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How To Be the MVP

This month's editorial on the keynote speaker of the 2002 executive summit—Billy Beane—by Katherine Burger.

If you hadn't read the program you would have sworn the keynote speaker at Insurance & Technology's Executive Summit, which took place at the Arizona Biltmore last month, was a seasoned insurance executive. "We've been doing the same things for the past 100 years and no one questioned it!" the speaker reflected. Except he was a baseball executive, not someone from insurance. Billy Beane, general manager of the Oakland Athletics, has one of the most innovative minds in baseball, and he's made the A's—a small-market team with a payroll a third the size of the New York Yankees'—a consistent contender. When Beane became the A's GM five years ago, he knew the team would have to buck tradition if it was going to be competitive...and profitable.

"We questioned everything that was going on in the game," Beane said. "Baseball is a very subjective sport, and we started taking a very objective approach."

The secret of the Athletics', and Beane's, success (the team has made it to the playoffs the past two seasons), has been to "take advantage of the inefficiencies in the market, and change the way we put the team together." This means ignoring the conventional wisdom about high-priced players and high school pitching phenoms (the statistics show they usually flame out.) Ultimately, Beane told Summit participants, "we're here to win games, but we're a business first and foremost—we have to make money."

Are you listening, technology managers? There are no exploding scoreboards or bobble-head dolls in insurance, but the parallels and lessons are unavoidable. You can compete with limited resources—but only if you (and your bosses, and the people who report to you) are committed to looking at the business differently and building unique strengths and abilities. Then you just might hit a grand slam.

Katherine Burger is Editorial Director of Bank Systems & Technology and Insurance & Technology, members of UBM TechWeb's InformationWeek Financial Services. She assumed leadership of Bank Systems & Technology in 2003 and of Insurance & Technology in 1991. In addition to ... View Full Bio

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