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Think Twice - HR's New Guru? An NBA Bigmouth

July 22, 2002
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If you could work for anyone, your best bet would be an immature man who has been fined millions of dollars for bad behavior, is disrespected by many of his peers, and could even have his job stripped from him.

I’m not kidding. His name is Mark Cuban, and he knows how valuable employees are.

Cuban’s mouth is so big that he was recently fined $500,000 for insulting referees. This gargantuan fine was the most recent in a string of punishments, usually for mouthing off to referees, blasting the league in the media, and even running onto the court during a game. If National Basketball Association owners voted to take his franchise away -- which they could do if they wished -- only one owner would likely vote for Cuban. Himself.

Meanwhile, Cuban is showing the world the effect that HR practices have on results. He has assembled a workforce as diverse as anyone’s. The Dallas Mavericks’ Zhizhi Wang is the first player from China ever to play in the NBA. Dirk Nowitzki, the team’s star, was brought in from Germany. Steve Nash, who grew up in Canada, was born in South Africa to British parents. Michael Finley is American. Eduardo Najera is one of the few Mexicans ever in the NBA.

Getting such a diverse workforce to work together is a -- pun intended -- tall order. These guys have something big in common, though. They all want to play for Cuban, who bought the team from Ross Perot Jr. in 2000.


Successful HR practices, however that’s defined in your organization, equal success for the company.

Actually, not only do Nowitzki, Nash, Finley, Najera, and Wang want to work for Cuban, so does most everyone else in the league. That’s because Cuban believes that the nicer you are to employees, the better they’ll perform. "When you treat your employees well, they don’t have any excuse but to work hard," he told ABC News. "I want every employee to know that I care about them, that I want them to succeed, and that I’m going to expect 100 percent from them. It doesn’t matter if they are a player, a receptionist, or a salesperson."

Cuban does what it takes to attract and retain. Every player gets his own TV, stereo, and videogame system -- in his locker. When they’re on the bench during a game, players sit on ergonomic chairs with antibacterial upholstery. Staff members get biweekly car washes and occasional neck massages. The massages, the ergonomic chairs, the TVs, and the other perks cost Cuban less than one half of one percent of payroll.

Buddy Pittman, the Mavs’ senior VP of HR, says his boss has increased the staff size, raised 401(k) matches, given bigger discounts to employees for team merchandise, and absorbed health-care cost increases without passing them on. The company’s hierarchy is flatter than the gym floor.

Cuban knows that every aspect of HR affects productivity. He can even explain why he keeps the temperature where he does -- 72 degrees. "If it is too cold, it could affect the players and make them more susceptible to injury."

The moral of the Mark Cuban story isn’t that you have to drown your employees in lavish gifts. It’s that successful HR practices, however that’s defined in your organization, equal success for the company.

As far as the boxscores are concerned, during the years B.C. (Before Cuban), the Mavericks were horrible. They once won only 11 games during an entire year. Now, they can win 11 in one month alone -- December of 2001. As of this writing, the Mavs score more points than any other team in basketball. They could practically spend the rest of the season watching Flintstones reruns in their lockers and still make the playoffs.

   In terms of the business, Pittman says Cuban's investments in employees have resulted in more ticket sales, more corporate sponsorships, and more revenue.

Mark Cuban went from a modest existence, working his way through college, to founding the Internet company Broadcast.com. It earned him about $2 billion dollars when he sold it to Yahoo.

He’s gotten so rich, so fast, that he acts like a hyperactive boy living inside the body of a man in his early 40s, playing out his dream in his seat in the arena. Cuban racks up fines like it’s his job. Actually, it is his job.

That’s because Cuban sees himself as an advocate for employees, and many of his punishments have been levied because he thinks the league is too violent and his employees are at risk.

By complaining about bad officiating, Cuban puts himself even further in the camp of his workforce. When everyone wants to work for you, and your business keeps on succeeding, this sounds like an awfully good move.


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