Earlier this season, a couple of Seattle-area heavy-hitters swung by T-Mobile’s Bellevue, WA headquarters to take part in the company’s ongoing Talking with Trailblazers guest-speaker series—which features some of the brightest, most innovative, creative and diverse leaders from across the country talking about topics that matter. First up to the plate was Seattle Mariners Chairman and wireless pioneer John Stanton. Batting cleanup was newly inducted MLB Hall of Famer and Mariner fan favorite Edgar Martinez. The two legends shared their pro tips on the importance of leadership on and off the field.
Hang onto your youthful exuberance and ways of thinking.
John Stanton: “In 1979, I was trying to figure out how to learn things about wireless. So, I got a bunch of reports from what was the old landline AT&T. And buried in one of those reports was a study that they’d done that concluded that by the year 2000, their demand analysis suggested there would be 1 million wireless customers in the United States. They only missed it by two digits. There were 100 million wireless customers by 2000. But that was the mindset of a bunch of stodgy men who were set in their ways. ‘Well, you’ve got to assume that the phone’s always going to be $3,000,’ which is what they were in the beginning. ‘You’ve got to assume that people are going to have to pay a $100 a month for a 100 minutes.’ If you make those types of assumptions, of course, no one’s going to ever take a leap of faith. But the group of us that were doing the work at the time were too young and inexperienced to know any better. We saw something in wireless that was dramatically different. We were in our 20s and we thought, This is a great, everyone is going to want a wireless phone! Of course, eventually, everyone would want one. We were kind of naïve maybe—but we were also right.”
When change presents itself, opportunity arises.
Edgar Martinez: “When I was growing up in Puerto Rico and then got the opportunity to get signed and come play professional baseball in the U.S., I knew I would be facing a moment of change, and of real challenge. But also, of great opportunity. I knew I had to look past the challenge itself and think about the opportunity it could provide. Deep inside, we often instinctively know we seek change because it can provide a good opportunity. Stay focused on the opportunity. You’re going to move forward. I know I did.”
Never let the fear of striking out keep you from taking risks.
Stanton: “In every sense, I believe in mobility. Especially when it means being able and willing to take chances. Go into someone’s office in another department and say, ‘I’d like to learn more about what you do.’ Take a change to that advantage of the resources that you do have around you. Taking chances is what ultimately enabled me and my partner to get our wireless business started. Being willing to take risks and overcoming failure. Baseball is a great example. Think about a batting average like Edgar’s of .312. Hall of Fame stats. But that still means he missed more than 6000 hits in his professional career—688 out of a thousand times he failed. Baseball is so much about overcoming failure and creating opportunities to take chances, which is something that can also make a business organization great. Being able to overcome that and find success is what it’s all about.”
Give back and lift others up along the way.
Stanton: “One of the great things about the Mariners is it represents an opportunity to shine a bright light on things that are important, like diversity. Most people probably haven’t heard of Challenger Little League, an organization for disabled children and young adults, 6 to 22. There are no Challenger Little League fields in the city of Seattle. So, we decided to create one at T-Mobile Park. We’ve had kids with disabilities come from all over to play the game. My advice: Spend your time doing something that you care about and in the community, from working on figuring out the homeless challenges to transportation issues to making the schools better to something like the Challenger Little League. There are so many ways to get involved. There’s no monopoly on what’s a good idea of how to.”
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