Coach K moves brand from baseline to boardroom

Updated: October 18, 2006, 8:15 PM ET
Associated Press

DURHAM, N.C. -- Duke's basketball practices are typically closed. Photographers are never allowed.

But coach Mike Krzyzewski made a rare exception Tuesday for the hundreds of businessmen who paid $1,600 apiece to attend his annual leadership conference, offering them a chance to sit inside Cameron Indoor Stadium and watch the Blue Devils work out.

The practice was just one of the sessions that make up the conference, which this week drew business leaders from across the country and featured its normal roster of big-name corporate executives. It's just one more part of Krzyzewski's ongoing efforts to move the Coach K brand beyond the baseline and into the boardroom.

"What it shows is that many leadership skills are transferrable between different industries," said Charlie Bobrinskoy, a conference participant who is vice chairman of Ariel Capital Management LLC, a Chicago-based money-management firm.

"The leadership skills that he talks about -- teamwork, consistency of message, repetition, discipline -- are all things that you can use in lots of different industries, not just basketball," he said.

Over the years, Krzyzewski has worked hard to broaden his appeal outside sports and into business. He's filmed commercials for American Express and General Motors, delivers motivational speeches to Fortune 500 companies and recently authored his second book, "Beyond Basketball -- Coach K's Keywords to Success." He puts on the conference with Duke's Fuqua School of Business.

Of course, none of that would have been possible had he not first built Duke into a seemingly permanent resident in the AP's Top 25, leading the Blue Devils to 10 Final Fours and three national titles.

"The national championship banners hanging from the ceiling, that makes a statement," said participant Eric Furl of Wyeth Biotech, a biopharmaceutical company based in Sanford.

But Coach K is a coach first, as evidenced when he delivered the conference's opening remarks Monday night. Mary Bauer, an information technology manager for IBM in the Raleigh-Durham area, said Krzyzewski crouched down into a coach's stance -- like he was explaining a zone defense -- instead of leaning on the podium.

"He wanted to make a point, and he got down and put his hands on his thighs and really talked to the audience," Bauer said. "It was like, you see him coaching, and that's what he's doing sometimes [during speeches]."

The big names Krzyzewski drew to Durham this year include Loews Hotels Corp. chairman Jonathan Tisch, Billy Dexter of MTV Networks, Philadelphia 76ers president and general manager Billy King and James McCaffrey of Turner Broadcasting.

But for many participants, the highlight of the conference was the high-priced peek into Krzyzewski's practice on Tuesday.

About 500 businessmen watched from the stands while Krzyzewski orchestrated the Blue Devils' fourth full practice of the preseason, pausing occasionally during drills to deliver observations and insights into both basketball and business.

Discussing his philosophy on recruiting, Krzyzewski told the crowd, "You have a culture, you always want them to feel like they're a part of your family and will be part of your family. It's like hiring. I would never just hire people from a resume."

He also emphasized the importance of character and the need to recognize and reward performance. Krzyzewski urged those from the business world to thrive upon adversity.

The attendees said there are plenty of ways to apply those basketball drills to business strategy.

"It was amazing how quickly [the players] changed their roles and got into whatever they were doing. That's very important in the business world," Bauer said.

"We are going global, and many of the people work at home, and they have to turn on a dime all the time," she said. "So it's really interesting, I'm getting a lot from this -- the innovation, the teamwork, the leadership."

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press