Final Analysis: Power from the People

What constitutes a great company to work For? Don't ask the Mariners.

What makes a company a great one to work for?

It’s the people.

Sure, the free lunches and the Friday beer parties are nice. And who wouldn’t want unlimited vacation time and fully paid health insurance for the whole family?

Still, if you don’t have the right people, you’re toast.

Take the Seattle Mariners. Please.

For the past decade-plus, the Mariners have been shakier than the Jell-O salad at a Midwest potluck. Since their storybook 2001 season, which ended agonizingly short of a World Series appearance, they’ve made the postseason exactly no times. To put that into startlingly brutal perspective, every other team in Major League Baseball, with the exception of the Toronto Blue Jays, has been to the postseason at least once since 2001. That’s 28 other teams. It’s as if the Mariners (and the Blue Jays) are playing by different rules. Or with inferior equipment.

Or maybe the wrong people.

The Mariners came close last year — so close that the talk this spring was that they were a virtual lock to make the playoffs with the addition of one more big bat in the lineup.

But as this goes to press — at the one-third mark of the 2015 season — the Mariners are worse off this year than they were last year at this time, even with that big bat. They’re not out of it, certainly, but they’ll have to do even better than their .574 winning percentage during the final two months of last season, which left them one victory short of a playoff berth.

So how do they get there? 

Good question. If the Mariners were a widget manufacturer, one would be hard pressed to see them becoming the widget king anytime soon. Their “big bat,” Nelson Cruz, is like the highly paid marketing genius who’s been brought in to sell a product that’s not quite ready for prime time. Imagine Cruz, the new guy, sitting down with the CEO to look over the company roster.

“What’s this guy Ackley like?” Cruz asks.

“Dustin Ackley,” says the CEO. “Nice kid. We hired him right out of college about four years ago. Reassigned him from accounting to marketing to production. Transferred him to the Tacoma division for a while. Can’t seem to find his comfort zone.”

“I see. And Zunino?” Cruz asks.

“Mike Zunino,” says the CEO. “Nice kid. Great attitude. Works well with others, but he whiffs on finishing team projects about half the time.”

“Interesting. What about Miller?”

“Brad Miller. Nice kid. Hustles a lot, but not much to show for it. We’ve toyed with moving him around to other departments, too.”

“And this guy Canó?”

“Robinson Canó,” says the CEO. “Quality guy. Productive. But I’m concerned that he’s been slacking off a bit ever since you arrived.”

“Really? What about Hernández?”

“Félix Hernández,” says the CEO. “Great guy. We call him King Félix. He’s our best pitchman. Heart of a lion. Wish I had four more just like him.”

“The other pitchmen aren’t good?”

“Some are on disability. The others are kind of hit or miss.” 

“Well, it sounds like they’re all nice, quality, great people,” says Cruz. “But as a group, they’re not getting the job done. Your widgets are mediocre.”

“But with you on board now,” says the CEO, “we can expect to sell more product, right?

“You need more than a marketing genius,” Cruz replies. “You need people who can make better widgets.” 

John Levesque is the managing editor of Seattle Business magazine.

Final Analysis: The Sporting Life in 2017

Final Analysis: The Sporting Life in 2017

Three predictions for the coming year on a new arena, an old arena and the Mariners.
As every first-year business student knows, a city’s economy is not considered “world class” until said city has erected at least four shrines to professional sports and these shrines remain empty and unused most days of the year. Seattle is knocking on the door of world classiness because it already has KeyArena, Safeco Field and CenturyLink Field up and running. Occasionally. Just one more monument to appease the great mass of athletic supporters and we’re there. Hallelujah!
It’s only a matter of time because Chris Hansen, the San Francisco rich guy who wants to build a new arena on First Avenue South and bring pro basketball and pro hockey to Seattle, is this close to getting his way. In October, Hansen revealed that he and his investors are now willing to pay the whole honkin’ bill for plopping a new arena into the SoDo neighborhood a block from Safeco Field. He still wants a piece of Occidental Way vacated and also expects some tax breaks from the city, but that’s how rich guys are. (See: Trump, Donald.) Besides, the people who believe we’re not world class until the NBA returns to Seattle are salivating over this deal because it’s the best deal we’re ever going to get
Of course, these same people said Hansen’s previous offer, which would have required that $200 million in public money be plowed into a new arena, was also the best deal we were ever going to get. 
Hansen’s decision to pay more for his arena places the sports economy clearly in the local spotlight this year. Heaven knows we could use more opportunities to pay $9 for a beer and see millionaire athletes selling Jaguars and BMWs on TV. It’s the kind of economic shot in the arm that only comes around whenever a sports league is in a coercive mood. 
And so, in the spirit of this January issue’s “looking ahead” theme, we offer three predictions relating to the regional economy as the Hansen arena intrigue continues to unfold.
Prediction 1: Hansen, who has already spent more than $120 million buying up property in the area of his proposed arena, will persuade the Port of Seattle, his arch nemesis in this melodrama, to fold up its tent and send all cargo-handling operations to Tacoma. That decision will pave the way for so many trendy bars and restaurants with names like Kale & Kumquat or Cobblestone & Wingtip that Hansen will be persuaded to create a private streetcar system to connect Pioneer Square with the burgeoning Stadium District. 
Prediction 2: The city-owned KeyArena, whose very future is clouded by the Hansen proposal, will announce plans to house up to 10,000 homeless persons every day. Even on days when the Seattle Storm and Seattle University basketball teams need the building, the city believes the Storm and the Redhawks could use the attendance boost, so it becomes a classic win-win.
Prediction 3: The Seattle Mariners, who still don’t like the arena proposal, will channel their hostility onto the field of play — and still not win the World Series. (This is called pattern-recognition analysis.) However, always mindful of improving the fan experience — because it’s not whether your team wins or loses, but whether you’re inclined not to press charges for being gouged by a vendor — the Mariners will introduce several new fan-friendly food items, plus mani/pedi stations in the pricey seats and roving loan officers to assist anyone trying to finance the purchase of hot dogs and sodas for a family of four. 
JOHN LEVESQUE is the managing editor of Seattle Business magazine. Reach him at