Excellence in Action
Ben Gumpert ’02
Interviewed by Monique Beals • November 26, 2019
To start, will you please describe your career path from UCLA to your current role?
While I was at UCLA, I worked part-time all four years on the Daily Bruin for advertising. I bring that up because it was my first real job and it just gave me a sense for how businesses deal with marketing and their entire landscape in terms of who they are and how they differentiate themselves. From there I went to work at Bain & Company which was based in Century City, but I also worked in the San Francisco and New York offices. I worked on a number of types of cases from finance to private equity to consumer products. That was an amazing learning experience to learn from some of the best and the brightest and some of the most collegial people I’ve ever been around. In between there, I went to business school at Stanford. Stanford is, of course, another Pac 12 stronghold, so I kept things in the conference family. While I was there, one of my main internships was working for the San Francisco Giants, another great avenue for me and my entrée into sports. Ever since I was a kid, I knew I was never going to be a professional athlete and make a living off of it on the field or court, but it was cool to see an aspect where I could still work in sports and have fun with it. That experience was amazing.
Afterward, I went back to Bain, but then I joined the NBA office in New York for 5 years. First to start and lead their strategy and analytics department working with a bunch of teams. At Bain, I was consulting with leading companies in a lot of different industries, and in a way, my role wasn’t too different at the NBA – but now my clients were teams such as the Los Angeles Lakers, Miami Heat, and Cleveland Cavaliers. It was incredible to work with them and their management teams across their entire business. Throughout my time working closely with teams, you start to learn a lot, and I was also part of a couple of different league initiatives including the journey that ultimately ledthe Sacramento Kings to stay in Sacramento. Soon thereafter, I joined my former boss at the NBA who had left to lead the Kings, and eventually became the Chief Marketing Officer for the Sacramento Kings. I worked there for three years on amazing projects including building a brand new arena, a new hotel and a whole new brand. We launched that in 2016, and now I have been at Sacramento Republic for the last three years working on the other major sports project in the area. We are getting a stadium planned and continuing to build our team. As of a month ago, we were named to Major League Soccer as the 29th team joining that league, which will see us first kick off at the beginning of 2022. It is a really exciting time certainly for Sacramento and for Sacramento Republic. We are very much in the throes of building a stadium, training facility, team, and brand which already has a very strong foundation.
What inspired you to choose this career path?
Ever since I could walk, I was holding a ball or kicking one. Almost all of my fondest memories as a kid were on the sports teams I was on or playing with my brother. When I was very young, I wanted to be a player. Once I was decently smart enough, I realized that wasn’t in the cards. It has always been something I remained close to. I learned math by studying baseball statistics, and I developed a passion for mathematics as a result. It has always been such a big piece of what I do, and It was always in my mind wondering if I could make this happen. It didn’t work right out of UCLA, but I always kept my ears open. Even when I was at Bain, there was a project working for the 49ers out of a different office. There have been various sports projects that I tried to get involved in, and I was always trying to have conversations with various executives. When I got to Stanford and got the job at the Giants, it affirmed everything I hoped. It was interesting and fun, and I liked my colleagues. That solidified that there is something there, and while it is a small industry, if I work hard and continue to learn then I can make a career out of it. It has been 13 or 14 years since I got that internship at the Giants, and I have been part of some once-in-a-generation type projects which is kind of crazy. I certainly feel lucky.
How did your UCLA experience help shape your success?
College is a formative time. It was my first time being on my own, and I had my first real job. I learned about interacting with people from all different backgrounds in a way that I had never done before. I was a Regents Scholar and had the opportunity to sit in some small lunches with the Chancellor. At the time, it was Albert Carnesale. It was helpful to hear from him and from professors and TAs about different career paths. It is just a great way to get you thinking in a way you’ve never thought before. I made friends and watched them graduate and take jobs I had never heard of. There were certainly some courses and amazing professors along the way, but more than anything, it was these interactions with people from all over the world. Being surrounded by people with different backgrounds and passions allows for a lot of learnings. I think that was the biggest part of my success at UCLA was just the conversations in my dorm hall or with my TA in-office hours. Those conversations gave me ideas for tangible paths for me to look at, and I think that was what was able to start the successful path I began at UCLA.
