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Congrats, Now Train Your Replacement

Working in the sports radio industry is a privilege that some of us often take for granted. We get to play in the toy department of life and engage in spirited discussions that are often referred to by industry types as “soap opera for men” and have access to people that most of our friends would pay large sums of money to spend 2 minutes with. We’re not digging ditches or ripping shingles off of roofs and we’re not heading home after each shift talking about how much we dislike our jobs. Face it, we’re pretty lucky….and we get paid to do this!

jblarussaOver the past 10 years of my career I’ve taken road trips with Dan Patrick, talked about coaching and motivating people with Tony LaRussa and Rick Venturi, attended a barbecue at Steve Spagnuolo’s house, sat with Billy Beane and listened to his views on the business of baseball and shared a stage with former Raiders Head Coach Dennis Allen. To say I’ve been treated to some special experiences would be a massive understatement but that’s what you become accustomed to when you work in this industry.

While all of that may be fine and dandy and it showcases the extra perks of working in this industry, it’s not as rewarding as making an impact on the people you work with every day. Sure it looks sexy and it sounds cool when starting a conversation with your friends but in the grand scheme of things, does it really matter? Not really.

achieveIn my opinion, one thing that matters a great deal is something that not everyone is willing to do – pushing people to get better and to take on bigger career challenges! Not every relationship will be positive but I try to make sure that wherever I work, I leave behind more people who felt like they learned something from me than those who didn’t. If a few friendships are made along the way, that’s icing on the cake.

I’m aware that my personality and style isn’t everyone’s cup of tea and every strong leader with strong opinions is going to have critics and fans. I don’t worry about whether or not I’m liked or disliked or if people care to have beers with me outside the work place. My job is to coach people, make them better, deliver results, make sure they’re prepared for the next step in their careers, fight for the brands I represent and by doing that it often leads to earning the respect and trust of those I lead. When I head home each day, that’s what matters to me.

In this industry so many of us are conditioned to compete and it becomes very easy to fall into the trap of worrying about ourselves. We worry first about our own needs, our own paychecks, our ratings, meeting our sales budgets and how we’ll personally be impacted if something around us changes. It’s much harder to think about a co-worker and how we can play a larger role in helping them take the next step in their career.

jbdpCase in point, when I left the Dan Patrick Show to become the first Program Director for SportsTalk 950 in Philadelphia (now 97.5 The Fanatic), Dan wasn’t initially excited for me. He was concerned about how my departure would impact his show and I didn’t blame him. He had a very successful program on the biggest sports radio network in the country and as a team we were starting to gel. Once the smoke cleared and Dan saw that everything would be fine (and probably better, haha) he was able to genuinely wish me well.

That reaction out of people is natural but I believe that each of us sometimes need to be reminded of the bigger picture and how important it is to help someone take steps in their career rather than focus negative energy on how it may impact our own situations. If we’re good at what we do, we’ll be fine regardless of who’s around us. If we use our talents to grow those around us, it speaks even higher volumes about what you stand for as a professional and more importantly as a person.

scottcarlinThat leads me to the headline of this column and how I personally relate to it. In 2002 I was working in Poughkeepsie, NY paying my dues for radio station 1340/1390 ESPN Radio. We had one local afternoon show and I was producing and doing updates on it for about a year. I was making strides inside the workplace and enjoying my role and it led to my Operations Manager Scott Carlin and General Manager Bill Palmeri taking a liking to me.

One day I was called up to Scott’s office and he wanted to talk to me about how we could improve the radio station. Our PD/Afternoon Host had been let go earlier in the day and Scott was of the opinion that if I took on the PD role and afternoon host position we’d get better. I was honored that he and Bill believed in me enough to trust me leading the radio station and I saw it as a great growth step for my career and I gladly accepted the opportunity.

