Kellogg World Alumni Magazine, Winter 2003Kellogg School of Management
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  Alumni Wendy Lewis
  © Nathan Mandell

Alumni Profile: Wendy Lewis '95

Going to bat for a level playing field
As Major League Baseball’s diversity advocate, Wendy Lewis ’95 ensures that women and minorities aren’t shut out of the game

by Daniel Cattau

When Sports Illustrated published its list in May of the 101 most influential minorities in sports, Major League Baseball (MLB) had five men in the top 20.

Wendy Lewis ’95 took a lot of ribbing because she wasn’t on the list. Lewis, whose pioneering efforts brought human resources sophistication to the Chicago Cubs, today leads MLB’s efforts in workforce diversity and in helping minority and women vendors garner baseball contracts.

“ Everywhere I go people say to me, ‘Why didn’t you make the 101?’” says Lewis, MLB vice president of strategic planning for recruitment and diversity. “That’s because I’m 103.”

Lewis’ sense of humor, business savvy and integrity go a long way, especially in baseball, where the “old boy network” sometimes is still as much a fixture as Wrigley Field.

But that’s changing, slowly. As one of only a handful of minority female executives in professional sports on the vice president level or above, Lewis is determined to make sure baseball remains true to the spirit of Jackie Robinson, who broke baseball’s color barrier in 1947 with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

“ Everybody knows the legacy baseball carries in terms of social responsibility,” she says. “But we still have a lot of work to do.”

A key to these efforts is a five-year-old Diverse Business Partners Program, which has brought about $250 million in baseball contracts to certified minority- and female-owned vendors. These businesses include marketing and public relations, legal services, maintenance, transportation, catering — even florists.

“ It’s a model for a diverse vendor program, certainly in professional sports,” says Robert Manfred, MLB executive vice president for labor relations/human resources. “Wendy took it from zero to 60.”

Lewis’ entry into baseball was as unlikely as her career expectations growing up in a close-knit family in northeast Milwaukee. “I never dreamed of being a sports executive,” she says.

While working as a sales representative for the Tribune Co., which owns the Cubs, Lewis in 1987 interviewed for a new position of human resources manager with Dallas Green, a baseball lifer who was then the Cubs president and general manager.

“ Baseball was recruiting back then in a very fraternal way,” says Lewis. She remembers that Green, a tall and imposing man with wavy white hair, never sat down during the interview and often put his cowboy boots on a coffee table in making a point.

Despite his gruff exterior, Lewis sensed Green was concerned about all the Cubs’ employees when he asked what she could do for the club.

She told him that she would bring the team’s human resources operation up to the level of the other Tribune properties.

“ I could tell he respected my position,” she recalls.

Not only did she create the first human resource position in baseball from humble beginnings — a desk next to a filing cabinet in the accounting department — but she also left an important legacy. Today, all 30 baseball clubs have human resource directors.

Lewis’ accomplishments, however impressive, are grounded in faith and family, resources that serve as the benchmark for everything she pursues. She has three daughters and two granddaughters. All are living under the same roof in an eight-bedroom Victorian house in South Orange, N.J.

For Lewis, this family feeling extends to Kellogg, where she has been a frequent speaker. One of her greatest honors, she says, came before graduation when several fellow class members asked to visit her at Wrigley Field. And they weren’t bumming for bleacher seats.

Instead, they asked Lewis to be the class graduation speaker. “I thought they were kidding,” she says. “I was blown away.”

©2002 Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University