Managing transitions

Buffy Filippell didn’t know what to expect when she hopped a plane to Houston to meet with Bob McNair, owner of the newly established NFL franchise, the Houston Texans, and Steve Patterson of NFL Holdings, the organization that helps new franchises through the transition from idea to the playing field.

The pair originally hired Filippell to help find a general manager, but it wasn’t long before she discovered they were also desperate for help in filling other front office jobs.

”They had no staff and lots of people who wanted jobs,” she says. ”The team was small. There were two secretaries and then Patterson and McNair. There were hundreds of resumes and no way to go through them all. It was overwhelming.”

So Filippell, who’d spent more than 10 years in the executive recruitment field, found herself in a unique bind — she knew technology would solve the problem, but that approach would drastically alter the personal process she says is at the core of executive recruiting.

”This is a company based on more than simply finding someone a job,” she says about TeamWork. ”It’s about helping someone find a place where they can have their own success.”

Undeterred, Filippell enlisted two Houston-based software engineers to help develop proprietary software that facilitates and streamlines the recruiting process. More important, it maintains the personal touch.

Once launched for the Texans, the software-driven Web site caught on quickly — more than 75 people each day began submitting resumes for consideration. That’s when Filippell knew she was on to something big. In February 2000, she spun off the software product into a separate business, TeamWork Online, which licenses the software to sports organizations.

In the world of recruiting, hanging on to that personal touch is imperative to success. Filippell says the process is comprised of transitions. She considers each successful placement a part of her extended and ever-growing family.

So how did she take a traditional, people-oriented business and integrate technology successfully without losing that personal touch?

It wasn’t easy, she admits. But its success is at the very core of what sets TeamWork Consulting apart from its competitors. Here’s how Filippell and her staff have put together a system that’s attracting such big name clients as the National Basketball Association, Major League Soccer and Major League Baseball.

Filippell founded TeamWork Consulting Inc., an executive search firm for the sports and event management industry, in September 1987, shortly after her father passed away.

”It’s ironic that often, after a tragedy, someone starts a business,” she says, referring to incidents that spurred creation of organizations such as M.A.D.D. (Mothers Against Drunk Driving).

Filippell predicts the terrorist attacks in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania will spur another wave of new business ventures once the dust clears and people begin to rebuild, heal and move forward.

An experienced recruiter who worked at Mark McCormack’s International Management Group (IMG) and worldwide executive recruiting firm Korn/Ferry International, the bulk of Filippell’s background focused on searches for senior executives in banking, manufacturing and insurance. But she had a special interest in sports executive recruiting, and while at Korn/Ferry, conducted searches for such high-profile clients as the Women’s Tennis Association, LPGA and the U.S. Cycling Federation.

After her father’s death, Filippell wanted to focus on sports executive recruiting, but Korn/Ferry wasn’t interested in devoting an entire practice to it. So she opted to go it alone, founding TeamWork Consulting out of her Shaker Heights home. One of the company’s first placements was Tim Leiweke, president of the Los Angeles Kings and the Staples Center.

In 1988, Leiweke was placed by Filippell to run the expansion NBA franchise Minnesota Timberwolves. He has been a client ever since.

Over the past 14 years, TeamWorks’ client list has included NASCAR, the PGA Tour, three NFL teams, six NHL teams, six NBA teams, six MLB teams, CART, Major League Soccer, the Olympic Governing Bodies and the now-defunct XFL.

As her client list expanded, Filippell realized she couldn’t go it alone. In 1999, she brought in Jennifer Proud Mearns as a partner. Mearns began her career as a public relations assistant at Madison Square Garden, and over the next several years worked as a media liaison for the Men’s International Tennis Tour (now the ATP Tour), as an agent for Ohlmeyer Communications (now International Sports and Entertainment Strategies) and at Cyrk Inc., where she developed and managed merchandising programs including MasterCard International’s World Cup soccer and NASCAR’s 50th anniversary.

One thing that made Mearns a good fit was that her philosophy was in line with Filippell’s.

”You learn by listening to people,” Mearns says. ”It’s simply a philosophy that says we help our clients through the transition of a job change by being with them every step of the way.”

So when the Houston Texans came calling later that year, Mearns and Filippell knew they would have their hands full integrating technology without straying from their core beliefs.

”When we first looked at the option of putting together an online business, we recognized it wasn’t as human as the traditional business had been,” Filippell says. ”But we also knew it served needs to have information quickly available.”

With that in mind, Filippell and Mearns set out to combine the efficiencies of the Internet with the personal touch they didn’t want to lose. They designed a product that streamlined the recruiting process and empowered sports organizations to manage it themselves.

”Our challenge was how to make this process as personal as possible while still teaching the sports business executives how to recruit,” Mearns says. ”It’s more than just a technological tool for the sports industry.”

TeamWork’s software allows professional sport teams and leagues to recruit entry-level to mid-level executives through their Web sites. By clicking an icon on the site, for example at the NBA’s, a prospect can review available positions and apply online. TeamWork Online’s software then screens the resumes, organizes them and allows the team’s management to communicate with prospects they want to interview.

”When you go to either our URL address or the individual teams’ addresses, you can get a job board,” Filippell says. ”But, you’re not at a job board and it doesn’t feel like a traditional job board. It’s truly a part of the organization’s Web site information.”

Among the clients using the software are the NBA, WNBA, WWF, NHL and MLS, as well as the Staples Center and the Houston Texans.

”We’re teaching the sports industry how to recruit,” Filippell says. ”We license out our technology tools and process to the teams. With the boom in sports business, it’s making the job of working through a pile of resumes that much easier for our clients.”

Mearns says one of the key elements of the software is its ability to create better lines of communication between the teams and applicants.

”We’ve built in automatic e-mail notification alerts so that when you post a new job, anyone who checked off skills in the areas you’ve outlined gets an e-mail,” she says. ”That eliminates the need to look over every application each time a team posts a new job opening.”

While at first glance, such software could potentially remove the need for TeamWork from the marketplace it serves, Filippell says it’s just the opposite. A closer inspection of the model reveals that the software actually increases TeamWork’s business opportunities.

By hel
ng clients do some of the heavy lifting themselves, it maximizes the potential for TeamWork to concentrate on upper level sports executive recruiting while the software handles middle management and lower echelon positions. Filippell says it strengthens existing business relationships and has opened opportunities to forge new ones.

TeamWork hosts the job board sections of its clients’ Web sites on its server. The company generates revenue by licensing the software out to its clients and collecting royalty fees. This is in addition to any straightforward recruiting fees TeamWork picks up if it does the actual recruitment work.

”We’re simply using technology to be more efficient for our clients,” Filippell says. ”And now, by licensing the software out to teams to use themselves, the recruiting becomes a team service function.”

For Filippell, the innovation of TeamWork online is the second significant impact she’s had on the recruiting industry. It’s an impact she understands, though with a touch of humbleness.

”It’s interesting,” she says, reflecting on her still evolving career. ”I’m pleased to think I helped change how people were recruited into the sports industry. Then, 15 years later, I was part of a group that developed another tool to make the process even better.

”You have to understand our business, the business of transitions, to truly understand how to make it work,” Filippell says. ”And then, when you look at the acceptance by the teams and other sports organizations, you recognize they do understand it.

”It’s become another transition, but this time combining people with a technological process. And it still requires that personal touch.” How to reach: TeamWork Consulting, (216) 767-1790,

Dustin Klein ([email protected]) is editor of SBN Magazine.

TeamWork Online