Marlins Choose Turnkey Search for Business Operations President

Under new ownership, the Miami Marlins recently turned to Turnkey Search to find its next president of business operations. The search firm’s founder, president and CEO sits down with Hunt Scanlon to provide an inside look at the assignment and the larger world of sports recruiting.

November 2, 2017 – Sports and entertainment recruitment firm Turnkey Search has been selected by the Miami Marlins to lead its search for a president of business operations. Turnkey president, founder and CEO Len Perna is heading the assignment. It is yet another top leadership appointment heading to a boutique specialist.

The executive will report to Derek Jeter, the Marlins’ new CEO and co-owner. The individual is charged with working collaboratively with ownership, customers and the community to operate the business side of the franchise and the stadium. The new head of business operations will have overall responsibility for the Marlins’ business operations, including: finance, information technology, human resources, sales and marketing, ballpark and retail operations, and corporate partnerships and community outreach.

The individual must lead by example as well as sustain a standard of excellence and a culture of inclusiveness and respect across the organization, said Turnkey. In addition, the person will evaluate all current personnel and develop a three-year plan to improve capabilities across the organization with a mix of existing and prospective talent that mirrors the diversity of the community.

Data Analytics Skills Key

According to the search firm, the right candidate will have strong written and oral communication skills, along with the ability to work productively with all levels of the organization, including game-day staff, administrative personnel, business unit managers, the CEO and the board of directors. Fluency with data analytics is essential, with the ability to support recommendations and decisions with facts.

The organization is seeking an individual with significant experience and success across all functional areas, both revenue and cost focused, including finance, marketing, sales, information technology, business law and human resources.

Sports & Entertainment Specialists

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

Turnkey has worked with the Marlins in the past, filling the team’s SVP for ticket sales role when its new stadium was under construction. In addition, Turnkey Intelligence has helped the Marlins with business analytics and customer surveys.

Sports Recruiting Finds Its Own Field of Dreams
Sports teams, from the professional level on down to college athletic programs, all now require a strong professional talent base. It’s not surprising that dozens of search firms compete hard for every plum assignment that surfaces.

During the past 21 years, Turnkey has handled more than 100 executive searches in Major League Baseball, including: Boston Red Sox (sponsorship sales); Chicago Cubs (multiple roles including sponsorships, operations, game experience); Los Angeles Dodgers (multiple roles including CEO, CFO, SVP of sales); Milwaukee Brewers (heads of marketing, communications, sales, finance, and other roles); New York Mets (directors of marketing and social media); Tampa Bay Rays (sales, marketing, HR and other roles); Toronto Blue Jays (SVP of business operations); and Washington Nationals (staffed entire organization when they relocated to D.C.)

Mr. Perna recently sat down with Hunt Scanlon Media to discuss the search and the nuances of recruiting executives for the sports & entertainment sectors.


Len PernaLen, what type of leader is the Marlins seeking?

The Marlins are looking for a high character individual with an appreciation for the diversity inherent in the South Florida community. Above all, the chosen individual needs to be a team player who derives satisfaction first and foremost from organizational success.

With the new ownership of the team, how important is it to find an executive that fits in with the culture the team is trying to install?

The new ownership seeks an individual who has a track record of creating a culture of inclusiveness and respect across an organization, including attracting, developing and retaining best-in-class employees across an organization.

What are some nuances of doing executive search for professional sports teams?

Unlike Fortune 500 companies, pro sports organizations tend to be much smaller, flatter, younger, much less resourced and often family owned and operated. For example, a marketer at Budweiser might have a billion-dollar cash budget, whereas a marketer at an NFL team might have some trade and no cash. So, a headhunter in pro sports has to have personally sat in the chair at a team or league, and possess first-hand experience working on the inside, in order to appreciate the challenges of these unique organizations. If you don’t have that hands-on/inside experience, you won’t place people who can stick for a long time.

These searches seem to move a lot quicker than searches we see in other industries. Why?

“A headhunter in pro sports has to have personally sat in the chair at a team or league, and possess first-hand experience working on the inside, in order to appreciate the challenges of these unique organizations.”

Because sport & entertainment is so fluid and moves so fast, and because the organizations within the sector tend to be small and leanly staffed, openings need to be filled very quickly. That is even more true for roles on the sports performance side, like coaches, GMs or athletics directors, where the marketplace is so tiny and the media starts their guessing game. You can’t play in the sport performance space as a search firm unless you already know the whole candidate pool intimately before you’re hired to conduct the search. Because once you’re retained, you’re on the clock. And so as a search firm you can’t dabble in sports, you’ve got to be all in.

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor; and Will Schatz, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

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