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Trojans in Business: Dan Bane

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Bane-TJs.jpgName: Dan Bane

Resume: Chairman and CEO of Trader Joe's

Sport at USC: Baseball (Class of 1969)


How did playing for the legendary Rod Dedeaux shape who you became as a person and a businessman?

I came to USC on an academic scholarship and as a walk-on to the baseball program.  I had an offer of a baseball scholarship to UCLA, but wanted to go to USC and try to be part of the baseball team and experience what at that time was one of the best teams in the nation every year.  In that era, freshmen were not allowed to play varsity sports, so I was a member of the freshman baseball team and then was on the varsity teams during my remaining years until graduation in 1969.  In 1968, the Trojans were the National Champions and I was on the team, but did not play much.  

I can recall that sometime during my sophomore year I asked myself what was the benefit for me to be on the roster even though I was slotted behind some very good players who were on scholarship and frankly were better than me.  I recall concluding that what I could get out of the process was a set of lessons for life.  I would use the time to try to see and understand what our highly regarded coach was doing and determine why he was so successful.  In short, I decided to analyze Coach Rod Dedeaux and his behavior to determine what he could teach me...not about baseball, but about how to handle people.

What I discovered proved to be really important to me and any success I have had as a manager of people.  Coach did three things that I have tried to adapt to my management style.

First, he wanted us to strive for perfection.  Clearly, the journey was more important than the attainment of perfection, but we were after it.  Before the game we took infield and tried to make every throw, every movement and every play perfectly.  I don't recall that we accomplished perfection, but I do remember a few times when we were done and we looked into the other team's bench that they knew they could not win or even compete with us.  We had them before the first pitch.  I remember talking with Coach Dedeaux a few years before his death and we discussed infield and he confirmed for me that it was totally by design and my perception of its importance was a large part of what he was doing.  

Another factor was the notes that the coach kept during the game about mental errors made by certain players.  Coach would jot down notes on such errors, but he would never talk about them during the game.  He was unendingly positive during the game and the notes were used to talk about things we could do better during a conversation the next day.  I have used this technique at Trader Joe's when I am touring stores or even when I am in the office.  Any critique I may have is delivered after the tour or in a way that does not negatively impact the efforts going on during the tour to have great customer experiences.

Second, Coach Dedeaux was very keen on having every person on the team playing his role for the good of the team.  Even those of us that did not play much knew that our role was to stay ready and into the game in case we were called upon.  Others knew that base running, for example, could win or lose the game.  Those that were good at going from first to third on a roller to the outfield knew that their job was to hustle and get to a spot where they could score a run more easily.

Finally, it was really important to have fun.  Coach Dedeaux was sometimes the leader of the fun and he knew when and how to do it and still maintain his position as the ultimate leader of the program.  We have an annual meeting of our store leaders and I always start the meeting with some sort of skit or video of me wearing a funny costume or doing something that sets the tone of the meeting while letting the store leaders know that having fun is important.

In later life, Coach Dedeaux became a friend.  We discussed things like the above and other things he used in his management of people.  He was truly a great leader and had a significant impact on my leadership style and my ultimate success.

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