Den Classic: Warren Buffett for AD
Mark Hirschey Creative Commons

Posted Sep 17, 2013


From time to time I want to re-run some classics from TribalGrounds/The Den that have some significance. Here is one from December 30, 2008 I found that I'd like to run again.

Some quotes from Warren Buffett that can be taken to heart as guidance for Arkansas State.

"Your premium brand had better be delivering something special, or it's not going to get the business."

What is the something special Arkansas State can deliver? Cheap entertainment? In the Division I world, yes Arkansas State games are cheap but that apparently isn't a compelling product. Successful brands in college athletics deliver history and tradition, we don't have that to sell. Other than a gimmick here or there that might draw a few fans, we've got to find a way to stand-out from other programs. That means being a champion. Not just hanging around .500. You have to produce championship rings and banners.

"I always knew I was going to be rich. I don't think I ever doubted it for a minute. "

It's often said you can't sell others until you sell yourself. Arkansas State must have a culture change. We have to be a program that not only wants to be highly successful, we have to expect it and demand it.

"I don't look to jump over 7-foot bars: I look around for 1-foot bars that I can step over. "

Mr. Buffett just nailed my philosophy on scheduling. Winning the tough battles against the best is fantastic, but the odds are always against success there. Find challenges you can meet and defeat become bigger and stronger and the size of the challenge you can meet and defeat increases as well.

"We enjoy the process far more than the proceeds. "

There is no such thing as getting to the top in college athletics. Once you reach the pinnacle for one game or one season, players graduate, coaches retire or are hired away, or someone figures out a better way to do what you are doing. Take time to sit back and be happy about what you have accomplished and in that instant someone has sped past you. An athletic department has to be constantly growing and evolving and attracting more people to it. While championships are the goal, merely reaching them will lead to your fall unless you continue to set higher and tougher targets once you've mastered that one.

"There seems to be some perverse human characteristic that likes to make easy things difficult. "

No doubt about this one. Winning in college is pretty simple. The team with the best talent tends to win against the team with less talent. Do what it takes to attract better players and most anyone can look good. The best talent seems to like to go someplace where they can win. Choosing between winning programs, geography, post-season access and TV appearances seem to be the difference makers. Post-season access and TV appearances tend to follow wins. Once you break the bad cycle and start winning, much of the rest just follows along.

"Chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken."

It takes time to build up a base of regularly attending fans and once you have them you have a window of time to hold on to them before they lose interest. We saw it post-Lacewell as it took a few years of bad football to finally drive fans away, we saw it in basketball as well. We have to hook fans and get them into the habit of season tickets and donations because then we have time to screw up for a couple seasons before we lose them again.

"The important thing is to keep playing, to play against weak opponents and to play for big stakes."

A Wal-Mart analogy. For years Wal-Mart avoided the appearance of competing against Sears then the largest retailer in the world. They fought under-capitalized mom and pop stores and small chains instead until they had become the largest retailer in the world and had Sears reeling. In sports, think UNLV basketball vs. the Big West or Memphis basketball vs. C-USA. They built good teams and had the "big showdowns" for the conference title but while they were busy being dominant in a small pond they built national contenders.

"Should you find yourself in a chronically leaking boat, energy devoted to changing vessels is likely to be more productive than energy devoted to patching leaks."

Programs in trouble rarely abandon direction easily. They would rather make a tweak or two than try something totally different.


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