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Basketball Hall of Fame CEO Holds Court with Students

John Doleva Dishes Out Business Lessons, Career Advice

John Doleva speaks with students Photo by Ed Brennen
John Doleva, president and CEO of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, talks business with students at the Saab ETIC Perry Atrium.

By Ed Brennen

Senior business administration Hannah Wright wouldn’t consider herself an avid basketball fan, but she took away some valuable lessons from a recent presentation by John Doleva, president and CEO of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

After hearing how Doleva turned the scuffling Springfield museum into a thriving international nonprofit organization that recently completed a $30 million capital campaign, Wright gained new perspective on how an organization can reinvent itself.

“I never thought of a museum as looking forward, but it inspired me to see how it’s possible to turn a business around,” says Wright, who was among about 100 Manning School of Business students who attended Doleva’s presentation at the Saab ETIC Perry Atrium. “And it was really cool to hear a CEO share their experiences in life. He gave us a lot of words of wisdom that I’m going to try to incorporate into what I do.”
John Doleva speaks to business students Photo by Ed Brennen
John Doleva shares with business students how the Basketball Hall of Fame was able to become much more than a museum.

Doleva, a 1982 UMass Amherst business grad, was vice president and general manager of the Sporting Goods Group for Spalding Sports Worldwide before joining the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1999, where he quickly rose from vice president of marketing to CEO.
He was invited to speak to Manning School students by his friend Paul Keyser, a visiting faculty lecturer in the Marketing, Entrepreneurship and Innovation department. 

“Very infrequently at this point in a student’s career do they have an opportunity to actually meet a CEO,” Keyser says. “It’s a great opportunity for students to engage with a CEO and find out what types of challenges and opportunities they face.”

Doleva described how, when he started working at the Basketball Hall of Fame, the organization was not capitalizing on its greatest resource: its Hall of Fame players. He noted that only three former players attended the 1999 induction ceremony. Last summer, 67 former players attended.
Paul Keyser shakes hands with John Doleva Photo by Ed Brennen
Visiting faculty lecturer Paul Keyser, left, shakes hands with John Doleva following his talk.

The Hall of Fame, which celebrates men’s and women’s basketball players and coaches at every level, was able to grow its brand by hosting games and events across the country and around the world, which in turn helped bring in corporate partners such as Nike and ESPN, according to Doleva.

“It occurred to us that we need to go out and touch our customers where they are with golf tournaments, fantasy camps and clinics,” says Doleva, who added that just 16 percent of the Hall of Fame’s revenue is now from museum ticket sales, while 84 percent is from external events.
The 58-year-old Doleva, who also spoke with members of the UML men’s and women’s basketball programs while on campus, concluded his presentation with some “words of wisdom” from his 36-year career:
  • Fill vacuums, because someone is always watching. When you’re working, if someone’s not doing their job in your area, don’t say, “It’s not my problem.” Step up and address the issue. It will be noticed, and that will be a career-changer for you.
  • Work now to learn general business skills, such as in retail jobs. Get a lot of experience over a wide breadth of business.
  • Every day, be the first to say “Hello,” “Good morning,” “How are you?” Set an example and you’ll be copied. Every business is about customer service and hospitality.
  • Look everyone in the eye. If you’re talking to someone, don’t look over their shoulder to something else. Be present in the moment.
  • Dress one level up from the expected. Or more.
  • Understand “the numbers.” Seek the big picture in your organization.
  • Hone writing skills. A good (or great) writer stands out.
  • Anticipate the next question. Make it a career trait.
  • See the humor if you can. It’s a long journey.
  • If the moment lacks a leader, and you can handle it, lead.