While the Blackhawks have savored the rewards of one of the biggest turnarounds in the sports franchise history, the status quo won't be enough for the team's future, President and CEO John McDonough told a group of suburban business leaders Thursday.
"We never want to be labeled mediocre," McDonough said of the organization that brought the 2010 Stanley Cup to Chicago. "All our success is something that is history. We need to get a lot better. Consistent excellence is what drives us."
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McDonough was part of the Blackhawks executive team speaking at the Daily Herald Business Ledger's Newsmakers Forum held at the Stonegate Banquet Centre in Hoffman Estates. About 175 suburban business owners and executives got insight on the strategies that turned Chicago's NHL team from one of the worst franchises in sports to one of the best in a span of a few years.
In addition to McDonough, the audience heard from Executive Vice President Jay Blunk, Vice President/General Manager Stan Bowman, Vice President/Assistant to the President Al MacIssac, and Assistant General Manager Marc Bergevin during a question-and-answer session moderated by veteran Chicago sportscaster Chet Coppock.
McDonough praised his executive team, saying it is one of the key reasons the Blackhawks are where they are today.
"One of the most underrated executive skills is hiring," he said, "But that's how you build a franchise."
Blunk said one of the major challenges the group faced was rebuilding the team's credibility from a business standpoint. Building off relationships Blunk and McDonough built during their previous work with the Chicago Cubs, they were able to introduce hockey to sponsors who might not have considered it before. Having a young, talented team with great potential was a help, too, Blunk admitted.
"They give us the opportunity to do things that we couldn't have been afforded if they weren't so talented on the ice," Blunk said.
He added the players have helped build credibility among Blackhawks fans as well, and the organization has tapped into that to improve that relationship. Blunk said the team has established the "Fans Voice," which is run by volunteer Blackhawks fans who speak to other fans about issues facing the team. Last year, more than 20,000 fans were interviewed and feedback used to make improvements.
And in order to move toward the future, McDonough said, they had to make peace with their past. Mending broken relationship with former Blackhawks greats like Cliff Koroll, Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita and Tony Esposito was vital in rebuilding the relationships with the fans and the city, he said.
"We needed to respect our history and build a bridge to our future," McDonough said of bringing the former players back as team ambassadors. "We had to get out of the grudge business. We had to bring these people back and let our fans know 'this is going to be a new day and this is going to be a new way.'"
While winning the Stanley Cup was a pinnacle of the team's success, MacIssac stressed the true business goal is to make the Blackhawks an 'elite' team by winning a number of championships over the next several years, putting Chicago in the same league with NHL franchises like the Detroit Red Wings.
"We want to get to where we are perennial winners on the ice and an exciting brand off the ice to watch," MacIssac said.
Sponsors for the Daily Herald Business Ledger Newsmakers Forum were MB Financial Bank and Northern Illinois University College of Business. Marketing partners were WGN Radio 720, the Greater O'Hare Association of Business and Industry and the chambers of commerce of Arlington Heights, Barrington, Hoffman Estates, Schaumburg and Northern Kane County.