Q: Where did you go to college and what kind of student were you?
A: “I went to Notre Dame High School in Niles, Illinois and St. Mary’s University in Winona, Minnesota. I was a bad student. I think my grade point average at Notre Dame was a 2.3, and I think I was 311 out of 356 in my class. When I went to college, I didn’t get much better.”
Q: What changed for you in between college and getting a job with the Cubs in terms of your life goals? What got you motivated to do something with your life?
A: “I had a conversation with my mom. She was very much into academics, and I didn’t do so well in either high school or college. She always preached courtesy, etiquette and relationships. I got a really good job out of college working for Avis Rent-a-Car in the corporate sponsorships and sales department. She said to me, ‘I hope you take your career seriously because I think you have a lot of potential.’ She really encouraged me to do something with my life.”
Q: If you could give yourself and the organization a grade for the past four years, what would it be?
A: “I would give our grade in the last four years an incomplete. We have a long, long way to go, but I think we’re heading in the right direction. Our goal is consistent excellence and in order to reinvigorate this franchise, we have to do everything we can to earn that commitment and allegiance from the fans. It is going to take time. It’s not going to happen in two years or three years. The fact that we’ve sold out 152 games in a row, we’ve won the Stanley Cup, all of our games are on television and we have a good, young team, I think has heightened the awareness and profile of our team.”
Q: Why did you ultimately decide to take the job with the Blackhawks?
A: “I think in the back of my mind, I did grow up a big Blackhawks fan, and I think this franchise needed improvement. I’ve always felt that this was a franchise that if I could play even a micro-fractional role in helping become relevant again, I’d like that challenge. And out of the blue, it just happened. I met with the owner of the Blackhawks, Rocky Wirtz, one Saturday afternoon about four years ago, and we had a conversation that lasted five hours long. Within half an hour, he said to me, ‘I’m going to lose all my leverage when I tell you this, but I want you to run the Blackhawks and I don’t have a plan B.’ His honesty and candor really peaked my interest. At the age of 54, I really wanted to figure out if I could reinvent myself. I had been with the Cubs for 24 years and that was something I never envisioned leaving. I absolutely envisioned retiring with the Cubs.”
Q: When you were with the Cubs, what did you think of the Blackhawks?
A: “The Blackhawks had really struggled on the ice and at the gate, and they weren’t doing well. They were more of an afterthought in the Chicago landscape. That was really troubling for me because I grew up a Blackhawks fan following Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita.”
Q: How did it make you feel when the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup?
A: “It was a euphoric feeling that I never thought I would ever be able to feel. I wanted it so badly for it to happen with the Cubs, as I do now. It was a relief more than it was a celebration because I wasn’t sure if I would ever see it. For us to have a parade with two million people in attendance, you really sense how big this was. But, it wasn’t this fulfillment that now all our work is done. If anything else, you felt that the key was in the ignition, you started the engine and now lets go. I think more than anything else, we want our fans to be proud of the direction that we are headed and that we are committed to winning.”
Q: When you first came over to the Blackhawks, what changes did you feel immediately had to be made?
A: “There was a meeting that I had after my introductory press conference, and the message that was sent to everybody was the pace is going to be swifter, the expectations are going to be higher and I need to have everybody on board. I could see in a number of people’s eyes right away that they were not going to be on board with this way of doing business. We needed to change the way that we were perceived, and we needed to change the way that we perceived ourselves. The Blackhawks is an Original Six franchise in the greatest sports city in the country and we needed to project that we were that. There had to be a seismic cultural change and at the same time, there had to be a lot of energy behind it.”
Q: How did it make you feel to be standing on that stage with two million people cheering for the Blackhawks?
A: “It felt like I was in a movie. I couldn’t believe it. It’s hard to wrap your mind around the fact that two million people were there. It was the biggest sports parade in the history of Chicago. As far as you could see there were people cheering and chasing the bus. It was awe-inspiring, it was amazing and it was frightening. There will be times when I’ll be working out, or I’ll be at home or out to dinner, when it’s like, ‘Wow, we won the Stanley Cup.”