Atlanta Hawks Turns to Turnkey Search for New GM

May 18, 2017 – The Atlanta Hawks has retained Turnkey Search to lead its hunt for a new general manager. The team fired past GM Wes Wilcox after the Hawks record dipped to 43-39 this past season and the team lost to the Washington Wizards in the opening round of the playoffs.

“As we have said from the beginning, we are committed to building the Atlanta Hawks into a championship-caliber team, and after the end of our season, it was clear to all of us that our basketball operations leadership needed this reorganization,” said principal owner Tony Ressler. “As owners, we value Wes’ dedication, intellect and capabilities, however we believe that our leadership would be best served by recruiting a new general manager to bring our team to the level of play that we expect.”

Currently there is no formal list of candidates for the open position, according to a person familiar with the search. The hope remains that a hire will be made before the NBA Draft next month, but the organization has not set a deadline.

Established in 1996, Turnkey Search has conducted more than 1,000 executive recruiting placements across the entire landscape of the sports & entertainment industry. It recently completed executive searches for president of the new NHL expansion team in Las Vegas, CFO of the Atlanta Hawks, CRO of the Anaheim Ducks, CMO of the Cleveland Browns and Oakland Raiders, and it placed athletics directors at Michigan, Minnesota, Georgia Tech, Bowling Green and other Division I institutions.


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In November, the firm launched an executive coaching division. Tony Ponturo, a pioneer of modern sports marketing and president and CEO of Busch Media Group, joined Turnkey to lead the new practice.

General Managers

There may be no tougher job in professional sports than that of general manager. In the past decade, as the four major North American professional leagues — Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Basketball Association, and the National Hockey League — have seen revenues and profits soar, the GM role has become more complex, more challenging, and exponentially more stressful, according to a report put out by the Korn Ferry Institute. Increased media attention, fueled by the 24-hour news cycle of cable television, the Internet and social media, has put general managers under intense, and unprecedented scrutiny.

The GM role, once an unheralded backroom post handled in relative obscurity by former players, is now tracked and analyzed with such precision by fans and the sports media that job security has dropped precipitously. This makes the position a revolving door, and the work for headhunters all the more challenging.

“The general manager has to be smart, self-confident, both publicly and privately with owners, have an academic orientation, but also be telegenic,” said Billy Beane, the longtime general manager of the Oakland Athletics. “The individual has to be able to build an all-encompassing vision.”

But the general manager position is also evolving, and that’s adding an unusual layer of complexity to the role, and for recruiters. The influx into some sports of highly educated, versatile, data-driven young executives is reshaping the general manager’s position in dramatic fashion, according to the Korn Ferry report. New general managers who emerge as winners, it says, will be those who are self-motivated, intellectually curious, have a non-stop work ethic, the ability to evaluate talent and a leadership style that can inspire internally and externally.

“In the past, the GM needed to have played the games, bloodied their knuckles and bloodied their nose,” said John Schuerholz, president and former general manager of the Atlanta Braves. “The GM job today is much more sophisticated. It involves player analysis, a statistical component and softer skills such as getting a feel for the players. It’s also essential that GMs have a lively intellect.”

Contributed by Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

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