Brian Barren enters his ninth season with the Cleveland Guardians and sixth as President of Business Operations. He joined the organization in January 2014 and served as Executive Vice President of Sales & Marketing over his first three seasons. Brian oversees all aspects of the club l s business functions in his present capacity.
Barren joined the Guardians following an accomplished, 24-year career with Procter & Gamble in Cincinnati, OH. He developed a wide variety of skill sets and expertise in Customer Business Development and general management of multi-functional business teams. As a senior leader at P&G, Brian had team leadership responsibility on the Wal-Mart and Kroger Teams, two of P&G's top customers globally.
Brian is a 1989 graduate of Princeton University, where he earned a degree in History that included his senior year thesis researching the integration of Major League Baseball. He played football for four years at Princeton as a classmate and teammate of Toronto Blue Jays President & CEO Mark Shapiro. Brian was also an Army ROTC scholarship student at Princeton, fulfilling his commitment to the U.S. Army as a tank commander upon graduation.
Brian and his wife, Kris, reside in downtown Cleveland and have two sons, Billy and Brad. Brian was one of Dan and Catherine Barren's six children. His late father was a well-respected teacher and high school football coach for many years at Columbus Academy (where Brian graduated in 1985) and finished his coaching career as the inaugural Head Football Coach at Notre Dame Cathedral Latin (Hall of Fame Class of 2004). Brian serves as a board member for College Now Greater Cleveland, the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission, and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
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Scott Allen 0:01
Okay everybody, welcome to Phronesis wherever you are in the world, thank you for checking in. Today I have Brian Barren, and he is the president of business operations for the Cleveland Guardians. And Brian enters his ninth season with the Cleveland Guardians and six as president of business operations. He joined the organization in January 2014, and served as executive vice president of sales and marketing. In his first three seasons and in his present capacity, Brian oversees all aspects of the club's business functions. Brian joined the Guardians following an accomplished 24 year career with Procter and Gamble in Cincinnati, Ohio, where he developed a wide variety of skill sets and expertise in customer business development, and general management of multifunctional business teams. As a senior leader at P&G, Brian had team leadership responsibility on the company's Walmart and Kroger teams, to have P&G's top customers in the world. Brian is a 1989 graduate of Princeton University, where he earned a degree in history that included a senior year thesis researching the integration of MLB. That's going to be fun to touch on. And he played football for four years of Princeton as a classmate and teammate of Toronto Blue Jays, President and CEO, Mark Shapiro, Brian was also an Army ROTC scholarship student as an undergraduate at Princeton, fulfilling his commitment to the US Army. As a tank commander upon graduation, Brian and his wife, Chris reside in downtown Cleveland. And they have two sons, Billy and Brad, sir, thank you so much for being with me today. I can't, I can't say thank you enough, Brian. I rarely do this, I always kind of have a conversation and then think about a name or a title of what that episode could be called. But today, I think I'm going in with the title and the title is becoming the Guardians. You inherited situation of sorts, assuming this role, both Chief Wahoo, the longtime mascot of the Cleveland Indians, and then also the name. And so in recent years, you all have been in the process of transitioning from Chief Wahoo, and transitioning the name. And so today, I'm excited to hear that story. I really am. And maybe you take us back a few years, because this is something that, like I said, You inherited. But it's something that you assumed that the responsibility to change. And I know that there were others involved, of course, but a lot of this rested on your shoulders. So Brian, would you take us through that story? Some of the high points?
