Posted: September 01, 2013
Executive edge: John Hayes
Ball Corp. CEO buys into minor-league hockeyLynn Bronikowski
When John Hayes was 4 years old, he’d peek over the pew of his church in suburban Chicago, decked out in hockey gear so he’d be ready to hit the nearby ice rink as soon as he said his last amen.
“I’ve played hockey my whole life,” said the CEO of the Broomfield-based Ball Corp. “Hockey is not only a sport but it is one of life’s lessons. It’s taught me more things that I apply in my business life than anything else. It’s about accountability; it’s about teamwork; it’s about passion; it’s about working a little harder than everyone else,” said Hayes, who today plays in what he calls a men’s beer league. “You can apply all that to playing hockey and you can do those in the business world.”
Hayes’ passion for hockey led him to purchase the Denver Cutthroats, a Central Hockey League team that opens its second season next month in the Denver Coliseum. The team is named for Colorado’s official state fish – the greenback cutthroat trout.
“I want this to be a community asset where people feel a part of it; people feel like they have input,” said Hayes. He introduced the team last spring and dropped the first puck six months later. “It’s really about word-of-mouth and putting a great product on the ice where people go and say, ‘That was a lot of fun.’”
His aim is to keep tickets affordable, work with youth hockey leagues, have players out in the community teaching kids to skate and build the Cutthroats’ fan base through digital media.
“We don’t have the resources to spend on traditional media so we do things a little differently,” said Hayes. “That’s what’s fun about the minor leagues; you have to do things differently and you have a license to be more creative.”
Hayes, himself, took to the ice during a charity game that included former Colorado Avalanche players Adam Foote, Joe Sakic and Rick Berry. The event, Pink at the Rink, benefited breast cancer charities. Hayes played defense.
“My father passed away about three months ago from cancer and the last game he ever saw was that game,” Hayes said. “Those guys may be retired from hockey but they are good, plus they stayed behind and signed autographs after the game.”
Off the ice, Hayes, 47, joined Ball Corp. in 1999 from Lehman Brothers in Chicago where Ball was one of his clients. He was named chief executive officer in 2011.
“Ball is a 130-year-old company and I still pinch myself each day to think that I joined this company nearly 15 years ago,” said Hayes, who heads a staff of 15,000 at more than 60 locations worldwide. “And if you ever would have asked me if I viewed myself being CEO, I would have laughed.”
Ball – No. 301 on the Fortune 500 list – is currently expanding in Asia and South America, and has seen its specialty aluminum can business in the United States grow by about 15 percent.
Despite a busy travel schedule for work, Hayes made it to about one-third of the Cutthroats’ home games last year.
“I’m a big believer that you can’t be effective running something from your office; you have to be out there with the people,” said Hayes. “All my travel puts a burden on the physical body but it invigorates the spirit.”
He also stays in touch with employees through town hall meetings streamed online around the globe.
“I’m a big people-person and all about giving people opportunities and seeing them succeed,” said Hayes. “In some ways that’s what the Cutthroats are all about – watching these young kids reach for the golden ring. The truth is, less than 10 percent of them will make it to the NHL but every one of them thinks they’re one of that 10 percent. And there’s no difference here at Ball – it’s all about giving people opportunity.”
Lynn Bronikowski is a freelance writer in Denver.