Professor Robert Lilljenwall

Managing Director, Manav Deol, sat down with professor, Robert Liljenwall, to discuss BHI, his wealth of experience in sports marketing, advice for individuals working and looking to work in hockey, and more…

Q: What made you want to be involved with BHI?

A: The Business of Hockey Institute provides the framework and infrastructure  that can serve as a valuable building block for a hockey executive who wants to elevate their career and skill sets.  The BHI is unique in sports, and it provides the vision to take the sport of hockey to a higher, more professional level.  I am proud to be a part of that movement and vision.

Q: Can you comment on the value you see in a specialized education program, such as the CHP, in the sports/hockey industry, and how it can assist students as they navigate through a career in hockey? Perhaps you could also comment on the quality of the students in your class.

If you have the passion for hockey, there is no other choice but to get your Masters and CHP.  This is the new gold standard.  You will be measured by your diligence, intelligence and tenacity for earning this degree and designation.

Keep your eye on the goal – get your CHP… the real benefit is not having the three initials after your name…it’s what you have learned through the rigorous process of earning the most valuable education.

The students were outstanding.  They were…like, on steroids.  Great thinkers, writers, and yes, at times, they wore me out.  And most of all, damn creative.  It was an absolute pleasure to be their coach.

Q: Can you provide some examples of work that you have done with sports-related entities?

As a marketing professional, I have been privileged to have worked at the highest level in sports.  I served as Venue Press Chief for the 1984 Olympics, brand and marketing consultant for the Olympics, 1994 and 1998 World Cup, served as a branding consultant to the NFL, Los Angeles Rams, and World Team Tennis.  In addition, I created the largest retail sports television network located in 50 cities in the U.S. and Canada, and launched the first state-of-the-art interactive kiosk and Internet-based television programming delivering 24-hour sports information.  Sadly, it was ahead of its time…well that’s my excuse.

In addition to the Olympics and World Cups, I have worked on Formula One, NFL, America’s Cup and numerous golf and tennis resorts around the world.

As a member of the UCLA Extension faculty, I introduced the first e-commerce and e-branding courses in the U.S. and was instrumental in developing the first brand management and IMC courses at UCLA.

And, I was the editor and co-author of the leading text book in retail marketing…”Marketing at Retail”.

Q: I understand that you worked with Disney. Were you involved with Mighty Ducks expansion team?

Well, my involvement was tertiary as I had left Disney well after they created the expansion franchise.  My former boss, Jack Lindquist, was the consummate promoter of anything “Anaheim”, and it was his vision and connections that enabled him to 1) convince Disney this was a great move…because it was so aligned with entertainment and sports, and 2) convince the NHL to grant Disney a franchise. Also, a former Disney colleague served as marketing head, bringing his wealth of marketing entertainment (Disneyland) to the NHL and the Mighty Ducks.

The logo (done by Disney) was the most successful launch of a ‘mascot’ ever in the NHL (at the time), capitalizing on the Mighty Ducks movie success of the same name.  The principles learned in the outdoor attraction industry are logically and easily transferrable to a sports franchise….it’s all about extracting $$ from a customer wallet…and if you have the right ‘entertainment product’, fans will gladly reach into their wallet.

It was reported that many of the Ducks’ original players were not that enthusiastic about playing for a “duck”…but after seeing the first-class locker club facilities and touring their new neighborhood in Newport Beach, that all changed.

Q: Can you provide examples of a few of the honours that you received throughout your career which you are most proud of?

Well, that’s a hard one for me to answer.  I suppose the one that stands out is being named Distinguished Instructor for UCLA Extension, a faculty of  more than 2,500 top teachers and professionals.  In addition, I’ve won a lot of industry awards for campaigns or editorial work over the years…

I’m also most proud of the award for outstanding service to the National Alliance for Mental Illness…a passion I have for eliminating the stigma of mental illness in our communities.

Q: Any other advice for students looking to work in the hockey business?

Sure….well, first of all, let me say that I have several career mottos I live by:

#1 –Have Fun and Go First Class.  This simply means that you should always work for fun and ONLY work with ‘first-class people.  That means —  the best possible associates, the highest quality professionals with whom you can work.

If you’re not working for ‘fun’, you will be miserable, and when you’re miserable, you will underperform, make mistakes, be extremely unhappy, and life and career, quite frankly, will be a mess.  So I never took a job that wasn’t fun and exciting.

Also, only work for first-class companies  Quality culture is everything.  Only strive to work for the best!

I have been extremely lucky in that regard…and I’m enjoying a wonderful career because I made some good career choices.

#2  Live your passion.  If you love and have a passion for hockey, work in the hockey business.  It’s that simple.  Get your nose under the tent…foot in the door….be a ‘go-fer’ – but plant yourself in the hockey business, one way or the other.  Walk the halls…take garbage assignments.  Do the work.  Did you know that many of the top Hollywood executives still start in the mail room?  The son of my best friend, could only get a “receptionist” job (on the second floor) and he roamed the halls, looking for work…Guess what he’s doing today…one of the top creative directors for Apple.

From my days in the creative work with Disney and beyond…to having my own business for over 30 years…to working with the most talented people on the Planet over my entire career…I made the conscious decision before I left college, that I only wanted to work with the best, and I did.

When you’re having fun, fulfilling your passions, and working hard…it carries you over the bumps and through the valleys in your career and life.

And lastly, I have had practically every marketing job there is – from writer to designer to editor to agency president to media head to EVP Marketing to CEO to Vice President sales to head of public relations to head of creative development, social media consultant …all of the work one does in a marketing career over 40 years, and still standing.  Today, I’m teaching with BHI and UCLA….working on some incredible projects around the globe, and still have time for my non-profit work and family.  Balance – it’s hard to achieve some times…but it is absolutely critical to your happiness and livelihood.

#3  Staying relevant.  If you’re not keeping up with technology, industry and market trends, or bettering and improving your knowledge, you will eventually become irrelevant.  The key to your success is to always be “relevant” — and staying ‘in the game’.  You cannot afford to stay on the sidelines or on the bench…keep your skill levels up in all areas of your life and career.