Professional hockey in the 1970s was so rough-and-tumble, it spawned a joke that still makes the rounds — “I went to the fights and a hockey game broke out.”
At the center of that chaos were the Philadelphia Flyers, affectionately known as the Broad Street Bullies, thanks to their punch-first-ask-questions-later approach to the game.
And at the center of the Flyers was Bill Clement, a rangy two-way player whose comparatively stately style of play won him much favor among teammates and opponents — and eventually led him to captain the Washington Capitals, after he had won back-to-back Stanley Cups in Philadelphia.
Clement retired (not entirely of his own choice) from the National Hockey League’s Calgary Flames in 1982 and looked to a future in the restaurant game. And then lost everything.
Clement will speak on his experiences as a professional athlete, a failed entrepreneur, and his renaissance as an internationally renowned broadcaster and businessman — and on what his career ups and downs have taught him about leadership — at the Mercer Chamber on Thursday, May 24, at 11:30 a.m. at Stone Terrace restaurant in Hamilton. Cost: $35. Visit www.mercerchamber.org.
Clement, born in Buckingham, Quebec, entered Canadian junior hockey as a teenager in 1967. Selected 18th overall in the 1970 draft, he was the Flyers’ first draft pick that year.
In his second NHL season with Philadelphia, 1973-’74, he won the first of two straight Stanley Cups. Following his second, he was sent to the Capitals and then, almost immediately to the Atlanta Flames. He finished his All-Star career with the Flames, who moved to Calgary in 1980.
After being “phased out” by the Flames, Clement says, he set to raising money to open Grandma Lee’s Bakery & Deli, an Atlanta-based restaurant that he had intended to be the pilot for a franchise. “I raised all kinds of money,” he says. “The ’80s were the halcyon days of limited partnerships that actually worked.”
In their book, “Walking Together Forever: The Broad Street Bullies, Then and Now,” authors Jim Jackson and Ed Snider recount how Clement had quite literally bitten off more than he could chew. “Nobody told me that Atlanta had more food and beverage establishments per capita than any city in North America,” Clement told them.
Clement had settled for a poor location because it was more affordable, but the poor location — and the pressure from investors — weighed on him. By 1984 the restaurant had failed, and Clement, age 34, was out of money, out of work, and, soon, out of a marriage.
And with no college education and no more hockey-playing days ahead of him, he became so depressed, he would, according to Jackson and Snider, sometimes walk from the shower to his bed without even drying off, and sleep as much as he could.
With few prospects ahead of him, Clement did the only thing he could think to do — become an actor in Atlanta. Soon he moved to New York, where he continued acting, mainly in commercials that played on his pro athlete status.
Then the phone rang. ESPN was on the other end, offering Clement an audition to be part of its hockey announcement crew. “My audition was a live game,” he says. He prepared for it the same way he prepared for acting roles — he asked the producers what they wanted from him. “They told me ‘We want to educate the ignorant without offending the educated,’” he says. “I said ‘I can do that.’”
The live audition worked, and in short order, Clement became part of the tandem, along with Mike Emerich, who would succeed the legendary Gene Hart as the voice of the Philadelphia Flyers’ televised game crew.
In 1988 Clement gave a talk at a chamber of commerce breakfast that opened the door to his speaking career — which is ironic, because Clement admits that speaking has always scared the hell out of him.
“I was afraid of public speaking,” he says. “I still am, until the red light goes on. But I knew I had a message, and I just spoke from my heart.”
Clement talked about his journey from “hero to zero and back.” He had failed, but he had bounced back quickly, thanks to a combination of his own temperament and the lessons learned from NHL executives such as Fred Shero, who owned the Flyers when Clement played for them.
Since bouncing back, Clement has become a major fixture in professional hockey broadcasting. For 15 years he was the lead game analyst for ESPN’s NHL telecasts and has worked every Stanley Cup Final telecast since 1986. He also has worked hockey coverage at four Olympiads since 1992, and was the host for all hockey coverage at the 2006 winter games in Torino, Italy.
In 2011 Clement, who lives in Bucks County, published his book “Everyday Leadership: Crossing Gorges on Tightropes to Success” (with a foreword written by a friend of Clement’s named Wayne Gretzky), which he will be discussing and signing on May 24. The thrust of the book and his speech is exactly what it sounds like — finding everyday examples of leadership.
From the bench. It’s no surprise to anyone that the most gifted players in a game get most of the attention. Guys like, say, Tom Brady, who walked into a mid-season game to take over as quarterback for the New England Patriots only to become one of the best quarterbacks ever.
“It’s not just the Tom Bradys, it’s the career second-stringers who have so much to offer,” Clement says. It is everyday people who do not realize they are in positions of influence. “People think influence comes with job titles, but with or without job titles we all influence each other,” even if it is only one other person, he says.
From the executives. In his life as a professional broadcaster, Clement has come across numerous instances in which executives start out thinking everything’s fine, only to learn that their employees are disheartened, dissatisfied, and feeling undervalued.
“Often, management thinks everything is fine because there’s a bonus given out,” Clement says. “But you know what — it’s not the $1,000 bonus, it’s the gesture.”
Today, he says, when more companies are asking fewer employees to do a lot more work, “praise means a lot.” Spending two minutes with an employee to just say hi and tell the employee he’s doing a good job can pay off big time.
Contrary to popular opinion, not everyone in the working world is motivated by a desire for more money. Simply reminding an employee that he is valuable, that “we couldn’t do this without you,” can carry someone for months.
Falling off the tightrope. The cover of Clement’s book features an image of him, clad in his trademark sharp suit, walking a tightrope across a gorge. That tightrope is symbolic to Clement, who likens it to that precarious dance we do whenever we set out on new ventures.
The gorge, he says, is the pit of our fears and failures. But here’s the thing — it’s not that scary down there. “The myth is often greater than the monster,” Clement says. Everyone is afraid of falling into the gorge because they don’t know what’s down there, but the truth is, when we do fall, we find our way back out. Besides, he says, “you’re probably the only one who even knows you’re on the tightrope.”
Givers. “A taker is someone who asks ‘what’s in it for me;’ a giver asks ‘how can I improve the quality of life for everyone around me?”’ Clement says. And while the popular image of Corporate America (and, in some cases, the reality) is of the cutthroat, take-take-take wheeler-deal, Clement says that most people are not like that.
These are the people who share their knowledge rather than hoard it, and who go out of their way to say nice things or make small, thoughtful gestures rather than just throw money at their employees and expect everyone to be happy.
The point is, being nice, being sincere, and being genuine, whether you’re in a position of authority or not, goes a long way, Clement says. Certainly a lot longer than some might think. “I believe the world is comprised mostly of givers,” he says. “That’s a beautiful thing.”