Brian Barren 2:41
Sure. I'll start Scott to your point a couple of years ago, and in my early stages, with the Cleveland Indians at the time, how we thought about building a brand, and some of the learning that came from outside of Major League Baseball in my experience over the years at Procter and Gamble, oftentimes, big brands will think about a combination of a word mark, a letter mark, and a logo as the three key ingredients for building a brand. And for the Cleveland Indians, the logo over time became more and more of a challenge and restrictive and creating limitations in terms of what we could do with that brand, with that brand logo, and how we would portray that as part of the live experience around the game. Oftentimes, we'll think about what happens on the field, and the players are wearing your Wordmark. At that time, script, Indians your logo at that time, Chief Wahoo, and your letter market a Block C, but you build your live experience for that live sporting event, playing with those attributes of the brand. So we had made the decision to move away from Chief Wahoo a couple of years ago, we had the All Star Game Major League Baseball All Star game coming to Cleveland in 2019. And one of the things that the week affords the city hosting the Major League Baseball team to do is the opportunity to wear a Major League Baseball All Star Game logo, celebrating the city and really the theme that the week will take as they approach the all star game in a given year. So we chose to use 2018 as the last year of wearing Chief Wahoo and 2019 wore an all star game patch on our jersey. And that really became the transition point to start thinking about potentially a new logo for a future state. You fast forward to 2020 and the world as we know it changed and there was a sequence of events and in 2020, you're really starting with George Floyd's tragic death, we had a lot of protests across the country in the last weekend of, of may and 2020, the 29th 30th and Sunday the 31st. I think it's important to remember where we were with the pandemic. Specifically within Major League Baseball. It wasn't until the end of the month of June in 2020, that Major League Baseball announced the decision to move forward with a 60 game shortened season with no fans. So in the most abnormal times, we were broadly looking for things that were normal in society, and sports. More specifically, live sports completely stopped the NBA and the NHL at the time of the pandemic in March, when things really shut down. We're nearing the end of their regular seasons, and they stopped playing tirely, Major League Baseball was about a week to 10 days away from opening day, spring training and the season were put on hold. When we think about our intent as a sports team, it's ultimately to unite and inspire our city and our fan base. And the question that was on the table after that, that weekend, was about the impact and was the impact of our team name different than the intent really, this story starts with Paul Dolan, our owner on Monday, June 1. Again, early stages of the pandemic, Paul gave me a call. We talked about the events of the past weekend, and you know what was coming for the upcoming week. And we had a discussion about trying to better understand if the impact of our team name were different than our intent. And the discussion ultimately led to the next step to learn more, and following a process that could help us do just that. So we enrolled three experts to help us, Alex King, Nicky Schmidt, and Jason Wiedemann. These are the folks who crafted the three step process to help us forge the path forward on the team name front. And we agreed that we would let the Insight gathered in that three step process, drive the decisions on the path forward. So there was no predetermined outcome. If I were to talk a little bit about the phases and the timeline, we had three macro phases for our approach, and the first one was getting the answer to the question, should we move away from Indians? We approached that phase beginning in July of 2020, and worked our way through it for the balance of the calendar year, really through December of 2020. The second phase was what should we move to? And if you think about this process, if the answer to the first question, Should we move away from Indians had been no, we would have stopped? If the answer is yes, you're into this second phase, which started probably in the fall of 2020, and ran through the summer of 2021. As you're looking in that second phase, you know, what should we move to? You begin work on that third phase of how would we bring that new brand to life? So that work really began spring of 2021. And it continues until today.
Take me a little bit deeper into each one of those phases, if you would, Brian, each one of those is pretty fascinating. So you have this conversation with with Mr. Dolan, you're having the dialogue, we kind of knew we needed to move away from Chief Wahoo. And then we started thinking about the name is the impact of this name different than our intent? Would you take us through that phase one, that gathering of data.