Right after Scott informed me of the salary and shook my hand, he uttered the following words “congratulations, now start training your replacement“. I was confused and asked him if he was referring to making sure we had a new producer and update guy in place to fill my old spot. He smiled and said “No. Make sure you get the next Programmer ready for us“.

jbwpdhConsidering I had worked hard to earn this position and had just been offered the job, I wasn’t thinking straight and the thought of getting someone else ready to do the job wasn’t sitting well. Scott then explained his rationale and once he spoke his piece it all made perfect sense. He told me he knew I’d one day go on to do bigger things and when that opportunity comes my way, it’ll be important for me to make sure that the place I leave behind is in capable hands. The building in Poughkeepsie wasn’t going to change locations so it was my responsibility to prepare others for future opportunities with the company.

I then told him I’d do my best to make sure we had great depth at the radio station and I’d focus my efforts on making sure I made those around me better. That conversation that day made a major impact on me because it taught me that what you leave behind matters and it also influences how people measure you and talk about you long after you’ve left a situation.

giffordSince that day, I have taken great pride in trying to help people advance their careers. When I worked at ESPN Radio as a Producer, I pushed my intern Amanda Gifford to become great. She had natural talent and a great way of communicating with people and she loved being challenged. While she was new to the business I wasn’t going to let that be an excuse to not make an impact. Because she worked her tail off and impressed those around her, she kept moving up the ladder. Today she’s a Program Director for ESPN Radio Network.

jbhossIn St. Louis, I spent 5 years working with Chris “Hoss” Neupert at two different radio stations. I challenged him to showcase his creativity and manage people and collaborated with him on numerous events and ideas. When I left 590 The Fan, KFNS he was named as my replacement and when I left 101 ESPN he wasn’t initially put in as PD but he’s in that position now and nothing makes me happier than seeing him kick ass and take names and knowing I played a small part in helping him reach that level.

jbcrowe2In San Francisco when we launched 95.7 The Game, I knew I needed a partner who understood my way of doing radio and had the passion and desire to run a station in the future. I convinced my former ESPN Radio colleague Jeremiah Crowe to leave Bristol and join me as the radio station’s Executive Producer. Over the next 4 years I challenged him again and again and it helped put him in position to earn a promotion to Assistant Program Director. He’s now ready to become a Program Director either here in San Francisco or somewhere else in the country.

smearAdditionally, some of my former producers have made great strides professionally. John Semar who worked for me at 101 ESPN in St. Louis and 95.7 The Game in San Francisco is now the Executive Producer of CBS Sports 920 in St. Louis. Ben Boyd who produced for me at 101 ESPN is the Executive Producer for KMOX in St. Louis. And my former afternoon producer at 95.7 The Game Kyle Englehart, now holds the Executive Producer title at XTRA Sports 1360 in San Diego.

benboydIn each of their cases, I’ve pushed for them to take on bigger challenges. When Ben came to me at 101 ESPN and asked what he should do when Sirius XM put a bigger opportunity on the table, I told him to take it, even if it meant leaving us where he’d done remarkable work. As it turned out, the Sirius XM situation didn’t last but Ben gained valuable experience from it, and that combined with his strong track record in St. Louis earned him a bigger role with KMOX.

In John’s case, I not only encouraged him to leave St. Louis and join me in San Francisco to take on the challenge of a different show and market, but when he decided St. Louis was where he wanted to live and work and his current boss Tim McKernan asked my advice on hiring him, I told Tim he’d be improving his company immediately by adding John. Tim elected to take my advice and hire John and their partnership has turned out to be very positive.

jbkyleWhen my fellow PD and good friend Brian Long reached out and asked for suggestions on strong candidates to become his right hand man in San Diego, I suggested Kyle without hesitation. Kyle was surprised when I called him to my office to tell him I recommended him for a job back home in San Diego and he was very appreciative that I had done so. While selfishly it would have benefited my station and afternoon show to have him stay, I had to think about what was best for his career. I had faith in my own abilities to create a solution that would keep the station and show in strong shape while allowing Kyle to take the next step in his career and everything has since worked out great for both parties.

