Chicago Cubs: a Quasi-Family Business

The Chicago Cubs are my idea of a quasi-family business. That phrase, "quasi-family business," is one I invented decades ago, when I represented businesses founded by multiple people who weren’t related by blood or marriage, yet whose children grew up calling each of the other partners "uncle." It's fairly obvious that manager Joe Maddon did an amazing job with the Chicago Cubs team, finally breaking the 108-year curse to win the World Series. One incident stood out in convincing me that he had not only converted them to a championship team, he had fashioned them into a quasi-family business.

As everyone who watched the final World Series game will remember, just after the final play of the seventh and final game, first baseman, Anthony Rizzo pocketed the ball he caught for the last out. He literally put the ball in his back pocket as he ran to the pitcher’s mound to join his teammates in celebrating the win. 

A few days later he noted being told that the ball’s value could likely be between $1-3 million.  Notwithstanding  that, Rizzo gave the ball to Tom Ricketts, the owner of the Cubs. Rizzo said that Ricketts was the man who took the financial risk to build the Cubs organization and therefore deserved the ball. There was speculation that his purpose was to ensure that the ball would be secured for posterity, possibly in the Baseball Hall of Fame Museum. 

I think the reason for Rizzo’s action was something more than that. For him to have kept the ball would have meant securing a personal financial advantage, off of the efforts of his teammates. That may be acceptable behavior in business generally. However, it is clearly unacceptable behavior as between family members in business. 

Rizzo’s action reflects a feeling that no one person was either responsible for the win nor could benefit personally to the exclusion of his team family members. Therefore, without taking anything away from Rizzo’s magnanimous gesture, I believe Joe Maddon's greatest success was in re-creating the Cubs team as a quasi-family business. It helped them win the World Series and helped them act elegantly in their success. It is a great lesson for other businesses and business leaders.

Lloyd Shefsky is a consultant to family businesses, retired Clinical Professor (and founder of the Center for Family Enterprises) at the Kellogg School, as well as the founder and president emeritus of the Sports Lawyers Association.