Saturday, January 10, 2004

When Nepotism Makes Good Sense:
The Texas Rangers' Space Heaters  

Nepotism is particularly radical form of cronyism, because it's the most monocultural (limiting) form of it. As I discussed in November, the biggest deficit in cronyism is the self-amplifying narrowness of skills and tendencies that restricts the repertoire of approaches to managing in changing times. That narrowing of skills and views limits the opportunity to succeed in a competitive environment

But a link on Baseball Primer led me to a case of nepotism that's a fantastic, positive application of cronyism, one that can't hurt anyone, and saves a real person with a real career the grief of assured failure and humiliation.

According to Jim Reeves' discussion of fans' current view of the Texas Rangers, in the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram Ranger owner Tom Hicks, he of the $12.3 million kickback deal to the governor of Texas when Hicks bought the team, has hired his son Tom Hicks, Junior to be the team's director of corporate and suite sales, a job Reeves considers "hopeless". Factors: poor win-loss record (four last-place finishes in a row, albeit in a strong division), a PR-shredding off-season move that failed, and no acquisition of what most would consider the team's need most crying for attention (reliable pitching), combined with the Texas economy moving sideways or a little down relative to the rest of the country (in part because of a disproportionate loss of 50,000 net jobs to NAFTA) with slightly lower employment than 2002 and slightly lower retail sales than 2002.

According to Reeves, it's going to be an ugly job, tantamount to "selling space heaters in hell".


This is a perfect application of nepotism. An impossible job that still needs to be done and for which you'd need to lay out a big salary. If you hired someone ambitious, it would just crush the life out of them, a cherry-pie time for their career.

But bring in the boss' son, and it's completely different. The benefits splatter out machine-gun rhythm, like strikeouts from the Cincinnati Reds' lineup.

It's not like Hicks made sonny the general manager, batting coach or his center-fielder; he's just filling a slot that requires filling and that, no matter who he put in, even someone like Mike Veeck, it's not going to make a significant difference.

If the organization needs to save money, Junior can take a pay cut. If they're flush and for-profit and Junior is used to living high on the hog, you don't need to rein in his excess and you get to deduct some of it from taxes. If he pulls a miracle out of his cap, the boss can take partial credit, and if he fails, no one else in the organization is likely to be politically foolish enough make a fuss about it.

Cronyism or nepotism don't have to be destructive to an organization's potential. Like a sacrifice bunt, if you choose the right spot and the right player, you can use a technique that's generally net-negative and turn it into something with a positive potential.

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