parcellstreeSome of my staffs have heard me use the line “graveyards are full of irreplaceable men” and whether that’s ignorance or cockiness on my part can certainly be debated but I believe in the “next person up” mentality. You hear it often in pro football and I believe it translates to radio too. Find me an organization without depth and talented people ready to step up and I’ll show you a losing organization.

louholtztreeNobody is impossible to replace. However, you’ve got to develop your key people and your bench because if you don’t then you’ll never be your best and you won’t help your people reach their full potential. I can accept losing an employee to another company because they did great work and were presented with a growth opportunity. What I dislike is having to part ways with someone because they either didn’t get the job done or conducted themselves unprofessionally.

bryancoxI remember when I covered the NY Jets early in my career and I had a chat with Bryan Cox who told me that Bill Parcells was dogging him after he had an outstanding game. Parcells walked on to the practice field with two gas cans, one which was full and one which was empty. Bill told Bryan “you started as one of these, now you’re the other one, you figure out which one you are“.

Cox was pissed because he was coming off of a great game but the trick worked because he went out that Sunday and played a great game and the Jets won. The following week Bryan told Bill he could kiss him where the sun didn’t shine for suggesting he was on empty and Parcells loved it because he knew he had pushed his player to perform. However, he also gave Bryan some words of wisdom that stuck with me and I use when developing my radio teams.

coxHe told Bryan “never lose sight of the fact that every single day you’re competing for your spot. What you did last game doesn’t guarantee a strong result in the next one. If a day comes and I think your backup, his backup, another teams starter or another teams backup can do the job better than you, you’re not on this field. It’s your job to make sure you bring it every day and give me no reason to look for other alternatives“.

The point of those examples above isn’t to showcase how they’ve each had success in their careers nor is it to pat myself on the back for helping them. It’s to emphasize the importance of looking out for what’s best for your people and doing your part to help them be their very best, even if it means having to lose them at some point. I believe that when you do that and you show people that you care about them and their future, you get more respect and buy in from them. It also sends a strong message to the rest of your employees and other professionals that you’re the type of person worth going through a wall for.

relationshipsWe sometimes forget that people in this business go to work for other people, not companies. Life decisions are made based on who we like, trust, respect and feel we will gain something from. It isn’t just about money, although that sometimes blinds us when accepting positions. When someone comes to work for me, they enter into a partnership with me and the radio station I oversee. Yes the company has certain standards that need to be met and they issue a paycheck and benefits but the day to day decision making comes from the person you work for. That relationship normally dictates how long you stay in a position and whether or not you enjoy the experience.

Not everything I’ve done over the years has been endorsed by the companies I’ve worked for but the majority of my employers have respected and trusted my approach and I’ve been lucky more times than not to work for good companies and good people who empower me to make decisions. It’s then my job as a manager to make smart choices that are best for the brand and our people. I take both of those priorities very seriously and I treat them equally important.

jbburwellEven when I’ve parted ways with people in this business, it’s never personal unless someone wants it to be that way. In many cases I’ve worked with people multiple times. Case in point, the late and great Bryan Burwell worked for me twice in St. Louis. Bob Ramsey, Chris Neupert and Sara Dayley did as well. In San Francisco the same holds true for Mychael Urban, Dan Dibley, Drew Hoffar and Matt Steinmetz. If I believe someone can help the organization and they’ve conducted themselves professionally, regardless of the prior situation it’s my job to do what’s best for the radio station. If I think they can help us get better, I don’t hesitate to re-open the door.

strongpeepsIf there’s something to take away from this article it’s that I hope if you work in this industry that you recognize how important it is to make lasting impressions on people and lift them up to your level (and hopefully beyond it) rather than keeping them stagnant. A disruption is never ideal and maybe the solution won’t be as good but it’s not the end of the world or your career. If you’re smart, talented, willing to put the work in and help people improve, you’ll be just fine!

If you value those around you and challenge them to get better, they will. When they do, they’ll likely get scooped up or they’ll rise inside your company. Their job is to make sure they’ve prepared their replacement. Because as I learned in 2002, the building doesn’t relocate!

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