So phase one really began on June 1 2020, with the phone call and the conversation with with Paul Dolan. And a discussion about trying to understand the difference between intent and impact. In the month of June of 2020, we quietly began phase one of this three step process. And in the month of June, Alex King, Nicky Schmidt, and Jason Wiedemann, actually put pen to paper and weighed out the three step process. If you fast forward to July 3 of 2020. Things picked up the Washington Redskins at the time communicated that they would no longer be the Redskins, and that they would pick a different team name. We released a statement on July 3 of 2020. And we talked about a couple of things. We talked about our commitment as an organization to making a positive impact in our community and embracing our responsibility to advance social justice and equality. We had ongoing discussions organizationally on a lot of different issues, and a lot of the social unrest underscored the need for us to keep improving as an organization. So with all that in mind, we talked about, well, the focus of the baseball world shifted. You know, now we're working our way in the month of June, we announced that we're going to play a shortened season. So there's some excitement for you're going to have live sports coming back. Yes, we also recognized our unique place in the community and made our commitment to listening, learning and acting in a manner that can best unite and inspire our city, and all those who support our team. That process really started in the month of July, we began research, answering that first question, Should we move away from Indians, we had discussions and research with Native American leadership, nationally, locally, in the academic circles. We spoke with our employees, our players, our fans, civic leaders here in Northeast Ohio, our corporate partners and other key stakeholders. That listening learning process really took us from July of 2020, through early December of 2020. And on December 14, we made a public statement announcing our decision to change our team name in December 14 of 2020. I would highlight a couple of things, Scott, that I think are important in the listening and learning phase, and I think it's important to get some facts and level setting on a few things. I want to talk a little bit about Native Americans. The US government officially recognizes 574 federally recognized Indian tribes in the contiguous 48 States and Alaska. There are actually 16 states where there are no federally recognized tribes and Ohio was one of those states that the Native American population per the 2020 census is approximately 9.7 million, so a little under 3%. That's about 2.9% of the US population, based on the 2020 census. And at 2.9%. That's roughly 50% greater than the Native American population in Ohio, which is actually closer to 2%. So as we started to engage in this listening and learning process, we really focused in on whistling to three different groups of Native American leadership. The first group was at the national level, but the second group was at the local level. And the third group were leading academic researchers, and specifically there, Dr. Philip Deloria at Harvard, and Dr. Stephanie Freiburg at the University of Michigan, were two Native American leading academic researchers who have studied and fielded quantitative studies on the impact of Native American mascots, on Native American children, and Native Americans as a whole.
Scott Allen 13:05
I told you a story when we were prepping for this discussion, the moment that it clicked for me that this was probably not the best logo, but to the Chief Wahoo logo. I was walking my son through a museum in Denver, Colorado, and we walked through a group, probably 100 Native Americans, and and the looks that were on their faces as we walked by. I'll never forget it, I'll absolutely never forget that feeling. I felt about an inch tall. And at least that, and this is probably 2016, 2015. I think that's when we as a family decided to move away from the logo. Because again, the intent is it's a baseball cap. But the impact is very, very different on those individuals, as we're walking through that crowd.
Brian Barren 13:57
And Scott, as you shared that story with me, I do think it's, it's really important you happen to find yourself and your family, in an environment where you actually were the minority, as you relay the story to me, as you can imagine with with any race, when you get a group of, of individuals together and ask for their attitudes and opinions on different things, that group will will likely cover the spectrum. And that spectrum will represent all kinds of different belief systems and values. The challenge is to really do the best you can to gather what is the insight for that group in the aggregate. And in this instance, you think about 50 states in the United States and how challenging at times it is to to get 50 states on the same sheet of music. You know, with 574 federally recognized tribes you can imagine you have a lot of different attitudes and opinions within the Native American community, the most important thing for us was to do our best as as we listened and learned and gathered insight to roll those insights up to macro conclusions, where we found common themes were over the course of that research.
Scott Allen 15:19
So we get to the conclusion of shifting the name. And there's agreement and consensus. Take us a little bit through Phase Two, if you would.
Brian Barren 15:27
Sure. So, Scott, phase two was the business question, if you will, that we were trying to answer was, what should we move to. And we started research and a creative kickoff in January of 2021. So we announced that we're going to move away from Indians in December of 2020. And we begin this process now, really through, I would say, January 2021, through probably the month of June of 2021. There are a couple of things that happen here. The first is this research and creative kickoff, where we do some fan and internal research to establish the foundation for name and creative development, we ideate potential name and narrative options. And we began graphic design and development process, from really January through May, we're in a phase of development, research and legal reviews, where we're developing and refining several potential creative paths, fan and teammate research to understand desired components of the new brand. What are some of the attributes and the values that are important, and the legal clearance work is ongoing within that phase, as we head into call it wait may, in the month of June, we're we're preparing for the unveiling. And the plan for the name unveil includes the development of a press release, video, internal communication, you know, finalizing and completing the necessary legal steps to communicate what that new team name would be. So I'll highlight a couple of things that happened throughout this phase.
Scott Allen 17:06
I want to hear the I want to hear the Tom Hanks part where you called Tom Hanks and said, Would you narrate our videos? weave that in here, sir!
