November 18, 2019 – Korn Ferry has placed Ben Cherington as the new general manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates. He takes over from Neal Huntington, who was fired after a 12-year stint. The club has announced it will hold a press conference at PNC Park to introduce the new general manager.
Mr. Cherington has more than two decades of experience at nearly every level of a baseball operations department. He was the Pirates’ pick from a field of finalists that also included interim GM Kevan Graves, Brewers assistant GM Matt Arnold and Astros director of player development Pete Putila.
Previously, Mr. Cherington served as vice president of baseball operations for the Toronto Blue Jays. Before that, he was GM of the Boston Red Sox for four years, winning the World Series in 2013. A graduate of Amherst College, Mr. Cherington started with the Red Sox as an area scout in 1999 and moved up the organization under then-GM Theo Epstein.
In his new position with the Pirates, Mr. Cherington will be working with a team that has struggled through three losing seasons in the past four years. Another challenge will be overcoming a small-market budget and a middle-of-the-pack farm system. Over the past several years, the team has also lost key players to trades and free agency.
New Boston Red Sox Top Executive
Korn Ferry also recently helped the Boston Red Sox recruit Tampa Bay Rays executive Chaim Bloom as their new chief baseball officer. He replaced Dave Dombrowski, who was let go less than a year after the team he built won the World Series.
Mr. Bloom is a 36-year-old Yale graduate who worked 15 years in the Rays organization, starting as an intern and spending the last three years as a senior vice president of baseball operations.
“We believe Chaim is exactly the right person to lead the Boston Red Sox baseball operation based on a number of attributes we sought in this process,” Red Sox principal owner John Henry said. “We had done exhaustive work narrowing down candidates. That work led us to Chaim, who was the first executive invited to Boston for an interview. He made a strong impression on all of us and validated our initial research that he was the one to lead our baseball operation.”
Korn Ferry’s sports practice is led by Jed Hughes, who is well known for identifying, assessing and developing leaders for sports organizations. His relationships in sports and intercollegiate athletics are extensive, having spent 20 years coaching in professional and intercollegiate football and working for five Hall of Fame coaches. He also led the development of psychological testing, competency development and structural behavioral interviewing for the San Francisco 49ers and Green Bay Packers. Jason Belzer of Forbes has called Mr. Hughes the most valuable connector of the sports industry.
Over the last quarter century, the sports sector has grown into a formidable global industry. Historically, professional sports teams operated on a relatively modest level, with league officials, team owners, managers, and coaches surrounding themselves with people they knew and trusted from their own small worlds. College sports teams relied on in-house search committees and word-of-mouth recommendations. Much of that has forever changed.
Teams with tremendous followings like the Dallas Cowboys, Real Madrid and Manchester United have seen their valuations soar into the billions of dollars. That’s attracted search firms – big time. Seasoned recruiters now provide strategic planning advice, in addition to talent identification services, with the capability of applying their findings to speed along the process in the hunt for talent. Here’s some further reading from Hunt Scanlon Media.
Korn Ferry has a history of working with Major League Baseball, having placed Rob Manfred into the commissioner’s post. The firm also helped the Milwaukee Brewers and Toronto Blue Jays in searches that resulted in the hiring of first-time GMs David Stearns and Ross Atkins
The general manager role may be the toughest job in professional sports to fill. In the last 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 role has become more complex, more challenging and exponentially more stressful, according to a report issued 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 post, 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. High turnover has heightened the work of recruiters.
“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 complexity to the role. The influx into some sports of highly educated, versatile, data-driven young executives is reshaping the job in dramatic fashion, according to the Korn Ferry report. New general managers who emerge as winners, it said, 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 individuals both inside and outside of their organization.
“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 Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; and Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media