Consulting is known as the great “off-ramp” to the c-suite. Just look at McKinsey, whose alumni roll includes Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, and Morgan Stanley CEO James Gorman. Now, you can add another McKinsey alum to the list: Jason Wright.
Today (August 17), the Washington NFL Football Team announced Wright as its Team President. In this role, he will be responsible for the business side of the house, including finance, operations, sales, and marketing. Wright represents the first African-American to serve as a franchise’s President. At 38, he is also the youngest Team President in the NFL.
“AN EXTRAORDINARY LEADER”
For the past seven years, Wright has worked in McKinsey’s Operations Practice in Washington, DC, quickly rising to partner. In his role, he has worked with top human resources, financial, and security officers to modernize their operations and transform their cultures. Outside McKinsey, Wright is a trustee for the Union Theological Seminary.
“Jason Wright is an extraordinary leader who has left an indelible mark on our firm,” Liz Hilton Segel, a McKinsey Senior Partner and Harvard Business School MBA, tells Poets&Quants. “I’m so privileged to have called him a colleague and am excited for this historic new chapter in his journey.”
On his Linkedin profile, Wright describes himself as “a retired National Football League veteran turned management consultant (read: once strong and athletic, now increasingly weak and clumsy).” As an undergrad, Wright ranked among the top rushers in the history of Northwestern University football. During his career, he was named a team captain and an Academic All-American. A Psychology major, Wright was also elected president of Alpha Phi Alpha and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
BUSINESS SCHOOL OVER MED SCHOOL
At Northwestern, Wright played with Kevin Bentley, a 2015 Poets&Quants Best & Brightest MBA from Rice University. In fact, Bentley helped recruit Wright to Northwestern since they grew up near each other. Bentley’s scouting report on Wright: very mature for his age with an intellect that was “second-to-none.” Since graduation, Bentley has stayed in touch with Wright and believes he is the perfect man for the Washington job.
“He’s a service leader,” Bentley tells P&Q. “He listens to people. He tries to do best for all parties involved. He’ll make great decisions in Washington as he has done throughout his career.”
Many expected Wright to eventually pursue medical school. After all, he ranked in the 92nd percentile on the MCAT. Instead, Wright racked up a seven-year NFL career, where he played for Atlanta, Cleveland, and Arizona – serving as the Cardinals’ team captain and union representative in his final two seasons. Boasting a 740 GMAT, Wright entered the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business in 2011. Here, he concentrated in Entrepreneurship, Finance, and Operations before graduating with honors and joining McKinsey.
Jessica Jaggers, the of Students and Associate Dean of Student Life at Booth, remembers Wright fondly. “At Chicago Booth, we develop transformational business leaders who will make a positive imprint in the world [and] Jason Wright continues to embody this, she explains in a press release. During his time at Chicago Booth, Jason was engaged, passionate, and inquisitive, demonstrating his leadership in his student and professional life. As an alum, Jason continued to be an active partner to the school, offering his time and resources to support the next generation of trailblazers. The Chicago Booth community is tremendously proud of Jason and wishes him much success on his new journey.”
A FULL PLATE AHEAD
Not surprisingly, Wright is hoping to turn the Washington Football Team into an MBA case study on organizational transformation. A three-time Super Bowl winner in the 80s and 90s, Washington has floundered through three consecutive losing seasons, making the playoffs just four times in the past 20 years.
Losing is just the tip of the iceberg for this storied franchise. In July, 15 female employees came forward with reports of sexual harassment and verbal abuse. In response, the organization terminated several employees on the football and business sides of the house. At the same time, the team hired an outside law firm to conduct an independent investigation of its workplace culture. Before the turmoil, Washington retired the Redskins name after pressure from activists and retailers like Nike. On top of that, the franchise is looking to build local goodwill and political support to build a new stadium. Of course, rumors continue to swirl that minority stakeholders are pushing owner Dan Snyder to sell the team.
Jumping into this situation would be intimidating for an experienced CEO. However, Wright views this adversity as a chance to usher in a fresh start, to build a brand and culture from scratch. “From football to business school to McKinsey, I have always enjoyed building exciting new things and taking on the hard, seemingly intractable challenges that others may not want to tackle,” he explains in the team press release. “I especially love doing this with organizations who have deep history and values that set a firm foundation. This team, at this time, is an ideal opportunity for me.”
TEAMING WITH COACH RON RIVERA
Wright won’t be alone in doing the heavy lifting. In January, the team hired Ron Rivera to handle the dual role of head coach and football operations head. Long known for building family-oriented cultures that emphasize character and transparency, Rivera’s philosophy closely meshes with Wright’s emphasis on communication and inclusion.
“When you have women, minorities, different backgrounds, different disciplines, different educational backgrounds weighing in on decisions that are meaningful for the club … the data says we actually get better outcomes, you make better decisions,” Wright tells The Washington Post. “So it is an absolute moral imperative to get everything right, but it is also a business imperative, which should give everybody even more confidence that this will be a sustained shift.”
When pressed about the team’s new name during an August 17th interview with Good Morning America’s Michael Strahan, Wright noted that his role involves forging a new identity for the franchise – one that brings fan into decision-making.
“It’s going to inform how we embed in the community, the way we engage with fans, so it’s much bigger than a name or logo or whatever you’re going to put on the jersey…it’s going to be a longer process and it’s going to engage the fans intensely. It’s going to engage the sponsors intensely. By the end of this, this is going to be a community decision that we make as a Washington football community and I’m really excited to dive in.”
“AN IDEAL SITUATION TO JUMP INTO”
In the same interview, Wright added that he wasn’t fazed by being hailed as the youngest or first African-American Team President in the NFL.
“I’ve been helping some of the most complex and important organizations around the world transform in the last few years. For me, it’s personal, an opportunity to bring together my two worlds in a really unique way at a really unique time. The fact that I happen to be Black and the most qualified person for this [job] is a boost.”
Kevin Bentley, who also spent a decade as an NFL player, is confident that Wright will ultimately help turn the Washington franchise around – on the field and off.
“I think it is a great hire for them. He knows both sides of the coin. He knows football. He knows the business side coming from McKinsey. He made it as a partner and everyone knows that’s no easy feat. He’ll be able to marry his understanding of being a player with his business acumen. He has a great game plan…I know he is up for the challenge and I know he’ll do a great job.”
For Wright, the challenge was simply an opportunity he couldn’t pass up. “This is pretty much the ideal situation to jump into,” Wright tells The Washington Post. “I didn’t want to leave my firm, I loved it, I was doing fantastic, exciting work, but this was the challenge I just had to take on at this moment.”