Brian Barren 17:14
I will certainly I will certainly do that he actually did not record from clay when he was overseas when he did. So you know, very similar to kind of an overarching principle was we let fan insight drive our decision. So over the course of the several months of research on what we should move to, we surveyed more than 40,000 fans, we conducted more than 140 hours of interviews with fans, community leaders, and front office personnel. And we generated 1198 name options. So think of this as casting the net as wide as possible, before you begin that process of narrowing. And through all of our research, three key themes emerged consistently. And we believe that Guardians reflects all three of these insights that were most important to our fans. The first was connecting to the city of Cleveland in a genuine and authentic way. The second was honoring our rich major league baseball history here in Cleveland. And third was uniting our community as we worked our way through the process. You know, in looking for a new brand, it was important to maintain some some history and continuity. And we did that in a few different areas very intentionally. The first was with our colors. As we thought about our team colors, they're remaining the same, and they've been a part of our organization for more than 80 years. We heard from our fans that it was important to maintain the red, white and navy to honor our major league baseball parentage here in Cleveland. So we maintain those colors. Second was the concept of a script word mark. So the script Guardians word Mark has a familiar script style. And that style has been part of our branding for the last 75 years. So the angles within script Guardians, very intentionally start to evoke some of the architecture of the hope Memorial Bridge, which is a great Cleveland story in and of itself. If you walk the towpath and you read some of the signage that's there. Here's a bridge that takes the city of Cleveland, which at the time is a top five city in the United States, and connects it with you know, really an engineering marvel at the time to the broader Greater Cleveland area by spanning the Cuyahoga River, which kind of sneaks its way in and around downtown. We did our best to take some of the things like the trusses on the underside of the bridge and tried to mimic them with our script Guardians. Finally our uniforms will be another area of continuity. So we will wear script Guardians word mark on red and white home uniforms. And we'll continue to wear the block word Cleveland on our road gray uniforms, and that that black Cleveland will feature our new, we call it bridge print font. So we look for areas like that to try and maintain history and nostalgia and things that were important. We tried to build on those things with our new diamond see watermark. And it's an evolution of our boxy that respects the tradition and the heritage of Cleveland, Major League Baseball. So the new diamond see to happen to be wearing right now. It stands tall, just just as the Guardians of traffic stand tall over our ballpark. And it draws from the ascending diamond motifs that are at the top of each of the Guardian pylons. And the tapered shape is also inspired by letterforms, from our 1920, and our 1948 World Series clubs. And finally, our logo, it's it's one of the most unique elements of the design of the new brand. Anytime you're you're you're you're playing with a logo that's been around for decades, and bringing something in new, it's a difficult change. And we fully recognize that our Guardians fastball logo is actually inspired by the helmets and the wings of the Guardian Statues. And the G purposely wraps around and protects a baseball, we call it the split finger G design. And it's also a tribute to our strong pitching heritage over the years. So we looked for ways to try and maintain continuity with the past and a tip of the cap, so to speak to history and nostalgia of Major League Baseball, while also looking to move to a bigger and better place in the future. And the last thing I would add is, you know, in the research, we found a couple of things that were really important to people from Northeast Ohio, of Cleveland of the Greater Cleveland area, pride, resiliency and loyalty. For those that are native to the area, or anyone who has ever lived here at any point in their life. Those three things tend to resonate pretty well. And as I see you nodding your head, Clevelanders are very proud of our city. And Cleveland, like many of the Upper Midwest, rust belt cities, a lot of resiliency, it's it's a city that went on a run from the 1890s to the 1970s is a top five city in the United States. In the 2020 census, we're now in in the 50s. So that the city has changed dramatically, much like many of the Upper Midwest rust belt cities. But for those that are of Cleveland, you know, fiercely loyal to all that that Cleveland represents, we felt it was important as best we could to encapsulate those things as we moved to a new brand.
Scott Allen 22:46
Well, Brian, I have to tell you this quick story, as my son was opening his gifts, for for Christmas, he got a new Guardians t-shirt, and that protect the land. So that also just communicates and reinforces everything you're saying he kind of held it up. And he said, this is cool, right? So at least among that 12-13 year old demographic. He said, This is awesome that "protect the land," and that so it just aligns. And it's amazing to me, the thought that goes into many of these dimensions that I never would have even noticed, whether it's the font, symbolizing some of the bridge, I never would have imagined that it's just incredible.
