A good sport

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Buffy Filippell has never been one to let barriers get in the way of success.

The founder and president of TeamWork Consulting Inc. took an idea that had never been tried and, against the judgment of the experts, developed it into one of the most recognized sports executive search firms in the industry.

Even though most sports fans have never heard of TeamWork Consulting, if you’re a key player in the sports world, odds are you’re familiar with the Shaker Heights-based firm. Over the past 14 years, Filippell’s TeamWork has recruited nearly 300 executives within the sports and event marketing industries.

Her client list is a virtual who’s who of sports leagues and includes the National Basketball Association, National Football League, National Hockey League, Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer, NASCAR, the PGA Tour (golf) and the ATP Tour (tennis). She’s also done work for dozens of individual sports teams and sporting events.

The idea of a sports-based executive recruiting firm germinated in Filippell’s days at Mark McCormick’s IMG, where she represented former tennis stars Andrea Jaeger and Ken Rosewall, and in the years she spent as a traditional headhunter at Korn/Ferry International, one of the country’s largest executive search firms.

In the mid-1980s, when she was recruiting senior-level executives for Korn/Ferry, she noticed the sports industry only used executive recruiters for searches at the CEO level. She recognized an opportunity to create a niche market by recruiting mid- to senior-level executives in the sports and event marketing industry. In 1987, when her bosses at Korn/Ferry weren’t interested in the idea, Filippell left the firm to found TeamWork Consulting out of her basement.

With few resources at her disposal other than her background, her Rolodex and the seed of an idea, Filippell made her first mark on the industry by recruiting the new commissioner for the Big West Conference in the NCAA. He stayed with the Big West for 11 years.

Then, in 1988, Filippell landed her first high profile client — the NBA expansion Minnesota Timberwolves franchise. The Timberwolves were just entering the basketball league and sought a senior vice president to help market the team’s new arena. Filippell placed Tim Leiweke in the role and Leiweke responded by setting a record for the amount paid for the naming rights of the Target Center.

Today, Leiweke is president of the Anshutz Entertainment Group, owner of the Los Angeles Kings NHL franchise and the Staples Center, and has moved from candidate to client, using TeamWork to fill mid- to senior-level slots.

“To have clients come back for 10 and 12 years is unheard of in this business,” explains Jennifer Proud Mearns, TeamWork executive vice president and Filippell’s partner in the business. “But for Buffy, she really feels the business is about relationships. To her, those are the most important part.”

Filippell says she builds those relationships by listening to others.

“You find you’re able to meet their needs if you understand what exactly those needs are,” she says.

That’s a skill that’s helped Filippell innovate at every level and earned her the distinction of being named Visionary in the 2001 Innovation in Business awards.

In late 1999, she was hired by the NFL expansion Houston Texans to staff the team’s front office. To meet the Herculean task, she developed a software solution, which worked so well that she decided it could be used with other clients. In the spring of 2000, she launched TeamWork Online LLC.

The company licenses Internet-based software designed to help professional sports teams and leagues to recruit entry-level to mid-level executives through their Web sites. It was used to staff every front office job in the XFL, and is currently being used by teams in the NBA, WNBA, NHL and MLS.

How to reach: TeamWork Consulting, (216) 292-9266

TeamWork Consulting website