As 240 incoming Full-Time Berkeley MBA students warmed up this week with a case about Major League Baseball management, little did they know that A’s Moneyball legends Billy Beane and Sandy Alderson were on deck with real-life lessons.
A’s General Manager Beane and NY Mets General Manager Alderson—who originally hired Beane—made the surprise visit Tuesday during orientation week for the Full-Time MBA Class of 2016.
Beane and Alderson’s careers exemplify how to question the status quo: their game-changing use of advanced data transformed baseball talent management into a science.
“(General) managers thought for a long time that we couldn't bring some of the principals used in real estate or the financial business to baseball,” Alderson said. “Moneyball caused a revolution among owners…Compare what the clubs do now to what hedge funds do with software and algorithms.”
Moneyball is a book by Michael Lewis adapted into a 2011 movie starring Brad Pitt as former MLB outfielder Beane. It tells the story of how Beane—building on his mentor Alderson's data-driven approach—used scientific analysis rather than traditional baseball wisdom to assemble a team of undervalued players. The A's, operating on a shoestring budget, broke an American League record in 2001 by winning 20 consecutive games.
Beane told students that MLB management has evolved from an insider’s club of former players to a meritocracy. Technology and advanced data collection are further expanding opportunities.
"Everyone in this room has the opportunity to run a major league sports team," he said.
His philosophy: when someone tells him “You can’t do that here,” he sees it as a signal of an opportunity.
Beane was unapologetic about their approach, which now has many imitators.
“We are data-driven and pretty ruthless in our implementation,” he said. “We really want to remove our emotions from the decision making.”
The key to staying ahead is flexibility, Beane said. “The market is constantly fluid. We have to find what it’s overvaluing and what it’s undervaluing. We are trying to take advantage of the gaps in the marketplace that the other teams are presenting us.”
Their remarks echoed the way Dean Rich Lyons described the innovative leadership Haas cultivates through its Defining Principles—specifically, Question the Status Quo, Students Always, and Confidence Without Attitude.
Lyons said innovation leaders ask such questions as: “Isn’t there a better way to do this? What’s the white space around this business?”
For students spending their very first week at Haas, the visit was a home run.
"All top business schools say they do things differently and are innovative, but Berkeley really walked the talk by having Sandy and Billy come speak," said Gavin Abreu, MBA 16, of México City. "I was expecting an executive from top tech firm, but they really threw us a curveball with Moneyball."