Brian Barren 23:33
And that's really, you know, a tribute to a lot of folks, really talented, talented folks within our team that worked on this, you know, as as you mentioned before, wanting to understand a little bit more about, you know, Tom Hanks, kind of bring it to the end of phase two. And the beginning of phase three is really the unveiling of the new brand, and how you think about bringing that new brand to life. So day one is introducing the new brands. So on July 23 of 2021. We did just that. And we highlighted that three step process that we had followed and shared a few of the macro insights from the journey tried to reinforce the attributes and the stability of continuity. That was important to Major League Baseball to the city of Cleveland and really having major league baseball in Cleveland for so long. From really July through the end of the regular season. We did a lot of changeover planning, collaboration with Major League Baseball with with external stakeholders and internal departments to prepare merchandise our social media, our information systems, our email handles, our signage and other public facing assets for a transition my learning over the years at Procter and Gamble. Procter and Gamble has 15-18 billion dollar brands globally, were hard converting a franchise a Major League Baseball franchises values are typically starting somewhere around a billion and growing from there, like many of the big professional sports teams. So this is a hard conversion of a team name and not to be taken lightly. So a tremendous amount of of changeover planning. And that really set us up for November 19. When we we actually had our full transition over to the Guardians and officially took ownership of the new name, the transition of major fan facing elements or website or social media or email, our teen shop where we actually began selling merchandise with the new letter mark and word mark and, and logo. So that process of transition continues to this day as we're transitioning the ballpark over as we prepare to celebrate. I'll share the learning from Tom Hanks and as a little bit of background, Tom Hanks started his his career in the theater here in Cleveland at Playhouse Square. Yes, while he was a a young actor would walk from Playhouse Square to the old municipal stadium in the summertime, and watch baseball games. Tom Hanks has always been loyal to Cleveland. It's a part of his life and important part where he got his start in enacting. We're fortunate that through Bob DiBiasio who has been around with the Indians, and now the Guardians for a very long time, Bobby D has some some common friends that are friends with with Tom Hanks. And as we were preparing to transition over, we reached out to Tom Hanks and asked him if he might be interested in in being a part of that transition. He was excited about the opportunity to be a part of it took time out of his busy schedule, he was overseas at the time, and recorded the voiceover for the video. Several of our folks that work on our live experience team, a guy by the nickname of Nick and bone and several others on his team actually produced the video. And Tara Hewitt actually wrote the copy for that, which Tom Hanks read word for word, really, really a nice way to introduce the brand. You know, when when you think of Tom Hanks from very early ages, call it under the age of five to over the age of 95. He appeals to a very broad audience, generally speaking, one of the greatest actors of all time, in that appeal. He's a very likable person. And he's very genuine and authentic. And those are things that, again, we talked about before, you know, Clevelanders, we like things that are genuine and authentic to Cleveland, and it doesn't get any better than Tom Hanks. So we were excited about having that opportunity to engage with him. And his willingness to be a part of that. Well, Brian, as we begin to kind of wind our time down. Are there one or two leadership lessons or reflections when it comes to leading a process like this, that come to mind for you? There are a couple of things that that come to mind. Scott, I think at the top of the list would be staying fan focused. And when I say that, throughout the process, we would often come back to one question. You know, what, what would fans think of this, and we couldn't research every aspect of the team name change due to some of the confidentiality concerns. But our foundational research really kept us in tune with the fan. And we tried to keep a finger on the tracks. A secondary would be being proactive, but agile, you know, making a plan that anticipates hurdles, but being agile enough to change course as needed. You know, when you start with 1198 names, and you narrow that down. And ultimately, you've got a lot of excitement and disappointment along the way, being proactive. But agile requires detailed project management at the beginning of the project. And throughout it, we developed and adjusted, a very detailed project plan. Meeting Notes were documented all the time, and a timeline was shared to keep us on track. And it really helped us when we had to bring someone else into the fold, quickly get them up to speed by really walking through a sequence of events and a chronology. And the last thing I would say is leveraging relationships and engaging decision makers. Ultimately, this this was a decision made by Paul Dolan. And you know, we're grateful that the Dolan family was open to exploring this and certainly didn't take it lightweight, the relationships and as a leader, the importance of trusting and empowering the people around you, you know, I referenced Alex King, Nicky Schmidt, and Jason Wiedemann, at the outset, they were there from phase one. And they're still there as we're bringing the new brand to life. And along the way, as we brought others into the fold, you know, trusting and empowering the people around you, as a leader, those people oftentimes have more skills, knowledge and experience the new and a given area, trusting and empowering and then getting out of the way and taking notes and really listening actively to what they can bring to the table. So you can learn as much as possible along the way.
