If you're shocked by how quickly Jim Harbaugh turned around the San Francisco 49ers, wait until you see what 31-year-old Jed York does.
Yes, he's the son of former team president John York and the nephew of former owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr., but don't make the mistake of associating this guy with the likes of Tommy Callahan.
The Notre Dame graduate was working as a financial analyst at Guggenheim Partners -- yes, the same group that later bought the Los Angeles Dodgers -- in New York, but in the middle of the 2008 season, York headed across the country to begin the process of ascending to the top of the 49ers business hierarchy, where he is now chief executive officer.
Today, he's worrying about the team's record, the new $1.2 billion stadium -- which, six months in has already seen 60 percent of its 16,000 total steel pieces installed -- and trying to assemble the smartest team in the business world.
York, who has been named to both SportsBusiness Journal's Forty Under 40 list and Fortune's Hottest Young Business Stars Under 40 this year, sat down with me to talk shop.
This past week, you scored your third executive from Facebook in Cipora Herman, who was the vice president of finance there. What are the synergies between Facebook and the San Francisco 49ers?
We're looking to put the right team together, not only on the field but off of it, too. There just happened to be three very good people that were working at Facebook. I think what's attractive about social media is that it's organic. So we're definitely exploring how to bottle it up and have something have that organic feel so that we can get it when we need it.
Your team is 5-2 heading into Monday night; what is keeping you most busy?
From a competitive standpoint, you want to be smarter than your competition, whether you are building a new stadium or managing the clock in the final two minutes of the game. How do you do things like Coach Harbaugh does, like not taking that safety at the end of the game? Vegas didn't like that, but it's like chess. The goal is not to take as many pieces as possible, it's to get checkmate. We're thinking about how do we outthink our competition down the road. How do we generate the most revenue with our new stadium? How do we have the best stadium environment? How do we get fans to cheer loudest at the right points of the game to give our team momentum? We're trying to figure that all out.
How often do you really think you can "create" an advantage like that?
Well, realistically, I think you're looking to change the outcome 1 to 2 percent of the time. There has to be things that can give you that extra advantage. And we're lucky in the fact that we have a ton of talent in the Silicon Valley and some of those people have a worthy goal of wanting to work for us.
I've heard crazy stories about what companies have offered engineers in the area. How can you compete with that?
We can't pay the engineers as much as the tech giants can, but within a 15-mile radius, we have so many of what you might call the best entrepreneurs of our day. There are people at Facebook and Apple and Google who have a passion for the 49ers, and working in sports is really something special. I don't think we have traditional people working for us to begin with. Our COO, Paraag Marathe, is a Cal undergrad, who went to Stanford Business School and worked at Bain Consulting. He's the guy doing our contract work.
From a technical standpoint, what do you need for the new stadium?
There's a full tech structure that needs to be built in order to give our fans the best in-stadium experience. In this specific case, it's not as much about generating revenue as much as it is making sure we get this right. We don't want to hardware a stadium for wi-fi and then have it become obsolete in three to five years. We want to have a software-driven stadium so that we can change with the times. We're in an area where our fans spend $1,000 every 19 months to upgrade their hardware (phones), so that's why we need to make sure we have the brightest folks in the world working for and with us.
What other part of the fan experience are you going to change when the new stadium debuts in 2014?
We need to be the leader in fan experience. You'll be able to watch replays on your smartphone, we're aiming to have a ticketless, cashless building, so that you can bypass certain lines. If you want to be a season-ticket holder that doesn't want to bring your wallet to the stadium, you will be able to do that.
You said that you want to somehow position fans to put them in the right places for games. How do you do that?
Well, unlike other leagues, the NFL does not allow us to change ticket prices from game to game, but we do have the potential in our new stadium to bring in about 5,000 more people with lower-priced options. We're blessed by the fact that we have the ability to do this because in our new place we have almost three times the space that we currently have in Candlestick.