Transition Game: Dave Bing

Updated: February 13, 2004, 7:19 PM ET
By Dr. Jack Ramsay | Special to ESPN.com

Editor's note: The following is an excerpt from Dr. Jack Ramsay's new book "Dr. Jack's Leadership Lessons Learned from a Lifetime in Basketball." Ramsay interviewed many former NBA superstars who have used their athletic leadership capabilities to achieve success in the business world.

Man of Steel: Dave Bing

Dave Bing grew up in a solid home environment the second of four children. His dad, Hasker, was a building contractor who went into business for himself, restoring or rebuilding old, broken-down houses and churches in Washington's blighted economic areas. The Bing family was very religiously oriented, and Sunday church attendance was obligatory. The values of church membership, hard work, education, and good citizenship were deeply entrenched in all the children.

When Dave was 14, his father started to teach him the construction business. One of Dave's first projects was to build a brick wall of modest proportions. Dave went at it with zeal and energy, declining suggestions on the building process. His father waited until Dave had completed the job and stood admiring his work. Then the elder Bing leaned gently on the wall, whereupon it fell to the ground.

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Dave was chagrined and wanted to know why his father had ruined his work. His dad told him that the first premise of all work is to do the job right; and if it isn't right, you start over, and work at it until it is right. His dad showed him where he had erred, and Dave rebuilt the wall. This time he got it right. He never forgot that lesson: "My father taught me that you have to build a solid foundation to make anything good. I applied that principle to almost everything I did in athletics and, later, in business."

The Detroit Pistons paid Bing $15,000 as a first-round draft choice in 1966. He had married his high school sweetheart, Aaris Young, while at Syracuse, and the couple already had two children when he went to Detroit. Instead of taking summers off like most of his teammates, Dave accepted a job at the National Bank of Detroit to learn the rudiments of banking finance. For seven summers, he gained experience in every facet of the business - from teller to manager.

After that, he worked two summers in a training program for car dealers, run by Chrysler Corporation. Dave valued those experiences, but discovered that he didn't want either of those careers. He wanted to get actively involved in business for himself, and the steel industry intrigued him.

When his playing days were over in 1978, Dave took a job with Paragon Steel where he started off working in the warehouse and then spent time in the various departments of the company - shipping, accounting, sales, marketing, and purchasing. He learned the company operation thoroughly and from the ground up. "From time to time, I'd think back to that lesson I learned from my father about starting from a solid base and doing things right. I stuck with the premise that it was best to learn what you want to do from scratch," he said.

He also negotiated his own financial deal with Paragon for $35,000 - a severe drop from the $250,000 he made as an NBA player in his final year. But he wasn't concerned about the money at that time; his objective was to acquire job experience.

Two years later, Dave formed Bing Steel and began working out of a rented office with a staff of four employees and a rented warehouse. His company determined the steel needs of carmakers, then bought the metal to fill their orders. Soon after, in 1980, he purchased an abandoned factory, acquired the necessary equipment, and became his own steel processor - cutting, shaping, and bending raw steel to various specifications. Dave Bing was in business - big business.

However, his timing was bad. The steel and automotive businesses were in the throes of a depression. Bing lost $90,000 of his initial $150,000 investment. Though it scared him to lose so much of the money he had saved from his basketball career in such a short time, he never thought of quitting. He called on his experience in athletics to carry him past that hurdle.

"I knew how to deal with defeat," he related in The Name of the Game Is Life, by Robert L. Shook and Ramon Greenwood (Lincolnwood, IL, NTC/Contemporary Publishing, 1992). "I learned that lesson well as an athlete. When you don't succeed, you don't see it as a failure because you know you'll always come back the next game. You take on the challenge, and it's something you love every time it happens. Coming from that background, I wasn't about to accept a setback simply because my company lost money during its first year."

Bing Steel rebounded in its second year as sales increased to $4.2 million, and the company was able to show a profit. Since then, Bing Steel has had mostly profitable years. When the economy sags, Bing sets new goals and adjusts his game plan just as he did when he played basketball. "In basketball, I always had other options ready to do what I wanted to do on the court. If the first option of a play didn't get me the shot I wanted, I went to the second, or the third if necessary. I never wanted to be stopped just because my opponent shut down my first option. I found it to be the same in business. You have to keep looking for different, more cost efficient ways of getting your materials, manufacturing them into quality products, and distributing them to your customers. It's the same process."

In time, Bing Steel was absorbed into the multifaceted Bing Group, which is divided into Bing Metals Group and Bing Assembly Systems. Bing Metals provides steel for manufacturers in the automotive, appliance, and office furniture industries, and includes a Steel Processing Divisionand a Stamp & Assembly Division. Bing Assembly Systems manufactures and assembles various aspects of the interior and exterior components of automobile construction and has divisions in Detroit, Michigan, and Berne, Indiana.

A couple of years ago, Bing considered joining with Lear Corporation to explore the purchase of auto parts companies in Mexico and South America, but decided to pass on that change in his game plan. "As it turned out, it was a good thing I did," he explained later. "It would have ended up costing us a lot of money. Now there's a movement to do business in China . . . but I want to study that very carefully before I do that. You can't afford to make a mistake at that level; it's too costly."

Bing said that the best lesson he learned playing basketball was the necessity of getting along with others. "Being successful in both basketball and business is all about teamwork. I was a pretty good scorer, but I couldn't score unless someone set picks for me to get open and someone else passed me the ball. And the team couldn't win unless we all defended. I learned early on that basketball was a team game. So is business. I rely on a lot of other people to make my business a success."

Dave Bing is living proof that following the same standards that made him a great college and pro basketball player - setting and pursuing goals, working harder than his competitors, rebounding from setbacks, adjusting his game plan, playing as a team, and giving unselfishly - enabled him to transfer that success to business.

Dr. Jack Ramsay coached the Trail Blazers to the 1977 NBA championship. A member of the Basketball Hall of Fame, he is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. Click here to send a question for Dr. Jack for possible use on ESPNEWS.

Legendary coach and Basketball Hall of Famer Dr. Jack Ramsay served as lead game analyst for The NBA on ESPN Radio. He also contributed to ESPN.com and ESPN The Mag.

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