#transformHR day 2 - Keynote speaker Billy Beane

by Matthew Stollak on Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Day 2 of the wonderful Transform HR conference kicked off with Billy Beane, GM of the Oakland A's, and focus of Michael Lewis' "Moneyball."   Given the emphasis on managing talent with an uneven playing field, having Mr. Beane as the keynote speaker couldn't be more apropros (especially given the multitude of blog posts on Moneyball (self-promotion alert: check out a couple of them in the 2011 season of the 8 Man Rotation)).

Beane started off with some stories about working on the film, saying Brad Pitt was a better option to play him than Zero Mostel or Ernest Borgnine.  He also shared travel stories about people next to him on planes asking him if he read the book or watched the movie.

Beane states that people want sports to be romantic, and don't want to be swayed with the numbers behind the scenes.  By trusting the data and numbers, Beane says the Oakland A's were able to compete with people making emotional decisions.  Meeting with Michael Lewis, Lewis said he understood what was going on with the A's, arbitraging undervalued assets.  Discussing his assistant Paul Palmer who argued, "in baseball, the math will work for you if you let it."

in the story that has now become familiar, Beane discussed the economic constraints Oakland operated under.  After being one of the leaders in payroll in the early 1990s, the A's would go bankrupt unless something changed.  Oakland had to change their approach to talent given limited payroll.  Looked for the statistic with the greatest correlation to winning - on-base percentage.  Other teams did not value this as much as the A's, and they were able to buy this asset at greatly reduced prices.  On-base percentage is now the #1 metric in baseball (was 7th or 8th 12 years ago).

Beane then delved into some heavy baseball statistics, such as "net expected run value," and "What % of drafted players get to MLB within 2 years" to highlight the kinds of detail needed for the A's to compete effectively.

Beane noted the impact of media on decision-making.  The 24-hour echo chamber, he argued, would clearly affect his decision-making if he paid attention to it.  Similarly, he can't react to emotion during the game and micro-manage it by calling the manager to take a player out of the game.  Beane waits until to the end of the game to make decisions.  Similarly, good decisions do not necessarily coincide with popular ones, Beane said after trading away Mark Mulder.

In sum, Beane provided an interesting perspective on the challenges of talent management.

Coming up next is Margaret Morford with the intriguingly titled "HR Fiddles While Organization Burn."

If you are not in attendance, you may follow the conference on Twitter at #TransformHR or follow it live where it is streaming at http://transform.tlnt.com/2012/live/

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