Business Review talked to Virgil Stanescu, the Executive Director of CEO Clubs Romania and President of Sports HUB, to find out more about Romania’s former captain of the National Basketball Team, his transition from sports to business, his thoughts on leadership, performance mentality, digitalization in sports, and more; all of which you can read below in an exclusive BR Interview.
You were still a player for the University of South Alabama when you also completed your Bachelor of Business Administration at the same institution. Did you always know that after your basketball career you will be going into business?
I chose a major in Management thinking that it is something that I can do. Doing it there I discovered that is something that I like a lot and that is what I want to do in the future. I loved the applicability of that and was something that kept me curious during my basketball career. I was questioning the people in the management of the clubs that I played for, I was reading a lot and I was trying to prepare myself for this transition. More, I felt like wanting to learn more formally, which I did.
Is there a parallel between your career as a professional athlete and the way you cultivated your leadership and business skills throughout the years?
There is a lot of common ground. Regarding leadership, I’ve been the captain of many of the teams that I’d played for, including the National Team. I understood my role, one that transcended the lines of the court, and I’ve embraced it. That helped me a lot in who am I today. I’ve taken my share of responsibility for my actions, and I’ve learned to do it for my teams also. Being a leader is not a position, is aligning the group’s agendas with the group objectives while keeping the focus on individual needs and help teammates become better. Sport taught me most lessons about leadership.
Must watch: Virgil Stanescu TEDx Talks | Belonging in Sports
What are the main similarities between a career in professional sports and one as a successful business leader?
There are so many overlaps. I feel like a kid in the candy shop. I know how to work hard, I know what team means, I know responsibility, I understand roles, I am “fair play”, and I know how to deal with failure and success. These are just a few things. I have a performer mindset. It all comes down to that. We are performers, but in sport is easier to pinpoint the process. Everybody knows that there are no shortcuts in sport. If I would have to sum it up in three words would be “understand the process”.
It seems as if Romanian sport has been mismanaged for years now; what can the business world bring in terms of sports management and reorganizing the various federations and sports communities?
Wow…that is such a great question because we tend to think that knowing sport is the main criteria in looking for a manager and is not. We need to understand that the competence in those positions is management and if the person knows sport, then it’s a big plus. Just because I was a dog and I know what is like to be a dog, that doesn’t make me a vet-doctor. Once we will understand that, then we can speak KPI’s, processes, and organizations. Meanwhile, sport will be just a passion organized like a hobby. Of course, I am not saying that there are no experts in the sports industry, I know many, but not close enough to how many we need.
In other countries, sport has become highly digitalized, but Romania seems to be lagging in this regard too; what can we do to accelerate this process?
First, I think that we need to create clear processes of functions and tasks. Once we standardize those processes, then we can move forward to digitalize them and looking for scale. Making things clearer is not easy. We might have at some point to do some kind of audit…well let’s not say audit because it might scare some people, but some kind of due diligence of sport. We need to put structure to digitalize sport.
You were continuously dedicated to education and growth, completing a Master of Science in Leadership and Management after ending your playing career; is this because of the performance mentality which is cultivated in professional sports? How can more people tap into this mindset and become successful in various fields?
As I said it before; you must trust the process. I had success in what I did first because I knew the importance of practice. My work ethic is something that I highly value so the fact that I could come early and stay late to do the extras needed, the resilience of accepting routine, over and over, made me a performer. Therefore, why would I expect any kind of success without practice in management? I believe in continuous education. I am a curious person that has a lot to learn. I believe that we must stay curious, so I knew that I need to learn, as simple as that.
We talked a bit about the reorganization and digitalization of sports in our country; how do you see the future of sports in Romania, both from a competitive and a business perspective?
Well, I believe that e-sports is going to challenge us a lot. I don’t want to polarize this, but if we can’t keep up with innovation in traditional sport, eSports will eat it alive. We will need to find ways to augment the way we practice, the way we learn, the way we play, and how we bring it all to our audience. No matter if we talk about sports for the masses or high-performance sport, we got to find ways to stay up to date. It will be harder and harder to take people out of their comfort zone and ask them to “sweat”. It is going to be harder to convey group messages from one to many where expectations are to tailor messages for everyone and on each listener’s level… and that is so hard.
Business-wise, we also got to keep up with the entertainment industry. We compete for the same audience. We must focus on value-added for each project and think of sport as an industry. Let’s not focus exclusively on the medal, but also on the profit & losses of each project, even if we expect social KPIs or profit-oriented. We change sports mindset towards a robust system.