Innovator Article

Peer-to-Pier: How Innovative Companies and People Stay on Top

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“Complacency is suicide.”

That’s the bottom line for Mario Alioto, senior vice president of revenue for San Francisco’s 2010 World Champion–winning Giants. Alioto leads the marketing at AT&T Park, the force behind a record-breaking sales strategy that has kept the Giants one of the top sponsorship-revenue-generating teams in Major League Baseball.

The Giants work hard, Alioto said, to “avoid the funk of doing same things the same way each year.” The key to their success: “A culture of taking chances, of being entrepreneurial. A culture of always saying ‘Yes,’ never saying ‘No.’”

Alioto gave insight into the hard work of selling a good time at the Graduate School of Management’s eighth annual Peer-to-Pier event, held February 17 in San Francisco’s landmark Ferry Building.

Dean Steven Currall moderated a panel discussion on “Staying Ahead of the Curve: How Innovative Companies and People Stay on Top.” The event drew more than 200 students, alumni, prospective students, and corporate recruiters and employers to meet, greet, learn and network.

Realizing that “we can control everything except what happens on the field,” Alioto and his team focus on pitching fun, from bobblehead doll give-aways to the Dog Days of Summer, when canine companions accompany human fans to the park. There are fantasy batting practices and an annual slumber party. A few years back, Alioto hatched an idea to give away thousands of Giants-branded rubber chickens that fans swung overhead when opposing pitchers intentionally walked Barry Bonds as he closed in on the home run record. Last year, Tim Lincecum wigs were all the rage.

“Baseball is traditional, but San Francisco is not,” Alioto explained. “We need to be a little bit out there—and we need to make our ballpark the place that everyone wants to be.”

Alumna Terry Exner ’09, vice president of marketing planning for Safeway, Inc., shared her thoughts on “staying ahead of the curve by investing in yourself.”

When Exner applied to the Bay Area Working Professional MBA program, she was vice president and general manager of Safeway’s Family Care division, responsible for $1.8 billion in health and beauty aid sales. Her career was already so successful that a recruiter friend was puzzled by her desire to attend b-school.

Earning her MBA enabled Exner to successfully negotiate a “corporate revolution.” When the company consolidated nine operating divisions at Safeway’s Pleasanton, Calif., headquarters, Exner found herself in “a very changed work reality.” The new centralized organization resulted in a higher level of engagement with vendors, vastly improved financial leverage—and “a real pressure-cooker situation” for employees as competition between business units snowballed.

The MBA program “allowed me to keep my career options open,” said Exner, who has made two lateral moves at Safeway since she began her studies. “The MBA made me a better version of myself for taking it all on.”

Assistant Professor Olivier Rubel studies how firms can make better decisions in highly competitive environments—as Safeway has—and explores optimal strategies for implementing these decisions over time. “Successful companies create the future by capitalizing on the present,” he said. “Pharmaceutical companies, for instance, use existing drugs to drive cash flows to design future drugs.”

Rubel noted that trailblazing firms “invest in employees, invest in technologies. Leaders combine information and insights into customers, competitors, the environment.”

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