Forum: The ‘peaceful, quiet’ leadership of Bill Hancock

It was July 14, 2017, and like at most offices during this time of year, staff was hoping for an easy summertime Friday and an early start to the weekend. It wasn’t the ideal day to schedule a visitor to speak with our entire staff over lunch in our Charlotte offices, and I recall a fair share of grumbling about why we booked this guest from noon-2 p.m. that afternoon. But then our staff sat down with Bill Hancock. By the time the gentle yet captivating Hancock was finished, staff wanted to hear more from him, and he had fans for life who lined up afterward to meet him personally and thank him for sharing his story.

Sports Business Journal has had hundreds of visitors over the years, from commissioners to owners to athletes, but it’s Bill Hancock’s visit that staffers still remember. He won them over with his openness about the loss of his son, and how his deep faith helped his family get through such a devastating time. He demonstrated such inner peace and made everyone comfortable through his storytelling. While so many executives are guarded or uncomfortable sharing any personal details, Hancock moved the room that afternoon with his calm, reassuring voice. I wasn’t surprised, as I had seen and heard firsthand the countless stories of Hancock’s warm, empathetic manner over the years. From my personal dealings with him, to hearing from fellow staffers who covered him, or our Olympic beat writers who encountered Hancock’s kindness and care when they nervously began covering an Olympics in a foreign country (Hancock just completed his 14th Olympic Games in Tokyo as a member of the USOPC’s media relations staff), his style and substance have always been evident. And the respect is industrywide. I heard from one source recently who simply wrote, “Bill Hancock. Nicest person in sports.”

Few people have observed Hancock and his style more closely than College Football Playoff COO Andrea Williams, who also worked with him at the NCAA. She shared some of those observations for our Champions profile, which starts on Page 12. “There’s always this sense of patience and understanding,” she told our Michael Smith. “Whether it’s a meeting, a conference call, or just a one-off conversation, Bill is very intentional about connecting with people to make sure they feel valued and they feel like a contributor. He comes off as a peaceful, quiet leader. You hear it said a lot, that Bill is the nicest person in college athletics. That’s just how he operates.” She went on to add, “One of my favorite attributes about Bill is that he’s very disarming and that’s the case with our presidents, commissioners or our colleagues at ESPN. He goes into it saying, ‘I’m going to be honest. I’m going to be transparent, and we’re going to have a conversation like old friends.’”

A conversation like old friends. Sounds like his visit with SBJ in 2017, where he displayed the genuine attributes that have served Bill Hancock so well over his five decades in sports. 

SMART LEADERSHIP MOVE: Minnesota United made a very intriguing hire by bringing on former Best Buy executive Shari Ballard to be the club’s new CEO (see story, Page 9). She will succeed Chris Wright at the end of the 2021 season and she becomes the first female CEO in Major League Soccer. You can’t replace a Chris Wright, whom I have written about in the past. I was initially a bit surprised United was able to convince an executive of Ballard’s background to take the job. She checks a lot of boxes for the organization in that she is local to the Twin Cities, and very well regarded in the tightly knit Minneapolis-St. Paul business community. She’s well connected across business based on her 26 years in various leadership roles at Best Buy and having been named to Fortune’s “Fifty Most Powerful People in Business” list four different times.

One source close to the process said the team’s ownership group strongly felt she aligned with the club’s values and mission off the field, which is incredibly important for a fifth-year franchise in a crowded sports market coming off the pandemic. The team is well-covered with executives who have strong MLS experience, including CMO John Guagliano, CRO Bryant Pfeiffer and COO Maureen Smith. As the team looks to build a strong, sustainable brand with broad regional support that can endure through good times and rough patches, it is placing a bet on Ballard, who has the reach and resources that make her one of the most accomplished new leaders in sports.

Abraham Madkour can be reached at

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