What has been your greatest career challenge and how did you overcome it?
I guess so far the biggest challenge I have had was joining the Kings and building a team. I had worked in consulting and at the NBA with amazing and smart collegial people, but for the most part, I managed about two to six people. At the Kings, I was relaunching nine departments that covered 70 people. That is a massive process to go through, so to formulate a team that fits into a broader organization while having alignment with the culture, but also diverse opinions. You want that balance. We all want to be growing in the same direction while also coming from different points of view, because that helps us all be better. That challenge by itself to building out my piece of the organization was by far my biggest challenge. In terms of overcoming it, it is more about jumping in to relish in both the challenge and the opportunity. It is really hard to build a team like that, but it is also the most impactful thing we can do. I’m so proud of what we were able to accomplish together in my time at the Kings. That was all the people that we had brought in from when I joined. We had that friendship building of everyone in the fox hole together, and that was the most rewarding thing we could have had. Now, I have the opportunity to do it again at Sacramento Republic. I think I’m a little smarter having gone through it once, but it is certainly not any less challenging nor any less important. I think the most important thing you can do as a leader is to build the right team, process, and culture. I’m excited for that career challenge once again.
What advice would you give to UCLA students and alumni interested in your field?
I would just say to go to places you can learn and find people you can learn from. People often talk about how they want to work in this industry or at this location. Everyone has their own needs, but first and foremost, I think it is important to find great people and mentors. From them, you get put in opportunities and places to succeed. You both get challenged but have their support. You have a ton to learn, but people to learn from and model after. I have been fortunate to find a place multiple times that allows you to grow. If you find people who want to invest in you, I’d follow them anywhere.
At Bain, when I first got in, I wanted to work on certain products and on the consumer retail company, but I found that it was even better to go to the project with the best manager. Those are the people you learn from, and I’m better for it. If you find people who care about you, you will learn the most from them. Be a sponge, and be grateful for those opportunities.
What makes you most proud to be a Bruin?
I guess I’ve always appreciated UCLA’s ability to build community. I love how people live together on campus and interact with each other in different clubs and organizations. I think it is such a formative process in my life. To be off on my own for the first time was challenging, but I always felt the safety net of such a supportive community. I was with people who weren’t ultra-competitive with each other, but more collaborative with everyone from professors to TA’s and administrators. I always felt a certain level of protection and care that I think is important for anyone. It’s amazing when college students feel comfortable to take big risks. This is the time, but you need to create the right environment for that and I think UCLA does that.
And finally, what’s next?
My first focus is to continue to build this amazing organization in Sacramento. We have two years and change to build a stadium, launch, and have an MLS opening night that can we represented forever. We want to represent the best of our city, and the city I grew up in. I’m from Sacramento, and this is going to be part of the fabric of our community for generations and beyond. I want this to be both an amazing soccer experience and an amazing Sacramento experience that represents what the city is and what it’s becoming.
I also want to work on women’s soccer. That’s something that is near and dear to my heart. I coach my two daughters now. They are little ones and I’m starting to tap out on my skillset, but that has been an amazing experience. Women’s soccer is a much needed investment that is long overdue for the world and certainly in American sports. Women’s sports need to be invested in far more at every level. Of course, that would mean at the professional level, but also with youth, coaches, school programs, etc. Maybe I’m biased, but I think sports are a vibrant part of any community. It brings people together and makes the type of life we want to build. It is all about sharing experiences and there is nothing like cheering together for a sports team with your friends and family or people you’ve never met before. That happens at our games all the time, and we want to continue to foster that in the too divided world that we live in today. That gives me plenty for what’s ahead to work on because that is no small task.
ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER
Monique Beals is a Communications major and UCLA College Honors student from Memphis, Tennessee. She has previously interned at the Office of Senator Lamar Alexander, the Orange County Register, and Tegna Inc. She has also worked as an Urban Fellow for the City of Memphis. At UCLA, Monique has been involved as Marketing Director of the Community Service Commission in addition to working as a Student Recruiting Assistant for UCLA Athletics. After graduating from UCLA, Monique intends to pursue a career in journalism or law.
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