Fortune Names Theo Epstein World’s Greatest Leader
Yes, you read that right. No, the topic isn’t confined to sports. In its annual list of the world’s 50 greatest leaders, Fortune has one Theo Nathaniel Epstein in the top spot.
Is the hype of the capturing the most mythically impossible task in American sports, if not all of worldwide competition, driving this a little bit? Sure, but to see Epstein listed ahead of such luminaries as Pope Francis (3), Melinda Gates (4), Shakira (27), and Chance the Rapper (46) is no small honor.
To be fair, the list does skew heavily toward pop culture. To be more fair, Epstein is a visionary leader whose grasp of both business and baseball principles has propelled him to the top of his field and may eventually set him up for a political career (we’ve already got the t-shirts printed) or role as CEO of a global giant, should he choose to conquer new fields.
Here’s what Fortune had to say about the baseball boss who bested Bezos (Jeff, CEO of Amazon, ranked 5):
In the fall of 2016, as partisan distrust and division reached abysmal depths, fascination with the Chicago Cubs became that all-too-rare phenomenon that united America. As the Cubs fought to end a 108-year championship drought, television ratings for the World Series soared by almost 50%. Even casual fans who didn’t know a bunt from a beanball stayed up late to watch the excruciating extra-inning Game 7 that turned baseball’s most famous lovable losers into winners at last.
The Cubs owe their success to a five-year rebuilding program that featured a concatenation of different leadership styles. The team thrived under the affable patience of owner Tom Ricketts, and, later, under the innovative eccentricity of manager Joe Maddon. But most important of all was the evolution of the club’s president for baseball operations, Theo Epstein, the wunderkind executive who realized he would need to grow as a leader in order to replicate in Chicago the success he’d had with the Boston Red Sox.
In his book The Cubs Way, Sports Illustrated senior baseball writer Tom Verducci describes that evolution, showing how a deeper understanding of important human qualities among his players—the character, discipline and chemistry that turn skilled athletes into leaders—enabled Epstein to engineer one of the most remarkable turnarounds in sports.
For more on Epstein’s leadership philosophy, check out his appearance on David Axelrod’s Axe Files podcast. It’s a fascinating look into how Epstein has risen through the ranks and how the Cubs organization goes about evaluating and developing players and is well worth your time.
Not that anyone was really concerned, but it certainly doesn’t look as though the esteem of sitting atop this list is going to the Cubs exec’s head.
“Um, I can’t even get my dog to stop peeing in the house,” Epstein texted ESPN’s Buster Olney. “That is ridiculous. The whole thing is patently ridiculous. It’s baseball — a pastime involving a lot of chance. If Zobrist’s ball is three inches farther off the line, I’m on the hot seat for a failed five-year plan. And I’m not even the best leader in our organization; our players are.”
So what do you think, is Theo Epstein really the world’s greatest leader?