By Stefan Swiat, Suns.com
Posted: Oct. 10, 2011
Posted: Oct. 10, 2011
Brad Casper finds it ironic that he made a name for himself as a top-flight executive in the Land of the Rising Sun, and then solidified his success in the Valley of the Sun. So it seemed perfectly logical to him that his next career move would be to run the actual Suns.
With Rick Welts resigning as Suns President and CEO on September 9, the club announced that Casper would be named Suns President on Monday, while interim Suns President and former Executive VP & General Counsel Jason Rowley would be promoted to Suns Chief Operating Officer. Casper, a 25-year veteran of consumer businesses, most recently served as President and Chief Executive Officer of Henkel Consumer Goods, Inc., a $1.7 billion North American business based in Scottsdale, Ariz., which included the former Dial Corporation.
Before taking the helm at Dial, Casper rose to prominence as an executive in Japan with Proctor & Gamble. The youngest brand manager in the firm’s history, Casper took a little-known, struggling product in Pantene from a $50 million a year brand to one that currently earns about $4 billion a year in revenue.
A fan and former marketing partner of the Suns with Dial, Casper became immediately intrigued by the opening that Welts left vacant.
“First and foremost I’ve been a Suns fan since I arrived here six and a half years ago,” Casper said. “I was first just a fan, then we became a marketing partner, and then we actually became a marketing partner with the NBA through our Right Guard association.”
Claiming that nothing in his life has ever “engaged him” like the Suns, Casper said that he was teased by his family for always secretly wanting to run the Suns. He admitted reluctantly today, “They were right.”
Sarver, who conducted a nationwide search for the role of team president, said that his perspective about the position changed as he talked to his peers around the league. After speaking with other owners that were receiving interest from executives who were running much larger companies outside of sports, Sarver reformed his thinking.
He talked with one of his partners, Sam Garvin, about the idea, and the duo pinpointed Casper as someone whose passion for the Suns might make him interested in the job. Although the Suns are smaller in comparison to the type of business Casper was accustomed to conducting, Casper was sold on the position from the beginning.
"It may seem funny, but in the consumer goods world, we think of it very much like the entertainment world,” Casper said. “We want to delight the consumers.
“When we do, we get loyalty and we’re rewarded with profitable growth. That’s what I’ll be able to transfer into this industry.”
Sarver was attracted by Casper's “extensive background in brand-building, marketing, management and his experience overseas.”
“His name came up in discussions internally, and we had a lot of interest throughout the country,” Sarver said. “A lot of very qualified people expressed their interest in the job, but at the end of the day, we felt that our best candidate was here locally.”
Despite all of his accolades, Casper’s road to the executive suite wasn’t paved with gold. After graduating from Virginia Tech in 1982 with a degree in finance, he took a position as a financial analyst for General Electric.
For Casper, it was a job that he found less than stimulating.
“I literally worked in the bowels of a GE aircraft engine plant about two and a half three years,” Casper recalled. “All of the offices were subterranean.”
Then, after meeting a manager at Proctor & Gamble at a friend’s wedding, Casper received what he considers the biggest break of his career. Without him or his wife ever even holding a passport or speaking Japanese, Casper was hired as a brand manager with Procter & Gamble in Kobe, Japan, when he was 28 years old.
“My dad gave me advice and asked me what I was going to do stand out because P&G is filled with great people,” Casper said. “He thought it would be by relocating to Japan. I acted on that advice and I’m glad I did.”
Despite all of the obstacles facing him in Japan, which included experiencing The Great Hanshin Earthquake, his risk paid off.
“I was able to reinvent myself in a marketing role,” Casper said. “I loved the fact that P&G gave me the ownership of a brand at a very young age. I was in charge of the full profit and loss, the promotions the pricing.”
Culturally, his time abroad also created a much more cosmopolitan approach to his business affairs.
“The one thing about living in a foreign country I was a minority for the first time in my life,” Casper said. “Even though your language skills can be limited, your other senses can kick in and compensate for what you don’t pick up verbally. I actually believe that I became a better listener, observer and far more empathetic because I had to really to watch them to understand them.”
That approach appears to have worked. From all reports, Casper is renowned for being a very popular leader.
Now he plans to transfer those skills he’s honed in consumer products and put them to use in professional sports. And although he believes that the Suns have a rock-solid foundation in Phoenix, like anything else, there’s always room for improvement.
“I’m as a committed as hopefully as anyone in this organization to providing the best entertainment of any sports franchise in the Valley, if not the state, if not the league,” Casper said. “I’ve been around great brands my whole life and by coming up through the consumer goods industry, I’ve been able to work on some of the biggest, most successful and most endearing brands in the United States.
"The Phoenix Suns are such a brand. So I look forward to better understanding the history and legacy of that brand, and then moving it forward.”
Casper has the full support of Sarver, who is convinced that the former Dial chief is the man for the job.
“Brad has had success in every job that he has been in,” the Suns Managing Partner said. “He’s been able to build, develop and grow a brand successfully. I think one of the best ways to look at someone’s ability is to look at their past. And success is what - I think - stood out.”
Casper likens the current position of the Suns with past companies he used to manage.
“We’ve been one of the top four winning franchises in the last 40 years," he said. "We’re in that winner’s circle, but we’ve just lacked that one little piece that can get us over the hump and win a championship.
"I hope that I can be a part of that. I’ve been with some smaller and more challenged brands where we were No. 2 or No. 3 and so we were fighting for that elite status.’
Although he’s still developing the overall plan, Casper has created an “E” model for the Suns. It will focus on entertainment, engagement, endearment, excitement and education.
The new Suns President is convinced by his belief in the Suns and his plan because much of it has already worked so well on him. In 2005, Casper was invited to sit courtside for a Suns-Mavs playoff game and was blown away by his fan experience.
“I was calling my family back in New Jersey to tell them that it was kind of like a rock concert and a night club mixed with world-class athletes running up and down the court,” Casper said. “Although we lost that series, the Suns never lost me.”
After leaving Henkel to figure out his next move in 2010, Casper was invited by the Suns to their outdoor game in Indian Wells shortly after. At a get-together at one of the minority owner’s houses, Sarver approached Casper and thanked him for coming.
Casper was humbled by the fact that the Suns would extend him so much generosity, despite the fact he was no longer doing business with them.
“Robert told me that night, ‘I always want to let you know that you’re family,’” Casper remembered fondly. “That’s part of the reason I’m here now.”
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