Joe Maddon Shares Leadership Lessons with HBS MBAs

Billy Tabrizi, SA Chief Strategy Officer
Billy Tabrizi, SA Chief Strategy Officer

In a virtual visit, the World Series Champion manager reflects on baseball, art in the game, the Respect 90 foundation, and more.

When the planning began in January, the Harvard Business School Student Association and Respect 90 could hardly imagine the circumstances under which the virtual visit would take place. Months later, it would turn out that the virtual visits Joe Maddon pioneered in Major League Baseball would become the norm for almost all of society. 

Students at HBS know the best leadership lessons come not only from academic literature but also from real-world experience in a variety of fields. Hearing from Joe Maddon, an MLB manager who has competed—and won-—at the highest level of sports gave MBAs a rare glimpse into the process and mindset it takes to excel.

On a Friday afternoon in late April, Joe Maddon, Manager of the Los Angeles Angels spoke with about 150 HBS MBAs, taking on almost 90 minutes of Q&A. Students learned how he thought about big picture topics, such as the balance of art and analytics, and more tactical leadership lessons, like resolving differences. On the latter, Maddon shared simple, yet powerful leadership advice, such as getting to know the individual on a personal basis, rather than just about baseball.

Trevor Hill (MBA ’20) shared, “It was a special opportunity to hear from one of Major League Baseball’s most respected managers. Two things really stood out to me from what he shared about his leadership philosophy—that the foundation for leadership is building strong relationships with everyone on your team and that diversity is truly a source of strength.”

Maddon also answered fun speed-round questions, like what wine he would drink if he were only allowed one type of wine for the rest of his life. “It would have to be something in the $50-$75 range so I could have it every day.” His selection? Chappellet Signature Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2015. Don’t buy it all at once!

Maddon talked in depth about his Respect 90 foundation, led by Executive Director Rick Vaughn. He shared some of the inspiration for the organization, along with his thoughts on giving back and the importance of someone assuming a leadership role. The foundation itself focuses on helping children and families, and MLB fans will love its two great baseball references. First, the slogan “respect begins at home” is an obvious nod to the home plate in baseball. Additionally, the name “Respect 90” itself is a reference to the 90 feet between bases. Maddon has previously said, “Respect 90 represents the 90 feet from home plate to first base. I want my players to run hard all the time to first place.”

Looking forward, many MBAs felt there was a lot to learn even though they may not be MLB managers themselves. Mike Sobolewski (MBA ’20) shared, “There are surprisingly a lot of experiences that Joe has had on the baseball field that we can apply to our own careers moving forward.” 

Jesse Bendit (MBA ’20) shared, “Joe was incredibly generous with his time, even seeming willing to do it again, which I’m sure we would all welcome. No surprise he has been so generous with his time helping children and families build confidence and communities through Respect 90. It was great to hear about Joe’s view of the joy of baseball, the role of data analytics, his career turns, and his part in iconic moments—from Evan Longoria taking TB to the playoffs and to, of course, the end of a 108-year-old Chicago curse.”

After the interview, Maddon shared final reflections on Twitter, reiterating his age-old (and important) lesson to trust the process, saying, “Hey Harvard Business ….thanks for the invite….had great time with our exchange….looking forward to getting back to Fenway…always eventful, fun, exhilarating ….hope to actually visit on Campus at some point…..#TheProcessIsFearless”

Let’s hope Fenway is open to welcome Joe Maddon and the rest of the Angels soon enough. 

Billy Tabrizi (MBA ’20) is Co-Editor of Satire for the Harbus. He co-runs the “Dear Harby” Instagram account and satire-related events on campus. Sometimes (albeit rarely) he can be serious, as shown here. Billy serves as Chief Strategy Officer for the SA and CFO of Tech Club. He’s a proud, loud Chicagoan too!