By Andrea Williams
There are many young businessmen and women who dream of a high-powered job in professional sports. They hang out at stadiums and arenas fantasizing about taking their place in the front office of their favorite team and developing marketing plans or finalizing draft decisions.
Though Wendy Lewis never had her own big league dreams, she has managed to build one of the most successful and long-standing careers in Major League Baseball.
Lewis was employed by the Chicago Tribune when its owner, the Tribune Company, approached her about establishing a formal human resources department at the Chicago Cubs, its newly acquired sports property. With a background in HR and sales, execs saw Lewis as the ideal candidate – especially considering that the Cubs needed to be sold on the fact that they needed a human resources department at all.
“It wasn’t a conscious decision to work for Major League Baseball,” Lewis said. “It turned out to be a solution for corporate. But it actually is more exciting, more challenging and more fulfilling than it was when I first got in.”
After eight years in Chicago Lewis moved to New York to take a job in the commissioner’s office. Today, more than 17 years later, she is the highest-ranking African-American woman with the league. In her position as the senior vice president of diversity and strategic alliances, it is her primary responsibility to ensure that other minority businesspeople have the opportunity to leave their professional marks on the baseball diamond.
“We essentially build and support economic impact models around diversity,” Lewis explained. “The strategy that we have is called DEIE – Diversity Economic Impact Engagement. We work with each one of the clubs, helping and supporting them as they create best practices that are unique for that club…that create economic impact around their diversity strategies.”
One of Lewis’ most important roles is the oversight of MLB’s Diverse Business Partners Program. The initiative is the premier supplier diversity program in professional sports. And since its inception in 1998, MLB and its member teams have spent more than $800 million with minority- and women-owned businesses.
“It really is an industry-wide initiative,” said Lewis. “It is throughout our business, and we’re working twelve months out of the year. That’s what makes us different.”