Ed Snider: A Sports CEO Talks Leadership and Success

This week the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business was host to an excellent event on business leadership, featuring Comcast-Spectacor CEO and Philadelphia Flyers owner Ed Snider. Billed as the BB&T Colloquium on Capitalism, Ethics & Leadership, the event featured remarks by BB&T regional president Dan Waetjen, Smith School dean Alex Triantis, and University of Maryland president Wallace Loh. The person running the show, however, was Prof. Rajshree Agarwal, now the director of the Ed Snider Center on Enterprise & Markets, which Snider, a Maryland business school alumnus, endowed last year with a substantial gift.

After initial remarks from Waetjen, Triantis, and Loh on the importance of innovation and entrepreneurship in business education, Snider and Agarwal (pictured to the left) settled into a “fireside chat” style conversation, which covered Snider’s years at the University of Maryland, his first (and last) accounting job, and the risks he took building a substantial firm dedicated to sports and entertainment. Snider in particular lamented the rise of government regulation during his career, describing the massive increase in legal and permitting complexity that accompanied building his second stadium, the Wells Fargo Center, in the 1990s, compared to his first project, the Spectrum, in the 1960s. In that time, a bundle of contracts a couple of inches thick had exploded to a massive boardroom conference table stacked with documents higher than any of his attorneys could see over.

Snider and Agarwal also reflected on a series of quotations encapsulating Snider’s approach to management and personal success, including “I hire good people and leave them alone to do a good job” and  “Money should be the reward, but not the reason.” Perhaps more controversial was the statement “I don’t believe there is any obligation on the part of any individual to give hard-earned, honestly earned, money away if they don’t want to.” Agarwal asked Snider about the frequent refrain by which successful businesspeople are expected to “give back” to the wider society in which they have built their success. One good response to that challenge come from another of the evening’s featured quotations, “When you create a company, you create jobs and opportunities for all kinds of people, and that is great success.” If a profitable firm is a positive-sum enterprise for both investors and employees, there’s no debt to pay back in the first place. And, of course, in Snider’s case, his own personal philanthropy has been quite generous

Carrie Snurr of the University of Maryland’s student newspaper, The Diamondback, also reported on the event:

And Tuesday night, Snider, the chairman of hospitality firm Comcast Spectacor, returned to this university to speak about business success to more than 300 business students and guests in Van Munching Hall.

“My belief is take that risk, but be honest — have integrity, don’t cut corners,” Snider said.

University President Wallace Loh introduced Snider during his talk with a reference to his favorite athlete, Wayne Gretzky.

“‘I don’t skate to where the puck is, I skate to where the puck is going to be,’” Loh said, quoting Gretzky. “That is the spirit of entrepreneurship, and that is the embodiment of Ed Snider.”

The Ed Snider Center for Enterprise and Markets focuses on research and teachings regarding the role of business in society. Snider has also created a philanthropic organization called the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation, which provides hockey programs and academic support for kids in the Philadelphia area, he said.

The Snider Center has plans for several research and training programs going forward, from helping high school teachers create curriculum about economics and entrepreneurship to setting newly minted business leaders on the path to success. We look forward to seeing what they launch next.

Photo credit: Josh Loock / The Diamondback