Scott O'Neil, the CEO of the Philadelphia 76ers and a recent convert to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, believes in investing in people. Speaking to students at the BYU Marriott School on Oct. 13, O'Neil said he knows he wouldn’t be where he is today without others investing in him.
“What young people will tell you that work for me is, ‘Scott, he cares about me,'” O'Neil said. “'He cares about my career. He cares about me as a person. He cares about my development.'”
O'Neil shared several stories and insights regarding his career with business school students after sharing the story of his conversion to the LDS faith.
At his first sales job out of college he was trying to make some copies when the copier broke. He decided to fix it. When Jon Spoelstra, the president of the company, a legendary sports marketing professional and father to current Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra, walked by. Spoelstra saw O'Neil's sleeves rolled up and ink on his hands and arms and inquired as to what O'Neil was doing. When O'Neil explained, Spoelstra immediately called him into his office and gave him a promotion.
After their encounter, Spoelstra took O'Neil under his wing.
“He invested in the lives and careers of young people and I was one of them,” O'Neil said.
Every week Spoelstra would get to know O'Neil and a few other young employees by taking them out to dinner.
Another mentor of O'Neil's was Len Komoroski, the current CEO of the Cleveland Cavaliers and O'Neil's boss when he was hired by the Philadelphia Eagles.
“He taught me...about strategy and about writing a business plan and how to go get research and how to actually be intellectually curious.”
Being intellectually curious, he said, means knowing how to study and learn, knowing how to evaluate your current talents and knowing what steps to take to reach the next level of your development.
O'Neil said he believes finding the right boss is far more important than finding the right job.
“If I had a child in college right now, what would I be advising them? I’d be advising them to go work for someone," said O'Neil. "Not a company. Like, find a boss. If you can find and identify someone who you are inspired by. Someone that’s going to teach you. Someone that’s going to invest in you as a person. Someone that’s going to invest in your career. I don’t care if it’s in coal mining or sports entertainment.”
O'Neil is grateful he works with the right people.
“The only thing that really matters to me is do I love, like and respect the people I work for and the people I get to work with?”
Philadelphia 76ers owners Josh Harris and David Blitzer are a couple of years older than O'Neil and both have five children, great marriages and are involved in their children’s lives, according to O'Neil.
O'Neil said he can tell their values are aligned when he calls one of the owners and they tell him to call back after their son's or daughter's soccer game.
“What a great message to hear from your boss,” O'Neil said. “It doesn’t mean they don’t work. These guys work an unbelievable amount of time.”
O'Neil believes that "sports are a vehicle for change" and emphasized that he feels blessed to be in a business where he can be a catalyst for change.
He used his experience as new CEO of the New Jersey Devils as an example. O'Neil describes Newark, New Jersey, as a “very tough town,” but since his Devils announced their new arena over $2 billion has been committed to building in the area.
Another way O'Neil's organization changed a life was by signing Kevin Grow, a high school senior who has Down syndrome, to a two-day contract so he could suit up for the 76ers.
"We tailor our entire environment to make sure of two things: One is that the job...we can make it fun if we all decide to do it,” said O'Neil. “And secondly, that we give you a purpose and a vision of something that I like to call 'bigger than the mundane jobs we actually have every day.'”