Kevin Reilly is the owner and president of the Vallejo Admirals, an independent professional baseball team based in Vallejo, California. Kevin grew up in Garden City, Long Island, and has a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from UC Berkeley. He started his career at software companies, providing systems to large scale IBM computers as a marketing rep. In 1988, he started his own software firm and operated it until 2002, when he sold a portion and shut down the other. He owned a small portfolio of properties in Vallejo, and hung out his shingle in 2003 with the broker who used to represent him, serving mostly investors in Vallejo.
How do you define success?
I define success very personally and by project. An internal feeling of success needs to exist within when you start any project, so decisions are made from the confidence of knowing basic truths that work and the confidence to flex to something else if even the most basic truths don’t hold up. As for success on a given project, it may be changing a business’s reputation, or it may be changing the foundation of how it operates or how personnel see the customers or changing all those who do see the customers properly before running out of cash, etc. Each enterprise is different and the definition of “success” meeting a grounded set of step-wise goals.
What is the key to success?
Attitude, and attention to customers.
What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
That I am responsible for everything that happens. That is empowering. It enables one to decide everything that needs to be done and tests creativity and leadership in bringing those factors to bear.
What are some quotes that you live by?
“Do something original, work hard, don’t be greedy.” – Ted Turner
“When in doubt, make a decision, see the result, then make a new decision and a new one, and a new one…never fear, just make a new decision. Look for people who have appreciation for customers, then set basic guidelines and enable them latitude to make decisions to innovate serving customers.” – Kevin Reilly (derived from Charles Wong, founder of Computer Associates)
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” – Theodore Roosevelt (excerpt from the speech “Citizenship In A Republic”)
“One thing is sure. We have to do something. We have to do the best we know how at the moment…if it doesn’t turn out right, we can modify it as we go along.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt
“We must not promise what we ought not, lest we be called on to perform what we cannot.” – Abraham Lincoln
“Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.” – Muhammad Ali
“Don’t count the days. Make the days count.” – Muhammad Ali
What are some of your favorite books?
The Discipline of Market Leaders by Michael Treacy and Fred Wiersema – helps entrepreneurs sort out what to focus on in decision making.
Any book about JFK and books or quotes on leadership. Through the glamour, JFK was a heroic figure. Other leaders too – FDR, Teddy Roosevelt, Lincoln. Leaders never have as easy a time as the history books make out.
Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
They’re all the same. Go in, have fun, and start making decisions. Enable people to be who they are, deal with the feedback, and make a new decision based on that.
When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
You mean every day? Adversity is a state of mind. Every day is a new set of decisions and they are made as quickly as possible to extend the quality of experience and magnetism for customers and keep expenses down.
How did you come across the opportunity to purchase the Vallejo Admirals?
I was approached. At the time, I saw it as a great device to feature the best of the city so the residents had somewhere to go to feel good about their city. I knew very little about baseball.
What is your vision for the future of the franchise?
To extend the underlying vision of featuring the best of the city via deeper relationships with major institutions as well as to prospective guests who have never visited because they think that an Admirals game is only about baseball but not food, friends, neighbors, fun, and other entertainment and community members performing, playing, or being honored.
What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Do something original, do it really well, don’t be greedy, and love your customers; they feel it and help you succeed.
This interview was conducted for research purposes by author Jason Navallo for his upcoming book, Underdog.
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