Bill Schlough has been the CIO of the San Francisco Giants since 1999. As an IT executive operating in the Bay area, it is no surprise that the Giants are among the most innovative and tech-savvy teams in baseball. The depth of the use of that technology by the front-office, the players and fans is remarkable, however. As Schlough tells CIO Insight contributor, Peter High, a culture of innovation begins with the Giants’ mission statement, and it imbues everything the team does.
CIO Insight: Congratulations on a third World Series championship for your Giants this decade. What role would you say technology played in the Giants’ success?
Bill Schlough: Well, I’d have to admit that I might be a little bit biased on this topic. But the reality is that innovation has been a fundamental driver, if not the fundamental driver, for our success on and off the field for as long as I’ve been with this franchise. The San Francisco Giants are dedicated to enriching our community through innovation and excellence on and off the field. That’s our mission statement. And technology enables much of this innovation: dynamic ticket pricing, our @Cafe social media hub, free Wi-Fi, contactless payments and Apple Pay, and pitch/hit/player tracking are just a few of the examples. Each and every member of my technology team played a role in ushering in the Golden Age for this franchise, and they each have a ring (or three) to recognize their contributions.
CIO Insight: How do you create a culture that embraces innovation?
Schlough: Well, it helps when it’s one of the most significant words in your organizational mission statement, and a core value for not only your IT division, but the entire company. When you have a budget meeting with the CEO and CFO, and 90% of the meeting is focused on how we can leverage technology to grow the top line as opposed to reducing expenses. When your CEO publicly recognizes the efforts of anyone in the organization, regardless of the department or role, who thinks creatively about how to grow the business. I certainly can’t take credit for creating the Giants’ innovation-friendly culture–that belongs to my boss, Larry Baer. But I certainly look to perpetuate this culture by reinforcing innovation as a core value and recognizing/rewarding innovation whenever I see it, anywhere in our business.
CIO Insight: With the new season upon us, how does your job differ during the season versus the off-season?
Schlough: Generally speaking, we shift from support mode to execution mode as soon as the season ends. With games virtually every day for 180 days, plus 30-plus spring training games, plus up to another 20 postseason games, a baseball season can be pretty grueling for players, coaches and the front office. We do our best to avoid major infrastructure upgrades or technology launches during this period, because stability is paramount with 42,000-plus fans entering the ballpark on a daily basis. There are exceptions to this rule, of course, such as the upgrade to our AT&T Wi-Fi network that will take place this season, but it’s far less efficient to do this type of work during the season, so we try to avoid it if possible. We actually spend a lot of time researching, planning, budgeting and negotiating during the season so that we’re ready to hit the ground running after the last game. If that final out comes on Oct. 29th, we have a lot less time to execute than if we’re out of contention in early September, but that’s a problem we’d love to have every year!
CIO Insight: What next? After achieving the ultimate goal (three times) how do you keep people motivated?
Schlough: I used to wonder the same thing. When we lost in heartbreaking fashion to the Angels in the 2002 World Series, everyone in the front office came back hungrier than ever to avenge that defeat. It took eight years, but we finally did it in 2010, ending a 56-year drought for the franchise. Mission accomplished! I wasn’t sure how I would feel after that. But, surprisingly to me, having experienced the pinnacle of our profession didn’t quench my thirst for success. It just made me appreciate how difficult, and rewarding, it is to achieve this goal. And it made me want it even more. I’ve discussed this phenomenon with my counterpart at the Seahawks, Chip Suttles, as he can certainly relate. I do have a feeling there is a point where the quest ends and you can finally declare victory and call it a career. For me, that milestone is to surpass the Yankees for most World Series titles in MLB history. Eight down, just 20 more to go!
CIO Insight: You claim that one of the secrets to your success is putting people first. Can you elaborate?
Schlough: Sure. The Giants are a very “tenured” organization. We have the longest serving GM in baseball, and Bruce Bochy has been with us longer than any other National League manager. Our ownership group has been relatively stable since our current CEO led the effort to save the team back in 1992. Average tenure at the SVP level is over 20 years. Needless to say, folks stick around. When dealing with my team, and people in general, I have always felt that individual career goals should come first–ahead of corporate goals and departmental goals. Hopefully, all three are in alignment. But if not, that shouldn’t stop you as a leader from helping your people (staff, mentees, peers, etc.) achieve their career goals–within your department, within your company or elsewhere. There is absolutely no better way to build trust and engender loyalty. And if, in the end, an individual’s career goals take them elsewhere, maybe that’s not such a bad thing. If you’ve done an effective job with succession planning, you’ve just opened up an opportunity for someone on your bench to step up–while making a friend for life by helping someone else leave the organization to follow their passion, maybe even fulfill a dream. In the end, what could be more important than that?
CIO Insight: What is your team makeup?
Schlough: I have a diverse mix of folks with a variety of skill sets ranging from network administration, telecommunications, development, project management, to technical support. We all wear multiple hats on any given day. Two things I hire for across the board: a passion for service, and a passion for baseball. Hard to make it through the grind of a 162-game season if you don’t have a love for the game. We try not to discriminate, but I admit that a Dodger fan might have trouble advancing through our interview process.
CIO Insight: For the past three years, you’ve been the Chairman of the San Jose Giants after having served as interim-CEO. How do you divide your time between the minor league affiliate and the big league club?
Schlough: The interim CEO role in San Jose was a full-time job. During the 2011-12 offseason, I spent 80% of my time on Minor League business operations and 20% on Major League technology. Now that we have hired a talented leader, Dan Orum, to take over the day-to-day oversight of our business in San Jose, I can spend much more of my time helping drive the innovation engine in San Francisco. Today I spend 90% of my time in San Francisco, but still try to get down to at least one game per home stand in San Jose. My focus as Chairman is to stay in touch with our fans and key sponsors, facilitate connections between Minor League/Major League business units, and generally help Dan succeed as CEO. I am much less “hands on” as Chairman, and I’m sure Dan appreciates that! Come to think of it, my direct reports in San Francisco might appreciate it if I were a little less “hands on” with them, as well. Maybe I’ll catch a few more San Jose Giants games this season!