Scott Allen 30:31
Of course, Brian, you know that a faction of fans would view this as a loss as a shift as a change. And there's going to be folks who are struggle with that change. And in the face of that, in the face of some of that backlash, you knew you would receive and Mr. Dolan would receive, we moved forward. Would you talk a little bit about that?
Brian Barren 30:54
Sure. Scott, as you alluded to, this is obviously a very challenging issue to tackle. When you're hard converting a brand name that's been around for over 100 years, it's a very challenging thing to do. We talk a lot about doing our best to do the right things the right way, when they need to get done, and having the discipline to do them that way, all the time. So in this instance, doing the right thing was identifying a process where we could actually let the Insight ultimately drive, help us frame choices and drive decisions. doing things the right way is, is really sticking to a process and having the intestinal fortitude to do that. Even when things get get tough. You know, that concept of doing the right things the right way, all the time. Oftentimes, as you work through a process, and we certainly had to hear I talked about agility, you're going to face hurdles, you're going to face obstacles, you're going to face things that make it difficult to get from where you are to where you you want or you need to be. And you have to have that discipline or maintain that discipline, to stick with the process and ultimately get to a place where what you're leaving behind is something that will last and we really care deeply about major league baseball in Cleveland. And we've talked many times about the most important part of the team name is the part that comes in front of the nickname, which is Cleveland. And we're proud to be from Cleveland. It's a smaller market within Major League Baseball. But we take a lot of pride in going after things in Cleveland and competing to the best of our potential.
Scott Allen 32:48
Well, I can I can say that there probably wasn't a more perfect evening than that all star game. A few years back, beautiful night, I was there with my son, and my father in law, building memories. I was there when we were in the World Series with my son and my wife cheering on. And one of my favorite things to do is sit with a glass of beer and watch a game in the summertime. And you providing that experience being a part of the the team of individuals providing that experience and uniting our community in that way. It's very much appreciated. Thanks for the work that you do, Brian, it's not easy work. It's not easy leading. That's why this podcast exists. Because I'm so thankful and fascinated by people like you who are doing this work day in day out, even when there's a global pandemic, when there's any number of other contextual factors. And I think it was you once that said, "control the controllables." And, you know, I'm just so thankful for the work that you do. Before we end, one quick question, anything you've been reading, listening to streaming that's caught your eye or your ear in recent months?
Brian Barren 34:07
I've been reading a lot about change and about leadership in times of change. watching TED talks, and I think a combination of different things that I've been able to read and watch and listen to has kind of led me to this oversimplified conclusion, the only constant is change. And the only thing is the speed with which it happens. And in this day and age that technology fuels that change at an at an accelerated rate. So you really have two choices. You can either figure out how to adapt and evolve and change, or you can't and that's not an easy thing to do. You know, as you're framing choices and making decisions with a constantly changing world around you. The best decisions always the right one the next best one is the wrong one. And the worst one is actually the choice of indecision. With so much data and so much information flowing so rapidly, there's a tendency to just wait a little bit more to get a little bit more information to make the perfect decision, then you really have to do your best as a leader to get enough information to make an informed decision and ultimately be accountable for that. So I can't point to a specific podcast or book or TED Talk. It's just watching and listening to a lot of different ones where those kinds of things have kind of come through for me, and I love it.
Scott Allen 35:34
Well, sir, best of luck to the Guardians. Best of luck as we move into the 2022 season. Thank you for the work that you do. Thanks for stopping by Brian. I really, really appreciate it.
Brian Barren 35:46
Well, thank you very much for the time and anytime I can help and I'm looking forward to connecting with you sometime this spring at a ballgame and this summer with your students.
Scott Allen 35:55
We will do it we will do it be well. Okay, you too.
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