BBA 1966 (Accounting)
CEO San Diego Padres and COO Pittsburgh Pirates (retired)
Accounting alum Richard Freeman, BBA 1966, hasn't stolen a base or fielded a ball in the major leagues, but he has had a fulfilling 28-year career in the great American pastime.
Freeman served as CEO or for the San Diego Padres and COO for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
"Although I'm a sports fan, I never imagined I'd end up with a career in baseball. When the opportunity to work for a major team came along, I knew it would be once in a lifetime, so I decided to take advantage of it."
His journey to baseball began while working at Peat Marwick Mitchell for six years. His client, Central Federal Savings and Loan in San Diego, offered him a position as comptroller then as treasurer. For three years, he was satisfied with his work at the savings and loan, when life threw him a curveball.
"I wasn't seeking the change, but out of the blue, in 1981, a friend called me after attending a baseball game with the president of the Padres at the time. The Padres were looking for a person with an accounting or finance background, and my friend thought of me. He handed me the president's phone number and told me to give him a call. A month later, I went to work for the Padres."
His first position at the Padres was chief financial officer. "That was a very big title for a pretty small job," Freeman laughs as he reflects on the massive growth of the business of baseball in the last decade. "Back then our revenues were about $7 million and our player payroll was $3 to $3.5 million. Today, that wouldn't pay for one guy."
In comparison, he says in his last five years working with the Padres, their revenues approached $200 million with player payroll at $70 to $75 million.
Freeman was named CEO in Sept.1988. While working for the Padres, the organization changed ownership twice. In 1995 during the second sale, new owners supplied management to the club, leaving Freeman to relocate to the Pittsburgh Pirates, where he was named COO.
With the baseball business rapidly expanding, so did its venues. Stadiums were built specifically for baseball, replacing facilities intended to house both baseball and football. The Pirates made the decision to build a new facility, a project in which Freeman would be heavily involved for five of the six years he worked for the organization.
"I was thrilled to be involved in major league sports, but to also be involved in the construction and development of a project like this was wonderful," he says.
The city of Pittsburgh collaborated with its teams to build a new baseball park, new football stadium, and major addition to the city's convention center.
"It's quite a change when a team develops its own facility. Cities used to play more of a role in old ballparks. However, in new facilities, the ballpark's personnel and all the mechanical and engineering issues are the team's responsibility. It's very different than when we shared these issues with football."
As the Pirates stadium opened, the San Diego Padres also started construction of a new stadium, but the project stalled. To Freeman's delight, in 2002 the Padres contacted him requesting that he return to the organization as CEO to assist in completing the stadium project.
"That was tremendously enjoyable. It gave my career a boost in terms of energy level and I really enjoyed it."
The new stadium opened in 2004 and he remained in the CEO position until his "retirement" in spring 2009, although he's hardly retired.
Today he's a business consultant, assisting the Minnesota Twins with the construction of a new baseball stadium in Minneapolis. He is a resource to the Twins as they face issues like relocating season ticket holders, security, food service, ushers and more.
"For the last 40 years, somebody has handed me a paycheck on the first and the 15th of the month, so to be out on my own is another new experience for me. But I like the flexibility consulting gives me," he says.
It was his solid background in accounting that prepared him to develop his long-term career.
"I don't know how people who don't have knowledge of accounting or finance can run a business. It's so important, because it plays such a huge role in the operation of a business. That knowledge is an essential part for anyone who gets to this level in their career."
When he reflects upon his career in baseball, he appreciates the role accounting has played. Freeman says accounting is essential to operating a business whether he's leading a multimillion dollar baseball team or conducting his own consulting business.