Succeeding with Limited Resources, According to ‘Moneyball’

One of my favorite films is the Brad Pitt movie Moneyball, because it serves as a wonderful case study to showcase that, if a leader wants, he can look at challenges as opportunities and come up with unconventional solutions. It shows how an open-minded leader with limited budget valued the importance of data to assemble a winning team of undervalued talent.

This 2011 film, adapted from Michael Lewis’s book: ‘Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game’ is based on the historic 2002 season of the Oakland Athletics major league baseball team.  The A’s struggled under a limited budget, the loss of their top players and fans who had little to no faith in the future of the team.

There are several important lessons from the movie that can apply to the business of property management.

  1. Make unconventional hires

The story begins just before Oakland’s then-general manager Billy Beane hires Peter Brand, a baseball statistician, to advise Billy on his staffing the team for the season.  Brand was a Yale graduate who brought a statistical approach to recruit and build a team based on player statistics.

  1. Be creative to work within your budget

Almost all businesses have limited resources. Property management is no different.

In the beginning of Moneyball, Billy argues with club executives about securing more funds to sign big-name players to the team. He’s denied the extra money and is told to put together the best team possible with the budget allotted for the season.

Recruiting employees can be difficult at first because your starting budget is often minimal, as are your resources. But in order to be successful it’s necessary to make the most of limited funds and work with what you can afford. In Moneyball, Billy has to make do with the budget he has and recruits the best possible players the A’s can afford. And spoiler alert – it works out well for him.

Though it might be limited, stay within your budget. Don’t seek out the most experienced or expensive people, recruit the best possible employee you can afford. You can still create a well-rounded and successful team with staff members who are not at the top of the industry pay scale.

  1. Work hard – do more

Without being asked, Peter created an algorithm to evaluate players. When Billy asked Peter to evaluate three players, Peter evaluated 51 players. By doing this, he had better data to make decisions and understood more about the entire pool of talent. This is especially important when you are building a business…doing more with your data benefits both you and your clients.

Doing more also means being better prepared. When you do your market studies for your properties, invest more time to really understand the market. A great example of this is from one of our clients in Las Vegas. They know their market so well that they invested in additional amenities including an on-site barista and morning coffee service. By doing a little bit more, even though it doesn’t cost a lot, helps them stay ahead of competitive properties.

Doing more means analyzing everything that can be analyzed. Your current and prospective clients will notice your commitment to details. A client we work with the in the Midwest started their firm a few years ago, and from the beginning committed to the most detailed property inspections possible when their clients are looking at acquisitions. Every facet of the properties is reviewed, including hiring subcontractors to formally inspect the roofs and electrical systems. It’s one more reason to choose their firm over competitors.

  1. See talent where others don’t

Understand the gap between perception and reality.  “People are overlooked for a variety of biased reasons and perceived flaws. Age, appearance, personality.” One of Peter’s top pieces of advice for Billy throughout the film is not to overlook those who are not at the top of their game. He tells Billy to look at the whole picture – the whole team – rather than evaluating individual players. A baseball team can’t rely on one star to make the club successful – it can only thrive when the team works well together and trusts each other. When building your team of professionals, it’s important to remember that who you hire should ultimately be another piece to the overall success of the company. A degree from an elite university or experience with a big-name company looks great on a resume, but can they follow your vision and work well in the environment you’re creating?

Patrick Lencioni explores the idea of three virtues you should seek in your hiring process in his book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable. Lencioni says, “the kind of people that all teams need are people who are humble, hungry, and smart: humble being little ego, focusing more on their teammates than on themselves. Hungry, meaning they have a strong work ethic, are determined to get things done, and contribute any way they can. Smart, meaning not intellectually smart but inner personally smart.”

When looking at a potential hire, it’s important to consider these three virtues. Lencioni says those who display only one of the three often don’t survive in the business for too long, and those you show two of the three virtues can often wreak havoc on the entire team. Candidates who are humble and hungry, but not smart can make “accidental messes;” those who are humble and smart, but not hungry are what Lencioni calls “loveable slackers;” and those who hungry and smart, but not humble can likely act on their own accord and make decisions that benefit their own career without the good of the team in mind.

  1. Don’t try to be like anyone else.

In the movie, Beane says, “If we try to play like the Yankees in here, we will lose to the Yankees out there.”  Don’t play the game using your competitor’s rule book – just because they do something, doesn’t mean you should do the same. Come up with your own plan that takes advantages of both your strengths and your weaknesses.

A good place to start is understanding that what you may perceive as a weakness is actually a strength. Many times the key to our business’ success is accentuating the difference that is inherent in who we are or how we do things.

Talk show host Jimmy Kimmel’s 10th grade math teacher said if he didn’t straighten up he wouldn’t amount to anything. He mentioned this when he wrapped up his performance at the White House Correspondents Dinner with the Obamas in 2012.

“I also want to thank Mr. Mills, my 10th grade high school history teacher, who said I’d never amount to anything if I kept screwing around in class,” he said. “I’m about to high-five the president of the United States. Eat it, Mills.” If Jimmy would have straightened up and changed his behavior, would he be one of late night’s most celebrated hosts? Or performed for the president of the United States?

In Moneyball, Billy Beane recruits veteran outfielder David Justice. At 37, Justice is well past his prime in the baseball world, but not ready to retire. Beane needed his maturity and experience to show his younger players how to play at the pro level. Justice’s perceived weakness was a big asset for the A’s.

  1. Adapt or die

As Billy is talking with one of his head scouts, he makes the statement, “We either adapt or we die.” He realized if they wanted to put together a winning team, they couldn’t keep scouting the way they had always done it.

While the entire league relied on large scouting organizations and targeting top-performing, and often expensive players, the A’s developed an entirely new approach to recruitment. Today, those strategies are implemented into several highly successful clubs across the nation.

What does this say about our own professional careers? Moneyball is a great indicator of what it really takes to grow your property management business. Sometimes it takes swimming against the current and doing something radical to achieve more for your business. Sometimes taking risks can create more opportunities for success that were never thought possible.

It’s important to define what success truly looks like for you and your company without comparing your accomplishments to other businesses. You must remember that there will always be bigger firms in the industry with more room in their budgets to recruit high-level talent. The objective is to always be competitive. Success for you and your company might not mean becoming the top firm in your market – instead, it might mean being profitable and competitive with the talent you have.

If you’re looking into expanding your company with additional staff and would like to have a confidential conversation about how Ascent can offer support, you can call me at 702-467-0789. To learn more about how Ascent can help simplify the process of growing your business, click here to see articles, case studies, videos and testimonials from our past clients.