Transition Game: Dave Bing

2/13/2004 - Detroit Pistons

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.

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.