The art of the turnaround

Grizzly situation

By far, Heico’s highest-profile acquisition was the Memphis Grizzlies. The NBA team, which was purchased for a reported $160 million, came to Heisley’s attention through former NBA coach Dick Versace, whose late brother Rocky was Heisley’s childhood friend.

Versace asked Heisley to invest in the Grizzlies. The longtime Bulls fan was intrigued by the idea of turning around a struggling basketball team the same way he had turned around so many struggling manufacturers.

When he purchased the team, then in Vancouver, he quickly learned that it would not last north of the border. After spending an estimated $47 million in the first year to help the team survive in
nada, Heisley asked NBA Commissioner David Stern for permission to move the team to a more financially viable location.

Cities like Louisville, New Orleans, Anaheim and even suburban Dixmoor tried to lure Heisley, but Memphis’ civic and business community made an offer too good to refuse. In March 2001, Memphis-based FedEx announced that if Heisley brought the team to town, it would buy arena-naming rights, estimated at $100 million. For its part, the city offered to issue $226 million in bonds to pay for the new arena.

"It was one of the largest cities that did not have a major professional sports franchise in any sport, and we felt that that was a key criterion because you’d have 100 percent of the attention of the business community and everything else," Heisley says. "FedEx was very anxious to get a major sport down there, and they were willing to make some significant commitments. The city and the state of Tennessee were very anxious to get a professional basketball team in Memphis.

"The end result (is that) we put together an attractive package that is going to totally revitalize the franchise."

As with his other acquisitions, Heisley revitalized the management team, this time in bold fashion. He stunned the basketball world by luring Los Angeles Lakers legend Jerry West to Memphis as the franchise’s president of basketball operations, just eight months after West retired as executive vice president of one of the NBA’s premier franchises. Like Heisley, West liked the challenge of a turnaround.

"I want to help make a difference," he said at the time.

The same day West came on board, the Grizzlies announced the hiring of Gary Colson — one of the most successful coaches in NCAA Division I history, with more than 500 career wins at four different schools — as assistant to the president.

West and Colson joined a basketball operations team that already included Versace, who had just been named general manager.

"Who you work for makes a huge difference in enjoying your job," West says. "I have been so impressed with Mike. He wants to win so much and is committed to creating a winner for Memphis."

And that has been the standard operating procedure for Heisley throughout his career — do what it takes to create a winning operation.

How to reach:
The Heico Cos. LLC, (312) 419-8220