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November 25, 2013

Major League Baseball VP Visits with Sport Management Students

morenews4-lgWendy Lewis, Major League Baseball’s senior vice president of diversity and strategic alliances, poses for a photo-op with members of the ODU baseball team.
By Brendan O'Hallarn

Wendy Lewis, Major League Baseball's senior vice president of diversity and strategic alliances, visited Old Dominion, and conveyed a message to sport management students - diversity is for everyone.

"It's not about picking someone based on any particular thing about them. Diversity is about providing opportunities for everyone to succeed, no matter who they are or where they're from," Lewis told a group of undergraduate students, in a talk at the Student Recreation Center on Nov. 19.

Lewis reports directly to the chief financial officer of Major League Baseball, with a mandate of advancing the level of diversity of MLB's current workforce and improving its supplier diversity league-wide. She said it's daunting reporting to the CFO of a multibillion-dollar business. "If I can give one piece of advice," Lewis told the students, "it's take lots of business classes. They will always be useful."

Lewis earned an M.B.A. from the J.L. Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University and has worked with Major League Baseball for 26 years. "I never planned to stay in it as long as I have," she said.

Part of what has kept Lewis so engaged of late is the MLB Diversity Business Summit, a diversity employment and procurement event established in 2012 that she spearheads.

Lewis urged the ODU students hoping to work in Major League Baseball to consider attending the conference, which will be held next April at Yankee Stadium in New York.

"The reality is, there aren't a lot of jobs in sports," Lewis said. "We designed this event purposely to be overdone. It's amazing just who you bump into. It's the class you can't attend anywhere else."

The summit provides a unique opportunity for job seekers, business owners and entrepreneurs to network with MLB representatives from all 30 clubs, MLB Network, MLB Advanced Media and Minor League Baseball clubs. In a video played for the students, MLB Commissioner Bud Selig said of the summit: "This program is huge today. Five to 10 years from now, it's going to be stunning."

It also addresses a need. In her presentation, Lewis pointed out that Major League Baseball front office staffs are 76 percent white, and 72 percent male. She said similar disparities exist in the ranks of companies that supply services to MLB teams. Just as distressing to Lewis is the fact that the percentage of African American players in Major League Baseball has dropped to its lowest level in decades, less than 10 percent.

"When it comes to diversity, if we're going to talk the talk, we have to walk the walk," she said. "The fact is, rich or poor, kids in the city don't play games like we used to."

That was part of what underpinned Selig's desire to create the Diversity Summit, something unique among all the professional sports. "The biggest thing giving him heartache is the diminishing presence of the African American player," Lewis said. "I'm very proud of Major League Baseball. It's not perfect. But it's been a remarkable owner to work with."