The Chicago Beyond and Chicago Blackhawks Leadership Exchange Series

Photos and video below 

The Chicago Blackhawks weren’t always the powerhouse team they are today. In fact, a little over ten years ago, their games weren’t even televised. But when John McDonough was hired as the President and CEO of the team in 2007, things started to turn around.

McDonough found three key factors to change about the team to get it to its Stanley Cup win in 2010; first, he shook up the leadership by firing the coach and bringing in a new voice to guide the team. Next, he completely changed the way the team was branded, moving the broadcasts of the games to different stations and instituting exciting new events. Finally, he modernized the organization, which at the time of his arrival, did not even have a receptionist.

At first glance, it might seem like building a successful hockey team and building a successful nonprofit have nothing in common. But Chicago Beyond and the Chicago Blackhawks Foundation think there can be a lot to learn between the two.

Over the course of about six months in the fall of 2018 and the spring of 2019, the Chicago Blackhawks Foundation and Chicago Beyond worked together to take McDonough’s tactics, build upon them, and pilot a series of leadership workshops called the Leadership Exchange.

The Leadership Exchange was a three-part series, with each workshop focusing on a separate topic similar to the successful strategies McDonough used:

  • Leadership and Building a Culture of Success in which we challenged participants to consider how to manage a team effectively through times of change, just like when McDonough came to the team.
  • Executing the Vision and Building the Brand, where we asked participants to consider how they can build an authentic brand with the communities they serve if they cannot operationalize their vision and share their wins, just as the Chicago community couldn’t celebrate the Blackhawks when they couldn’t watch their games.
  • Building a Winning Team, which challenged everyone to think about the culture behind their team, as the Blackhawks do by focusing their efforts on collaborative and shared ownership.

Speakers for the series included Chicago Blackhawks Senior Vice President and General Manager Stan Bowman, the Senior Vice President of Hockey Operations Al MacIsaac, Vice President of Marketing Pete Hassen, and Vice President of Business Operations Jay Blunk.

Throughout the series, the nonprofit leaders got the chance to problem-solve and talk through real life challenges they have been facing on each of these topics, turning the conversations into actionable next steps.

“One of the things that struck me the most was the candor and struggles that the leadership teams were able to disclose to us,” said Rev. Carol Reese, Co-Director of Chicago Beyond partner Healing Hurt People- Chicago. “Because from a non-profit industry perspective, there’s this presumption there’s no struggles and there are lots of resources, and the folks we talked to actually really did talk about the way that the Blackhawks were able to turn themselves around.”

Sarah Berghorst, the Executive Director at OneGoal, another Chicago Beyond partner, agreed that there were strong, tangible similarities between the industries.

“Hearing the origin story of how you get to this place of success, but then more importantly how you sustain success, it just felt really applicable to this moment in time at my organization,” Berghorst said.

In the coming months, Chicago Beyond will share more workshop and event opportunities for nonprofits and community leaders backing the fight for youth equity. We look forward to staying creative and thinking outside of the box—or the penalty box.

For more information on the Blackhawks Foundation, click here