By Frederik Ehlen, Dr. Jess Dixon, and Dr. Todd Loughead (University of Windsor)
Richard Peddie is the former president and CEO of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment (MLSE), the parent company of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Toronto Raptors, and Toronto Football Club. We had the privilege of chatting with Peddie, where he shared some valuable leadership and career lessons that he learned along his journey.
“I managed to get my ticket punched in every area of professional sports, except for running a team itself.”
Peddie’s journey started with an honors bachelor of commerce degree at the University of Windsor and a dream of leading a professional basketball team. In our interview, he listed branding, market research, sales, general management, and financial management as attributes that he had developed during his time as a student and throughout the early part of his career in the consumer packaged goods industry. Joining SkyDome (now Rogers Centre) in 1989 was his first step into the sport and entertainment realm. Peddie credits his experience in selling hospitality suites and sponsorships, as well as running food and beverage operations to his time with SkyDome. Next, Peddie joined Labatt Communications, which later became NetStar Communications, as President and COO. While there, he oversaw the operations of TSN, among other specialty Canadian cable television channels, and the launch of TSN.ca—one of the first online sports media websites in Canada. Adding television and digital media expertise helped make his case to be hired as President of the NBA’s Toronto Raptors in 1996.
Throughout the interview, Peddie drew clear examples of how his experience in these various roles helped him as president and CEO of MLSE – his learnings from SkyDome when overseeing the construction of Air Canada Centre (now Scotiabank Arena) and Maple Leaf Square, as well as his digital media knowledge from NetStar Communications when launching Leafs TV and NBA Raptors TV and acquiring GolTV. Although his pathway cannot be seen as a blueprint to success, indeed there are many different avenues to achieving a senior leadership position within professional sports, it reinforces the importance of developing a broad set of skills and experience.
“So, do I believe vision and values work? Absolutely, but only if you are committed to them, only if you make your decisions based on them, only if you constantly reinforce them.”
Peddie, who retired from MLSE in 2012, has always been invested in leadership and leadership education. When we met with Peddie, he shared insights and personal experiences with his approach of choice – leading by vision and values. Having spent the early part of his career in the consumer packaged goods industry, he offered a prime example of his company’s commitment to vision and values. Specifically, he followed the advice of a young brand manager, who was living the company’s values, to discard a low-grade batch of creamed corn rather than distribute it to the retailers – leaving shelf space unused for nine months. This commitment to the company’s value that ‘quality is essential’ paid off for the company in the long term. Peddie also told us how he defined and implemented his vision and values approach to leadership with MLSE, and how he ensured staff buy-in.
Asked about his leadership style and approach to running an organization, Peddie acknowledged meritocracy as a principle that he practiced throughout his career. He explained how Jack and Suzy Welch’s (2005) Winning inspired him to focus on the growth of the top-performing 20% of employees, while parting with the bottom 10%. He drew the natural comparison to sports where players get cut and unsuccessful coaches are fired.
Closing the interview, Peddie emphasized that leadership is a lifelong journey that never ends. He believes that “the moment you stay still as a leader, you are going to fall by the wayside.” For him, the only way to become a great leader is to keep learning and developing.
To read the entire interview, check out to the April 2018 edition of Sport Management Education Journal