Jim Pohlad on Baseball, Brothers, and Business

By Oscar Wolfe

 

Great-Pohlad

My mom and I stepped into the elevator of a downtown Minneapolis skyscraper and shot up the 39 stories to the office of Mr. Jim Pohlad, owner of the Minnesota Twins. We were greeted by a friendly receptionist. She asked if we had an appointment. We told her that we were there for an interview with Mr. Pohlad. I took a caramel out of the bowl of candies on her desk (she offered!) and put it in my pocket for later. After a few minutes, a woman came to escort us to Mr. Pohlad’s office. We walked up a flight of stairs and into his corner office. It was beautiful—huge windows with spectacular views of the city, and Target Field. Two replicas of the Twins’ World Series trophies sat on a shelf. The Twins game was on TV. And there were tons of papers on the desk. We sat down at a glass table with four red chairs around it. Then, my interview with Mr. Pohlad began.

What’s a typical day like for you?
I go to coffee in the morning, virtually every morning, with friends. Then I get down here. Generally, my work day is composed of meetings. If I don’t have meetings, I’m generally making a mess in here.

Are you really a big baseball fan? Do you go to all the games?
I do go to the games. I think I have to go to the games. If I don’t, it’s hard to tell people they should go. But I am a fan. I do enjoy going to the games—it’s not a hardship.

What’s your favorite food at Target Field?
They bring us food in the suite, but I do occasionally go out, and I like Hot Indian.

What do you think is the best seat at Target Field?
Target Field is really good—there are a number of different interesting angles. I sit up in a suite —I can see it from here (motions out his office window), that white spot, right below upper deck, that’s about where we sit. I like to watch from the suite because I don’t like to sit down, for one thing. And, it’s a little easier to show your frustration when you’re up there. And you do that, because it is frustrating.

So about that. What is your take on how the Twins are playing?
We’re trying to figure that out. A lot of people have looked at it. It doesn’t appear to be just one thing. One theory: the team isn’t as good as we thought it was. Maybe we’re doing something wrong in developing players. Maybe last year was just a fluke. Maybe they appeared to play better than they really did. When you look at it, they only had one winning month last year, May, they were something like 20-7, and that kind of carried the whole season. Maybe we had unrealistic expectations for this year. But that’s just an excuse. The question is, why are they bad. We need to get better. No one can seem to pinpoint one thing.

Do you have any superstitions or rituals for the games?
If we ever got to the World Series, maybe I’d have superstitions. My dad wore polka dot socks. If it was only that easy. It isn’t that easy.

Are you the type of owner that gives the manager advice?
I’m the type to stand back and let the manager do his job. That’s something I learned from my dad, he would find people he could relate to and had confidence in, and then he let them go and run a business or manage a business on his behalf. He was willing to do that. So I believe in that, also. I can’t say that we all believe in that in the family, but that’s the biggest lesson I learned. In this case, I don’t know more about baseball that Paul Molitor (manager), Terry Ryan (general manager) and Dave St. Peter (president). So I try to put that lesson from my dad in practice.

Do you think anyone could do what your dad, Carl Pohlad, did?
No. I don’t think I can either. People like my dad, and others that have been really successful, are pretty rare. I can’t be like him, I don’t have whatever the ingredients were that made him super successful. The question is, can we keep things together and build on it. That’s what I need to try to do.

What’s your favorite part of being in business?
It’s a family business that my dad started and so carrying it on, trying to maintain and build on what he created—that’s my favorite part. And that’s our goal.

What’s the hardest part?
Trying to make investment decisions. Figuring out what to invest in so that we will get growth. Especially now—prices are very high for investments, and there’s so much competition for them. You should have asked me what’s the worst part of owning a sports team.

Okay. What’s the worst part of owning a sports team? The importance of winning is so highlighted in our market, it takes the fun out of the actual game. I’m so worried the team is not going to win and people are going to hate the Twins and not come to the ballpark, that it takes the enjoyment out of watching the game, and it’s an enjoyable game. It takes that away. We have a lot of really passionate fans and they’ll come, no matter what. In New York, they have the same size ballpark, but they have way more passionate fans, and a much bigger population. So that’s really a bummer here. It’s not fun to watch the game for the sake of watching the game.

Did you play baseball when you were a kid?
I always liked baseball, and I always played. I didn’t progress competitively. I didn’t play on my high school team because I went to Edina High School and there were 700 kids. I wasn’t a star.

What advice do you have for kids who want to work in sports?
It’s a really crowded field and there aren’t that many jobs. One problem with the Twins: people don’t seem to leave. There isn’t a lot of turnover. People tend to want to focus on professional teams but if you really want a career in sports, you might be more expansive than the pros—look at colleges, community teams.

What about business advice in general?
You’ve got to have a lot of energy and ambition. Unless you’re moving into a family business like I did (laughs). It’s super competitive. Do well in school. Take classes that will really help—math, law. I was an accounting major.

I can’t really imagine working with my brother when I grow up. What’s the secret to working with your brothers?
Our parents raised us to work together really well. None of us pursues something just for ourselves; we try to think about the shared interests of the whole family. That helps a lot.

Do people come up to you a lot to offer advice about the team?
When they’re doing terrible, people are more reluctant to talk to you. There’s always going to be that bold fan. And we get letters. When things are going well, people feel better about coming up to me. Otherwise, they stay away.

(We caught the last inning of the game on the way home from the interview. The Twins lost to the Oakland Athletics, 5 to 1.)

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