It’s All About the Management

They’re publicly owned staples of the Midwest, with old-school tradition and strength built on not embracing fads of the moment: Berkshire Hathaway and the Green Bay Packers. Berkshire stock has risen more than 70% from the recession’s trough; it was right around that time a 6-10 Packer team led by rookie Aaron Rodgers was licking its wounds from a bruising failure of a season. But, as Berkshire has done over decades with Warren Buffett’s leadership, and as the Pack did over decades of success with names like Lombardi, Starr and Favre, each organization moved from lows in 2008 and 2009 up toward new heights in 2011. With 13 NFL championships, the Packers—and Buffett’s titan—just go to show that on the NFL gridiron and in the business world, teams’ ability to place the right individuals in the right situation—at every link in the chain—is crucial in determining success.

This would make Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder the Steve Case of the NFL. They pursued goals with relentless ambition armed with a war chest of capital, but failed to employ adequate foresight and discipline, leading to a series of flops. Neither has many highlights to point to over the last decade; it is likely that given the opportunity, each would make different decisions. Maybe not Snyder, though.

On the other hand, the New England Patriots’ leadership can only be compared to the Goldman Sachs machine. With unrivaled success throughout the boom years of the last decade, both have approached media with unequaled aloofness. And, between a Pats assistant taping opponents in violation of league policy and Goldman’s obvious penchant to milk both sides of a deal, each has had their accountability and ethics brought into question over and over. Now—with intense scrutiny on banker pay, and Tom Brady approaching the latter portion of his career—it remains to be seen whether either will be able to maintain their competitive stranglehold.

The Minnesota Vikings? Enron. They’re utterly crooked from the top down—Zygi Wilf is determined to relocate the franchise, if only he could get a shiny new stadium, if only he could make up his mind whether or not he wants a dome on it—and Brad Childress and Denny Green split the Andy Fastow role for their awful decision-making in NFC championship games a decade apart. Reckless, unchecked behavior (weather trading & Brett Favre’s tired gunslinger act, never mind those text messages) that was poorly supervised created an unstoppable downward spiral.

Other characters are less sinister. Look at what Lovie Smith had to work when he needed a clutch offensive leader: Rex Grossman went 20-for-28 in Super Bowl XLI, surrendering a pair of picks (one for a pick-six) and another couple of fumbles, only generating two TDs on offense—one running, the other throwing. Jay Cutler hardly did better in what little time he played in an ill-fated NFC championship game. That would make Lovie into former Intermix CEO Richard Rosenblatt, whose product ultimately did not succeed, and who may well merely be a victim of subordinates that did not perform up to expectations.

“J-E-T-S” reads back “Union Square Ventures” in the business world. Under the leadership of an unabashedly vociferous and often blunt-spoken leader (Rex Ryan & Fred Wilson), the big wins for New York’s other football team and for the VC with a string of monster successes behind it have made each dominant in headlines.

Mike McCarthy must realize that with any other quarterback through the playoffs, his Packers would likely not have won a fourth Super Bowl title and unprecedented thirteenth NFL Championship, counting the pre-merger years. For every fourth-quarter Tom Brady or Adam Vinatieri, the NFL and the business world are filled with Dick Fulds and Scott Norwoods.

This is why Facebook is poaching Google’s all-stars and buying up talent in add-on deals. Or, on a more granular level, why freshly-minted Facebook millionaires are pumping fortunes back to talented developers they have built relationships with, where they see reflections of their own ambition and talent. Or why VCs and angel investors are eager to team up with young groups anchored by a manager with a hit or two notched into his belt. Fortunately for investors, there is more than one Lombardi Trophy to capture every year.

Jonathan Marino is the editor of The opinions expressed here are entirely his own.