Robert Gulliver, the NFL’s first
vice president of human resources, is the latest example of how
league employees increasingly need the same skills as finance
The former Wells Fargo & Co. executive, who joined the
National Football League in 2010, even brought with him a nine-box talent assessment protocol that he utilized for two decades
on Wall Street. Executive search professionals say the league
that last season generated almost $10 billion in revenue from a
variety of sources, mimics an investment bank these days.
“The NFL is the Goldman Sachs (GS) of sports leagues,” said
Liz Boardman, who conducts senior-level assignments at executive
search firm Russell Reynolds, where she specializes in sports
organizations. “The head of HR, they carry and represent the
culture. He knows the talent that needs to be there.”
Gulliver, 43, said he joined the most-watched U.S. sports
league when there was “a lot of receptivity” to making
whatever changes were necessary to maximize personnel. He
brought with him practices like the nine-box assessment, which
evaluates employees’ contribution to the organization and their
potential levels of contribution.
“Winning in this business comes down to people as a
competitive advantage. That’s very similar to working in the
investment management space, where your product, your generation
of alpha, really comes from your people and leveraging and
tapping into the insights of your people making decisions,”
said Gulliver, using the term for measuring performance on a
risk-adjusted basis. “Generating alpha is winning on Wall
Gulliver’s boss, Commissioner Roger Goodell, with whom he
speaks every day, isn’t the easiest to please, said Eric Grubman, the league’s executive vice president of business
ventures and a former Goldman Sachs investment banker.
“Goodell is not someone who you can say, ‘Hey, I can get
you 75 percent of what you want,’” Grubman said. “That’s a
really bad answer for the commissioner.”
The NFL, which will stage its Super Bowl on Feb. 2 at
MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, has what
Gulliver called a human capital agenda that mirrors what he used
in finance. It focuses on key drivers that include talent
management, employee and leadership engagement, rewards and
recognition, and diversity and inclusion, which received a lot
of attention after a Miami Dolphins player this season was
accused of bullying a teammate who left the club.
One of Gulliver’s signature initiatives was the creation of
an eight-person panel to identify top coaching and executive
management candidates. While teams since 2003 have been required
to interview at least one minority applicant to fill a head
coaching or senior management vacancy, Gulliver said green
matters more than black or white.
“This is looked at, simply put, as good business,” he
said, noting that Wachovia, a unit of Wells Fargo (WFC), had a similar
initiative to the NFL’s Rooney Rule when he worked there from
2004-08 as HR business partner director in the capital
management group. His resume also includes human resource
positions at Citigroup Asset Management, PricewaterhouseCoopers
and General Electric Capital Corp.
Gulliver, a native of Yonkers, New York, about 14 miles
north of midtown Manhattan, never played organized football. The
Cornell University graduate became a Giants fan when his mother
went back to school at Pace University, where the team held
training camp before an audience that often included Gulliver
and his sister. “I like to tell people there’s more than one
way to make it to the NFL,” Gulliver said.
De Facto Bank
Gulliver’s Wall Street experience is a large part of what
made him an attractive candidate for the NFL’s HR post. The
league, both in atmosphere and action, is a de facto investment
bank, said Jed Hughes, the recruiter who led the search that
resulted in Gulliver’s hiring.
The NFL does more than just stage football games. The
league also loans money to its 32 clubs for stadium development
and, in a partnership with Providence Equity, has established a
fund to invest in private sports and entertainment-related media
and technology companies.
“Just look at the NFL and its deals — they’re like a
bank,” said Hughes, the vice chairman and global section leader
for sports at the executive search firm Korn Ferry.
Hughes said he worked closely on the search with Grubman,
who encouraged finance-minded candidates and ultimately pressed
for Gulliver, who holds a master’s degree in business
administration from Dartmouth College and is a member of
Goodell’s seven-person leadership team.
Grubman said he, too, sees a correlation between the NFL
and investment banking.
“This is a relentless place that is extremely competitive,
and yesterday’s victory means nothing tomorrow,” he said.
Grubman said Gulliver has been instrumental in changing the
culture of the NFL as it tries to reach Goodell’s goal of $25
billion in annual revenue by 2027.
NFL football, Grubman said, is “one of the last, great,
true meritocracies on the planet.”
“The best quarterback is going to play,” he said. “Now
apply that to the business environment. Robert is taking that to
a whole new level where we’re applying that same meritocracy
theme inside that the clubs are showing outside. That’s the way
of the NFL.”
To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Michael Sillup at
Source Article from http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-01-30/nfl-mimics-investment-bank-with-gulliver-generating-alpha-to-win.html
NFL Mimics Investment Bank With Gulliver Generating Alpha to Win
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