Anschutz or Roski about working for them?
A: I’ve spoken to them briefly on the surface about being involved. I would like to be part of the team. I feel they have great leadership in Tim Liewicke (Kings president). The owners I respect very much.
Q: Were you surprised by the decision of Roski and Anshutz to build the new arena downtown?
A: I don’t know how much of a history lesson (Anschutz and Roski) have in what happened here, and why the Forum even exists in Inglewood. Jack Kent Cooke, who moved the Lakers here in the 1960s, was playing at the Sports Arena. The city of Los Angeles which owns the arena started to cause him problems in the terms of his lease when he bought the Kings hockey franchise.
So he just decided to build his own arena. He was embraced by the city of Inglewood, and that’s why the Forum is here. You hate to see history repeat itself. The only reason why they ever did move to Inglewood was the lack of cooperation they got from the City Council, and now here we are 30 years later and the same thing is going on. My dad sticks with what’s successful, and knows the right ingredients and formula to make the Lakers successful. Now, you are throwing yourself at the mercy of the city and Jack Kent Cooke already learned that lesson.
Q: Should the Forum be written off?
A: If I’m sitting in (L.A. Clippers owner) Don Sterling’s chair and thinking about what my options are, I’d be thinking of the Forum. He’s obviously been wooed heavily by my friends at the Anaheim Pond. I feel that, if I’m second-guessing the situation, if he hasn’t moved to Anaheim by now then it is not about the money. It’s about his personal satisfaction. It would be an obvious move for him to consider moving the Clippers here or purchasing the Forum from my father. This building is viable, and there are certainly a lot of fans who love NBA basketball who have voiced opposition to driving to downtown L.A. to see the Lakers play. So, maybe this will give them an option. I can’t see Donald wanting to stay at the Sports Arena once the new arena is built they’d be just a few miles from each other. But that’s really Donald Sterling’s decisions.
Q: Without the Clippers, can the Forum still survive?
A: We have the Sparks women’s basketball team, the Blades roller hockey team, and we have the capabilities of developing a lot of different programming. Tennis events, volleyball tournaments, gymnastics. There are even events out there like motorcycle racing on ice, in addition to the regular touring shows, like a Disney on Ice or a Ringling Brothers Circus. If the new arena is as busy as they anticipate, there are going to be shows left out in the cold. I guess we’d be competing with the new arena for shows like that. But we have a proven track record of being able to fill this building. People are willing to come here.
Q: What do you do in order to bring in new events to the Forum?
A: My experience had always been whatever new event that could possibly be held in an arena got thrown on my desk. I was in Russia looking for events, my father sent me there. I could start pulling out my files and really entertain you. Roller hockey landed on my desk in February of 1992 and I thought ‘great, here we go again.’ I couldn’t visualize what the sport would look like. I really felt that it would be team roller blade trying to play a game with hockey sticks. We held the very first ever game here, an exhibition game, in 1992. We had an attendance of over 6,000 people, and that alone shocked me. We had more than 1,000 walk-up there’s a grassroots out there that wasn’t anticipated when we planned the event. So my father bought a team for me. We are the very first members of the Roller Hockey International League which began playing the following year in 1993.
Q: Describe yourself as a manager.
A: Keeping it very simple by cutting expenses, increasing revenues and being creative. People in business understand that. Sometimes you get too caught up in what your business is, as opposed to staying true to the numbers. With my management experience, I could pretty much work for a bunch of different kinds of companies. It’s really the same issues.
Q: How did you get the job as president?
A: My dad thought I was a good candidate, but as my father, he thought I shouldn’t take it concerned about the kind of hours I’d be putting in. I took the job, and at first was afraid I wouldn’t be able to do it. Once I learned the business, and began to feel comfortable, that (gave me the satisfaction) that I can do this job. If I wasn’t doing a good job, I wouldn’t be sitting here. (My dad) isn’t the kind of person to lose money in order to make his little girl happy. That’s the kind of business I want to be in. I don’t want to be here because I’m Daddy’s little girl. That’s really important to me.