PHOENIX — Say what you want about Robert Sarver, but the Suns’ owner has shown a propensity for creative thinking when it comes to filling out his management team.
After hiring a former player agent, Lon Babby, to head his basketball operations department last year in a reorganized front office that emphasizes specialists focusing on their area of expertise, Sarver brought aboard former Henkel CEO Brad Casper to head the business side of the organization on Monday.
Casper comes to the Suns with loads of experience in the business world. He recently led the $1.7 billion Henkel Consumer Goods company as president and CEO, a company which included the former Dial Corporation.
During that time Casper was named one of the Phoenix Business Journal’s “Most Admired CEOs” in 2008 and 2009. Casper has also worked as a financial analyst for General Electric as well as a brand manager at Proctor & Gamble.
In short, Casper is a wildly successful businessman, and Sarver feels that will translate to the NBA world.
“Brad brings with him tremendous experience in all facets of marketing, promotion and management,” Sarver said. “I feel very fortunate that we’re in a position to land someone with the expertise and capability that Brad has.”
Sarver got the idea to target Casper a few weeks ago during a break at a labor meeting when some of the owners were discussing in awe how the 76ers managed to lure Adam Aron, who previously had been the CEO at Vail Resorts and the Norwegian Cruise Line, to be their new CEO.
Although the Sixers bring in perhaps one-tenth the revenue of a cruise line, Aron was raised in Philadelphia and has a passion for sports so this was just something he wanted to do.
That got the ball rolling and led Suns vice chairman Sam Garvin to suggest that perhaps Casper fits that mold as well, and the rest is history.
Shortly after meeting Garvin in 2005, Garvin told Casper he always fancied being the president of Dial and Casper joked that he would switch places with him.
“Who would have guessed that now six years later I might actually get that chance,” Casper said.
“This is a very exciting opportunity for me, needless to say. If you would have asked me eight weeks ago if I ever imagined being in a situation like this I probably would have said, ‘No.’
According to Garvin, Casper is known for “creating a culture of innovation and growth [and] launching and developing numerous multi-billion dollar brands,” and Casper feels those experiences are transferrable to the NBA realm since some of his former companies were “consumer-oriented brands” as well.
Casper’s innovation can be seen in that he led the development of successful new products such as Dial body scrubs, Renuzit air fresheners and Purex Complete 3-in-1 Laundry Sheets.
As he steps into his new position, Casper understands he is already working with a well-established brand, but he wants to go back and look at how the brand has evolved over time. Then he wants to ensure all the elements are still aligned.
“I really believe that this brand is already very strong, but over the last few years I don’t think we’ve lost our way I don’t think it’s as clear what we stand for, and I want to make sure what we do stand for is the best entertainment sports value not only in Arizona but also in the NBA,” Casper said.
The Suns’ other major announcement Monday involved Sarver promoting General Counsel Jason Rowley, who had been the team’s interim head of business operations after Rick Welts left in August, to Chief Operating Officer.
Sarver first got to know Rowley when he worked for the law firm that represented Sarver’s ownership group that purchased the Suns. Sarver was impressed by “not only his legal expertise but kind of his business savvy, his common sense and his ability to try to solve problems” and made a mental note that this is a person he would like to work with if the chance came up down the road.
Four years ago it did when the Suns’ General Counsel position opened up, and now Rowley finds himself as the team’s COO.
“He really deserved a promotion, and I’m really happy to be able to offer him that,” Sarver said. “I think he will continue to be a really valued asset for the Phoenix Suns organization for a long time to come.”
With Sarver bringing in a new team of executives to head the business side of the Suns a year after doing the same on the basketball side, the Suns’ owner finally has all of his own people in place to run the organization.
Once again Sarver is taking a risk by making an unconventional hire but where others might see a soap peddler, Sarver sees an innovative business mind that has grown gigantic consumer businesses 10 times the size of the Suns.
Give the Suns’ owner credit for one thing: he’s not afraid to think outside the box to hire his optimal management team.
“I feel good,” Sarver said. “I think we have some really good people in the right place.”
When a reporter jokingly asked Sarver if the pay is about equal to Casper’s former positions, Casper quickly interjected, “With the non-profit,” to draw a chorus of laughs from the audience and Sarver himself.