Swing for the Fences

Back by popular demand! In honor of baseball's Opening Day, we're revisiting this fan-favorite series!

Even through the aches and pains of middle age, I still dream of being a Major League baseball player. Like every kid who has ever swung a bat, I imagine a play-by-play announcer describing the classic scenario:


"Seventh game of the World Series, bottom of the ninth, two down, bases loaded, and the crowd goes wild as Jon Wool comes to the bat...."


Every baseball fan relishes the start of spring with its promise of good things to come. However, as the legendary Willie Mays once said, “Baseball is a game, yes. It is also a business.”


Under all its romance and nostalgia, baseball offers many lessons that apply to the business world. Over the coming weeks, I’ll note the similarities between the sport’s leadership principals and those of our industry. To build an organization worthy of the Hall of Fame, successful catering teams share the responsibilities of owners, coaches, and players.


First up: Owners

Baseball team owners and catering company owners both have responsibilities to their internal organizations as well as to their customers. Internally, owners must:

  • Create a vision and establish a winning culture. Each team has its own philosophy and culture but they all share the desire to field a winning team.
  • Be bottom line-driven at all times. Remember Mays' reminder that this is business. If you want to play ball for a hobby, start a sandlot game. Likewise, if you just want to cook for your friends, you can save yourself the hassle of getting a caterer's license.
  • Develop numerous avenues for revenue. Baseball owners focus on attendance, merchandising, and fantasy camps while catering company owners may focus on guest experiences, branded product lines, and amateur cooking classes.
  • Forecast 3-5 years into the future. Inevitably, players on any team will move on. Owners must identify and develop stars for the future.
  • Invest wisely. Owners are responsible for managing finances to grow their assets and protect the organization from unforeseen challenges.
  • Create succession plans. Who will take the reins when the Owner retires or sells the organization?


In addition to the internal dynamics of running the organization, baseball team owners and catering company owners also play a role in presenting their group to the public.

  • Grow the fan base. Owners need to understand their market and constantly promote their organizations.
  • Manage the media. Public perception is wildly important. Owners are key when it comes to managing the organization's image in a way that builds good-will and momentum.
  • Attract sponsors. Identify related organizations within the industry and develop partnerships that will prove mutually beneficial.


Most caterers don’t have a bankroll like the Yankees and few owners are as influential as the late George Steinbrenner, but catering company owners can learn a lot from the front office of baseball teams. At some point this spring, I’ll visit the batting cages and I’ll swing helplessly at the blinding fastballs that dart from the pitching machine. I may even connect enough times to keep my Major League dreams alive. Then I’ll limp back to the sales office and remember I can still hit a home run by applying baseball’s lessons to my own romantic trade.


Next at bat: Managers & Coaches

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