If a business takes a hit below the belt, it’s not time to throw in the towel. No, most leaders would say to take it on the chin and try a hail mary. When the chips are down, and the company’s on the ropes, the whole team has to keep their eyes on the ball, take the gloves off, and keep the ball rolling down the home stretch.
Yes, when it comes to business language, sports metaphors are par for the course. (Sorry.) But once in a while, comparisons between business and sports are actually appropriate. Mollie Marcoux, one of the top hockey players in Princeton University history, is one person with the firsthand knowledge to bring sports and business together, having been a star player in both fields. Marcoux, who has been director of athletics for Princeton since 2014, was for 19 years a manager of the Chelsea Piers sports complexes in New York and Connecticut.
Marcoux will speak at the Princeton Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Thursday, September 10, from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the Princeton Marriott. Tickets are $50, and $70 for nonmembers. Visit www.prinectonchamber.org or call 609-924-1776.
“Running an athletic department is just like running a business,” says Marcoux, who grew up in Ithaca, where her father owned a typewriter business and her mother was a teacher. Marcoux learned the most by listening to her parents talk around the dinner table about who was a good employee, and who was not. Marcoux believes a good worker and a good athlete have the same qualities — dedication to the team, skill, talent, perseverance, and having the right attitude.
Marcoux went to Princeton and played ice hockey, where she earned the distinction of being Rookie of the Year in 1988. She was MVP three times, and was team captain her senior year and was selected to the all-Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference. She still holds the Princeton scoring record for most goals in a single season, at 35. A multisport athlete, Marcoux was also second-team all-Ivy honors in soccer in 1987, according to Princeton University.
After graduating in 1991, Marcoux became assistant athletic director, assistant dean of admissions, and assistant housemaster at the Lawrenceville School while also serving as soccer and ice hockey coach. In 1995 she left the academic world for business, joining the Chelsea Piers Management company the year it opened, and quickly rose through the ranks to become vice president for strategic planning for the company, and later becoming general manager for the Piers’ largest sports venue.
She joined the Princeton athletics department in 2014, replacing Gary Walters, who had been director for 20 years. Marcoux said there are clear parallels between business and sports. She compared coaches to CEOs.
“At the end of the day, our coaches are into everything,” she said. “They’re putting the pieces together, they are running their teams like a business, particularly at the college level. They’re responsible for all aspects of their team and managing the personalities, and managing administrative work. It’s all interrelated.”
Managing an athletic department these days is about far more than just the sports teams. Even at Princeton, where Marcoux says cultivating student athletes is the biggest priority, publicity is never neglected. On August 6 Marcoux announced the Princeton athletic department signed a deal for IMG College — a sports marketing company — to manage Princeton’s multimedia rights, including marketing, advertising, sponsorships, and radio broadcasts of the Tigers’ football, men’s basketball, and men’s lacrosse games.
“We look forward to partnering with IMG to build upon our already strong sponsorship program by continuing to identify premier sponsors who align with the Princeton brand and who understand our unique tradition of academic and athletic excellence,” Marcoux said in a press release.
Marcoux likes to quote her predecessor, Walters, who used to say that as sports teams, “we do our testing in public.” For a company, the public test is the quarterly results. Despite all the subjective aspects of running both a business and a sports team — are the athletes/employees happy? Are they working well together? — there is a final score and a bottom line.
Of course, the goal of an athletics program is not about amassing the most points or money, Marcoux says. When the goal is education and character building, it’s harder to put success as a line item on a spreadsheet. Instead, she says, she must rely on anecdotal examples of success, and whether the teams are winning.
“Business and athletics are more similar than they are different,” she says. In both cases, the most important thing is to have a good team.
“We have such tremendous people that it makes the department great, and we have tremendous competitive success. It’s the same with any organization. It’s all about who you have on your team.”